Inexplicable bliss in the face of inevitable loss

This essay was originally published on my friend Misty Pittman's blog Life Created Blissfully. Visit Misty's new site to learn more about her badass life and photography. 

I wrote this in July 2014 when Rusty was still here. Since September 12, 2015, he's been practicing yoga and eating everything in sight on the other side. 

“Sometimes love does not have the most honorable beginnings, and the endings, the endings will break you in half. It’s everything in between we live for.”
Ann Patchett, Vogue, September 2012

When I told my friend Patrick we adopted a dog, Rusty, he said we’d made a deal with the devil. If you’re lucky, you’ll outlive him; if you’re unlucky, you’ll outlive him. I’d never thought of it that way, and with a one-year-old puppy I told myself I didn’t need to.

Rusty woke me up that first morning at home, way too early. He bounded down the steps, and I trailed behind with half-closed eyes. He wolfed down his breakfast faster than it took me to carefully measure and pour it into his bowl. I got dressed and took him for a long walk around the neighborhood, then we settled on the back deck at 7:30 am. We eyed each other, and I thought, there’s a whole lot of day left, and I’m already out of ideas. Maybe this was all a mistake.

And then thirteen years happened, after that long and uncertain first day. Walks, runs, hikes, camping trips. Napping on the couch, deck, and futon. Belly rubs, baths as infrequently as possible, almost-empty jars of peanut butter and yogurt for treats. Nose nudges during down dog and prasarita padottanasana, face licks during savasana.

It’s not been perfect. I really could have done without the trashcan raids while we were out and the way he took up most of the bed when he was still able to sleep with us. I have never found his muzzle jabs under my ribcage to be endearing. I wish he’d shown just a little remorse after snatching my favorite cake from the kitchen counter. However, forgiveness always flows quickly and easily in his favor—far more so than when I’m dealing with my two-legged family members and friends. For his part, he thoughtfully overlooks my flaws and mistakes, and he loves me on my very best and my very worst days. There was a brief time in my life when walking him in the morning was the only reason I could get out of bed, and stepping side-by-side in silence made my world right again. So, really, it’s as close to perfect as it gets.

This morning, he walks into our bedroom, toes tapping on the hardwood floor. He rests his nose on the edge of the bed, and I feel hot breath in my face.  I’m still here, remember? My eyes open and meet his, and I wish him good morning even though he can’t hear me anymore. We walk together to the kitchen, where I spill food into his dish with a sound that feels like home, it’s so familiar. Today I decide to take him on an early walk, and he is tail-wagging excited with this now unusual change in schedule. The loop we take is the only one that works now—the flattest quarter-mile in our hilly neighborhood—and when we return, he’s ready to lie down on my yoga mat, unrolled in the living room. I want to drink my coffee on the front porch, but I know he’d get up to join me and I just want him to stay as he is, resting on his side. I sit quietly on the couch, sipping, listening to his breath and knowing without a doubt that I’d make this deal for him again and again and again.


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