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The Gus Diaries: A big week coming up


Gus has different walks. There’s his slowpokey crawl, when it’s time to go back inside after his perambulation and he’d rather remain outdoors, and it takes two minutes for him to travel six feet to the front door: so much interesting stuff to smell, and maybe Daddy will let me poke around out here for a while longer! Then there’s the mad dash of frenzy, when he knows we’re going out for peepee-caca and he rushes missile-like for the door, far faster than I ever could, I mean twenty yards in one second. Then there’s the Doody Walk, if you know what I mean and I think you do. One walk, I call the Mooshy-Head Trot. He looks at me from across the room as I’m sitting in my big easy chair. I bend over, lower my arms to the floor, cup my hands, and over he comes, inserting his head into my palms. He loves having his head mooshed and caressed. Gus’s head is about the size and shape of a medium-sized sweet potato so it fits really well into the funnel of my rather smallish hands. I think he would stay there for hours as I rub his ears, massage his eyes, scratch his cheeks and run my palms up and down his snout. His snout is, of course, where the nodule is, the nodule I discovered two weeks ago that filled me with such alarm. About the size of half a green grape, it’s on the upper left part of the snout, the external manifestation of the tumor inside. Sometimes—softly, gently—I run my thumb over that nodule; sometimes I just rest it there, with no pressure, and think of Jesus laying his hands on blind people and lepers, of summoning the universe’s healing energies through my body into that damned tumor to shrink it and make it go away. In the Sixties and Seventies, I, like a lot of mystically-inclined young people, believed in this sort of thing. We were under the influence of Indian philosophies, in much the same way as the Beatles were with Maharishi, and also to some extent of American theosophical and transcendental philosophies, and in these systems, mental and psychic forces are just as real, maybe realer, than physical forces.

I don’t believe in that anymore. Still, it can’t hurt! When I lay my hands on his tumor there passes through my imagination the image of millennia of grieving mothers and fathers with grievously ill or wounded children, men and women who prayed, with far more faith than I’m capable of, to whatever god they believed in to heal and cure their stricken child. And yet, I know, without actually knowing the details of these long-gone generations, that it almost never worked; and my use of the word “almost” is a kindness to them, for in all likelihood it never worked in a single instance at all.

But, you see, I hedge my bets. Through the language of tentativeness (“almost,” “in all likelihood”), I allow for the possibility that, here and there, it did work. A child laid low unto the verge of death miraculously recovers! The village celebrates! Old women cross themselves, grown men weep, choirs sing Hosannas! Bring on the violins! It’s the stuff of romantic novels, of sentimental Hollywood movies, a bunch of superstitious nonsense, of course (or so I tell myself). But mysterious are the ways of the world, so why not?

This coming week will be a big one for us. Gus should get the results of the biopsy by Wednesday. Then he sees the oncologist and surgeon for their take. I have no clue how any of this will turn out. He’s been great all week, energetic (well, for him), hungry, sweet, mostly pain-free or at least yelp-free. Maybe more needy than usual. He follows me to the bathroom, which he used to do a long time ago, then abandoned, but has now resumed. In bed, he nuzzles much closer. It’s gotten chilly in the Bay Area, so I wrap myself in the comforter more than in the dog days of summer. In the middle of the night Gus will inch his head close to mine, sticking his wet nose under my covers, so that I can feel and smell the breath coming from his nostrils, and occasionally he’ll give my face a lick or two, before settling with a groan on his side and falling asleep. Tumor or no tumor, he’s an old dog, his creaky body given to sighs, same as I. We’ve both grown old together.

What is this belief in the possibility of miracle? I read the old sayings about Hope and they sound like the treacle in Hallmark cards. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Yes, yes, so true, but so what? Words. People hope, only to see their hopes dashed against the breakers. People hope their book will sell a million copies, that cute guy will fall in love with them, they’ll make the National Basketball League. The book sells a million copies, and the next day the author drops dead from a heart attack. The cute guy falls in love with his pursuer, they get married and within two years the marriage blows up, in a welter of pain and anger. The player fails to get drafted into Division One, his basketball dreams crushed under the uncaring boot of reality. And still we hope, we go on hoping, knocking on wood, falling to our knees, praying, reading Khalil Gibran or Ecclesiastes or the Dalai Lama for inspiration. It’s all so pointless. And yet…

  1. And yet! Perhaps hope does spring eternal even for a Gemini. In the meantime I’ve always loved the way you express your thoughts. Its given me much joy..

  2. We must get together next time you’re here which I hope will be soon!

  3. You have spent a lifetime educating yourself in all kinds of subjects and studies. I don’t think it was by accident that you fell into writing. Excuse me if I use a word that frequently applies to religion. It is clear to me that writing is your calling. I don’t think I’ve ever read any of your words without coming away with new knowledge or, perhaps even more important, deep feelings. Old age is no fun, but you’ve used it to put all your wisdom, authenticity, and your vulnerability out there for all of us to “see” you and ourselves more deeply. I thank you for that gift and am brokenhearted that right now what we’re feeling – and sharing – is your grief.

  4. Writing is my balm. I don’t know where it came from. When I was four, I would write scribbles on a piece of paper, pretending they were words. I couldn’t wait to write from the moment of my birth.

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