The following is a true story. All people, events, and dog are real. The opinions expressed may or may not be partially assumed by a human on account of the fact that dogs don’t type.
I heard it before I saw it. There I was, lying in the sun in a yard that wasn’t my own but had recently become quite familiar, when I heard the unmistakable roar of Her car barreling down the street. I say unmistakable because I hear it at least twice a day, every day: in the morning, when she leaves for work, and in the evening, when she returns home. I like to sit by the door and listen for her; I’m proud of Her every time she goes out, even if she doesn’t always take me. Anyhow, I sat up, confused because it was way too early for her to be back… Usually the sun would be just dipping behind those trees to the left (I believe that’s what she and the others would call “west.” But I’m simple: I’ll call it left.) side of the yard when she gets home. But now, that sun was still hung well above the left-trees and something must be wrong for her to return so early. Then again, maybe I’m mixed up and today isn’t a normal day. All I know is that every 7 days, I find that gate open and for awhile, I live like her. But I guess it’s possible that I lost count of the days… I never was good at days. Here’s what I am good at: She left this morning, that gate was open, and I walked out like usual.
But now that I think about it, this might not be so usual, after all. Because she just slammed on her brakes, it looks like her eyes have been watering her face again, and she’s looking at me and the Old Man like she’s never seen a dog and his friend before.
I didn’t know that gate was open. Every week, the gardeners come and rarely do they close it so usually I do it when I get home from work. But it’s Sunday afternoon and I must’ve forgotten because when I left 3 hours ago, Mac was in the yard and now he’s not. I didn’t know that gate was open.
And I didn’t know that dog would run. After all, he never had before. Every Friday, I come home to an open gate and my dog still in the yard, as usual. But it’s not Friday; it’s Sunday. And this day apparently isn’t so usual.
I didn’t always go out when the gate was open. I mean, why would I need to? For as long as I can remember, I always had some one to bum around with. Even when She left for work, the Old Lady was still around. I’d peek at her through the windows and let her know that I was there; I liked to think that I’d protect her, should she ever need it. Luckily she never did, at least not in the way I thought she would. She always sat in the same chair in the same room on the left side of the house, the same side as the trees. Cold sun after warm sun after hot sun after gray sun, she sat in that chair and read books and watched TV and called Her and made plans. As time went on, I noticed the Old Lady changing. She spent less time sitting up. She walked a lot slower. I kept thinking that if she’d just use all four of her legs like she should then she might move a little faster but, much like Her, they preferred to just use the two. Humans, right? Anyhow, every day I watched her change. It made me heavy inside. I don’t know what to call it. Look, when She brings out the leash to take me on a run, my insides feel light and all four of my feet can’t stay still. But seeing the changes in the Old Lady made me feel heavy inside. And She didn’t seem to notice them, either. Every morning, She’d kiss the Old Lady on the head, like she does to me, and then She’d leave and come back awhile later.
As much as I love Her, I also loved being with the Old Lady because we had secrets. You know, the way friends do.
I remember the day that everyone else noticed the changes. The Old Lady was taken away and She came home alone, her eyes watering her face. I didn’t see much of Her for awhile until the day the Old Lady came back. And this time, there was no mistaking the changes. I watched all of them, Her and all of these humans I’d never seen before, sitting around the Old Lady. I remember it being very late and still very hot out when She came outside and sat down with me in the dark. She didn’t say anything but I heard every drop of water fall from her eyes and hit her face. I licked some of them but, to be honest, I think I might’ve just been thirsty. Look, it was really hot outside. But I also think I might’ve known that it was going to be just me and Her from then on.
I opened the garage door and dialed my dad. As I pulled out of the driveway, I cried to him, saying that Mac was gone and he needed to come over and help me start looking for him. The past 6 months have been hard enough and knowing that this dang dog was the linchpin in my sanity, my dad came running.
Every night, I take Mac on the same running route, in hopes that he would become familiar with it and be able to find his way home in an event such as this. So with engine roaring, I took off down the street that we run every night, telling myself that I would find him.
I just didn’t anticipate who I might find him with.
She’s been lonely. I know this because that warm night that we sat in the dark together wasn’t the only time it’s happened. They say we haven’t gotten rain but I say they haven’t seen her when no one else but me is around. She’s started staying in, only leaving for work. She doesn’t talk much any more. She doesn’t write or read much either. She’s just sort of… there. Every now and then, I see Her walk by the Old Lady’s chair but she always speeds up her pace when she does. I wish she wouldn’t do that… It’s an awfully comfy chair. It isn’t hot outside any more. It isn’t gray out, either. It’s cold. It’s cold and she still won’t go in that room.
One morning, on a gray-cold day, I heard Her leave and that was when I noticed the gate was open. I noticed the gate and I went and double checked the window, just to make sure that no one was there, and when I saw that no one was, I decided to see what She did all day. I stepped one foot out beyond the fence and I realized that it was the furthest I’d ever been from home on my own. And I loved it. I went right because that was where She always took me so I figured that must be where She also takes herself. I made another right, the way we usually do, and that was when I saw it: The Old Man. And he was smiling at me, just how the Old Lady used to.
Every night, Mac and I take two rights and a left to get out of the neighborhood and then we go west, south, east, north then west again until eventually we take a right and two lefts to get back home. I took the first right and thought about how stupid I was to forget to close the gate. I took the second right and wondered what I’m going to do about missing the dog and my little Nonna. I was about to take the left when I saw him laying there next to a seated old man, looking up at the sun above the westernmost trees in the yard. I slammed on my brakes and leaned over, opened the passenger door, and watched my best friend in the world nudge the old man with his nose and then trot over to my car and hop in like it was the most normal thing.
Apparently, it was more normal than I thought.
It all started about 8 open gates ago. I met the Old Man on my first outing. I didn’t stay long because I didn’t want to be gone when She got home so I left pretty quick. A couple open gates later, I went back. Then it became a regular thing. I always made it home before She did and I got to see the Old Man. They call that a win/win/win/win/win/win/win—that’s a “win/win” in dog years. That is, of course, until today because today she got home before me. I never figured out why but it didn’t matter. After all, I never was good at days. So I got in the car and was happy she left the window down because then I could hear what she and the Old Man were talking about. She’d stopped watering her face and had started smiling—But wait! Oh no. He just told her that I’ve been here before. But she’s still smiling! Only now, her eyes are watering again. Truthfully, I’m shocked that her cheeks haven’t sprouted weeds with the amount of water this girl has constantly trickling down her face.
But I’m glad She met the Old Man. I haven’t noticed any changes in him. But as for Her? Today, I’m starting to notice some changes in Her.
As I stood there, talking to the old man and looking back and forth between him and Mac, I found myself in a state of complete astonishment. I was dumbfounded when I apologized for the pup being a nuisance and the old man responded by saying, “Oh no, I love when he comes here!”
“I’m sorry,” I started, “when he comes here? You say that like this isn’t the first time.”
“Oh no, it’s not. He visits often. He’s been here for the past couple of hours, just sitting by me. Like I said, I love when he comes here.”
As the old man spoke, a teenage boy came walking out of the front door to greet me at the curb. I’d seen him before but I never knew where he lived. He was the old man’s grandson—and the two of them lived in the house directly behind mine. As the young man spoke, I got lost in my own thoughts for a second. Here, in the house right behind mine, was the mirror image of the life I’ve lived—the one that I had recently lost. And the tie between them was Mac.
I thanked them for looking out for MacArthur and promised to bring him back by sometime while Mac sat in the passenger seat of my car with his floppy-eared head sticking out the window, just waiting to go home. I liked to think that he was grinning about seeing me meet the old man. I loved to think that he knew what he had done.
We drove home in silence, silence but for the occasional sharp breath that came along with her eyes that were still running. Two lefts and we were home; I wondered if she knew that I was happy for her to meet the old man. I had been worried that she would think I’d forgotten the Old Lady in favor of my new friend but as I rode with her and looked at her face, damp with tears and her eyes familiarly heavy, I noticed the change that I mentioned before: This time, it wasn’t just heavy insides that I saw—there was something else. Something I hadn’t seen in Her in a long time.
We pulled into the garage and she shut off the car. I waited for Her to open the door and stayed still until she called me. Usually I would just hop over her as soon as her door opened but this time I thought she could do with the calm. So I waited. I don’t know what took so long but eventually she got out of the car and patted her back leg with her strange front paw and I knew she was telling me to follow. So I followed. We walked in the house, side-by-side, and just as we were about to pass the Old Lady’s chair, she suddenly stopped.
She didn’t speed up like usual… she stopped. Like I said earlier, maybe this day wasn’t so usual, after all.
For several years, every day I would come home from work through the same door to find Nonna in the room on the west side of the house, reading in her chair. It’s a big, wing-backed, patterned chair that she’s had for as long as I can remember. It sits in the middle of the room with tables on either side of it, both overflowing with books, newspaper articles, and magnifying glasses so that she can read the books and newspaper articles. More often than not, she’d be waiting there for me with something that she wanted me to read. So I would come in and drop my work stuff, kick off my shoes, and read whatever it was while she decided where she wanted to go for dinner. Then, I’d go out and feed the dog, she’d tell me what a cute face he has, looking at her at her all day and what not, and then we’d go out.
Eventually, all of this became more difficult. She became more dependent on her oxygen and couldn’t go anywhere without it. It was ok though because she could breathe just fine with it. Looking back now, I can see how just not ok it really was. She was declining and just as you never see the flower blooming but you recognize it once it has, I didn’t see her deteriorating but I saw it once she did. August 15th was the last time I paused and looked at that chair.
I thought about how Mac saw Nonna more than all of us. He probably recognized her decline while we still couldn’t. Every time I came home, he was posted up outside of whatever room she was in. At night, he slept at her door. He had lost interest in his toys and didn’t care to chew on bones any more. For months, he just waited. Then, when we lost her that hot night in August, he turned all of his attention to me. I wondered if he knew that he had lost her, too.
While we stood there quietly, I thought about how badly I wished I could’ve told her what was coming. She loved the Old Lady like I loved Her and so naturally I, too, loved the Old Lady. I tried to tell Her—I really did! But of course she misinterpreted everything. She does it all the time. I mean, she thinks that when I lick her face while she’s watching TV it’s because I want her to play with me. She couldn’t be more wrong—I just really don’t get “New Girl” and I want watch something else. Anyways, She did the same thing every night that we ran by the Old Man’s house: I would go over there and start sniffing around and she wouldn’t get it and she’d pull me back to the course.
Look, I just wanted her to make a new friend like I had. I wanted her to talk more and laugh more the way she used to with the Old Lady; the way the Old Man still does with the Young Man. I wanted her to know that she isn’t alone. I wanted her to feel light on the inside.
And while we stood there, staring at an empty chair, I stopped looking at the chair and started looking at her. I hoped that she knew that I looked out for the Old Lady when she wasn’t there to do it; I hoped she knew that from now on I would be looking out for her. I don’t sleep outside the Old Lady’s door any more but I do sleep right next to Her. And she stays still all night now—I think that helps. She loved the Old Lady like I love Her and right now, I think she’s starting to see that.
Because she just started scratching me behind the ears.
I didn’t rush by her sitting room like I usually do. I don’t know why I did but I realized for the first time since losing her that this will get better. I realized that moving on doesn’t mean forgetting; letting go doesn’t mean losing out; and looking forward to the future doesn’t mean being ungrateful for the past.
And after the events of the day, losing Mac and then finding him and then finding that he had also found another, I was given the courage to do what I hadn’t been able to: Pause.
I knelt beside Mac and scratched his ears, thinking about how this dog maybe wasn’t a dog, at all. He seemed dang-near human, sometimes. After all, he seems pretty good at days if he’s been leaving and getting home before me for the past couple of months.
“That’s a nice thought,” I said to myself.
Honestly, I’m worried that she’s going to be more careful about closing that gate. She still doesn’t know about all of my other adventures.
And what’s a nice thought? She needs to quit mumbling stuff like that out loud and not telling me more. I’m no mind-reader. I mean, I’m not even good at days.