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Gus: seven days later

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It’s been one week since Gus died. One week of mourning and grief. I still can’t get used to him not being where he should be. Napping in my big chair, or in his little bed, or, on a hot day, by the deck door, where a bit of cooling breeze wafts in, or, on an exceptionally hot day (which we’ve had far too many of this year), in the bathroom, on the tile floor which must be the coolest place of all.

For a dog that spent the vast majority of his life sleeping, Gus certainly packed a lot of personality. Sometimes when we napped together we’d both spend as much time as we could staring into each other’s eyes before one of us gave in to sleep. I used to love when Gus’s big brown pupils started to drift up into his skull, leaving only the whites before his long-lashed lids gently closed. But sometimes I nodded off first. Often at night, he’d awaken me with his dreaming. Gus was a mostly silent dog, but in his dreams he chased (or so I imagined) furry little rodents and would snarl and grunt and issue a low series of joyous woofs, while his limbs and whiskers and lips twitched and his chest heaved irregularly up and down. That’s a memory I’ll hold onto.  

It’s so strange not fixing his meals when I do mine. Strange, too, not taking him out for walks. Gus was a dependable pooper, which is every dog owner’s ideal. He was like clockwork. Unless he was sick (which happened from time to time), he never went in the house. I do remember, when I first got him, he peed on a leg of my coffee table, but he learned his lesson when I turned into an absolute raging monster and let him know in no uncertain terms that that was not permissable. You have to be your dog’s alpha. A friend of mine in the neighborhood has a big, friendly but badly-behaved dog that tends to jump up on people, all sixty pounds of him. This friend tells his dog, “No,” but the dog doesn’t listen, because he knows that his owner isn’t serious. If my friend was serious about no jumping he would make it clear to the dog, but he never does. My friend doesn’t want to be, or perhaps doesn’t know how to be, his dog’s alpha.

Gus doted on me. The first time I ever left him to go on a business trip, he stayed with Cousin Maxine. She told me that nearly the whole time I was gone, Gus sat on the arm of her sofa staring out the window, at the place where he’d last seen me. It used to break my heart to have to leave him, which is why I eventually took him on almost every business trip I went on, except when it involved flying. That’s why I preferred to drive on my frequent trips to Oregon and L.A., even though it added several days onto the length of these trips. Some people thought it was weird that I’d go to meetings and visit wineries with my dog, but I didn’t care. The dog people understood, and the wine business is very dog-friendly anyway. Gus was perfectly behaved. He’d stay in a corner, or in my lap, and not budge or make a sound. People liked him. I think they liked Gus more than they liked me.

For that reason Gus was well-traveled. He’d roamed the picturesque hills of Ballard Canyon and the beaches of San Luis Obispo County. He’d trotted through the coastal hills of Willamette Valley and explored the hydrants and lampposts of Seattle. He marveled at snow in the Siskyous, and was at home in the canyons of Malibu, although we always had to be on the lookout for coyotes. Gus and I spent many nights in hotels, where we had to get pet-friendly rooms (at a price). He wasn’t a water dog. He was curious about the surf, and enjoyed poking and sniffing his way along the beach, but he kept a respectful distance from the waves, so unlike water dogs like Marilyn’s Maisie, a Golden Retriever who used to dive into the Pacific even when the waves were high, which alarmed me, but never Marilyn, who knew her dog knew how to swim.

But a week is a long time in the recovery process, and I’m coming along. I no longer weep all the time. I’m hardening, I suppose. At the same time, I don’t want to fully recover. I want to hang on to the sadness. It would be disrespectful to Gus for me to forget about him, or to get used to him being gone. As he wrote in his letter to me last week, “Anytime you think of me, I’ll be there in your soul. That’s all you have to do. And then, your heart will swell, and your eyes will grow moist, and a sweet, sad feeling will wash over you, and you’ll see me. You’ll see my little face looking at you, and my ears, and my big fat nose you used to make fun of. And I’ll see you.”

Did he really speak those words, or did I create them? They came into my head as I went on a long walk. I heard them clearly and distinctly. My head seemed merely a microphone transmitting Gus’s mind. I dictated his words into my iPhone and when I got home I transcribed them just the way you read them. I choose to think this message was from Gus. The voice was his. The personality is his. I can’t explain these things. Can anyone?

  1. Iris Sluter says:

    we know we know how you are feeling sweet Steve <3

  2. ❤️

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