This little guy is Harry, my parents’ kind and wonderful golden retriever. He died today at the age of 12, my mom petting his head and whispering to him about all the things he liked, reminding him how many people loved him, what a truly good, good dog he was.
I know I post too many schmaltzy sentimental things on this blog, but I felt like I wanted to say something, maybe just to myself, about what a sad day today was. And about how strange it is to know and love and lose a pet. I was in the room with my childhood dog Walter when he was put to sleep, my hand on his leg until he stopped breathing. I had just graduated from college and that day felt like some terrible rite of passage. I cried for the first time in years. I saw my dad cry for the first time ever. It was August too.
We got Harry in another August, of 2001, just before I was to pack up and head to college and leave my parents empty-nesters. The joke was that Harry was the replacement for me, and I don’t know, maybe there was some truth to that, but really he was for all of us. My mother and I drove to get him from the breeder’s house together, me down in Rhode Island for a rare weekend, so wrapped up in my friends and various dramas and intrigues in Boston as I was that summer. We didn’t know if we were definitely going to get a dog as we made our way there, or at least I didn’t, but the minute we saw Harry with his brothers and sisters, squirming around in their little outdoor pen, it became pretty clear what was happening.
We picked Harry because he was a funny little thing: He really liked to sit right in his water bowl. He had lots of other quirks, as all pets do, but the thing I will remember most about him was simply how gentle he was, how affectionate and, yes, even a little nudgey. He was scared of thunderstorms and doors left ajar, but he usually didn’t bark, instead he’d shrink away and come to you, cautious little guy, a big baby in the best way. And now, after all that life, he’s gone. It’s such an odd thing.
Louis CK has a funny, unbearably true bit about how getting a pet is basically saying “Well, here’s a really sad thing that’s going to happen in 10 years.” He’s right, but we still keep doing it. Because the having is worth the losing, I guess. Of course, we could look at all of life as an inevitably really sad thing, the potential for infinite really sad things is around us at all times. But, y’know, we still keep doing that too. So now I’m here on my couch, somehow 30 years old, crying by myself about a dog I knew, about how tricky and wonderful all of this can be.
People probably spend too much time fumbling and grabbing for the past, wanting to somehow wrestle it back into existence. But for now, today, I’m letting myself do it, boggled at how quickly and busily twelve years can go by, that I can still picture something so long ago so clearly in my head. My mother and I in the car, a nice summer day, just the two of us. I moved out of the house only a couple weeks later, so, from a certain perspective, this was one of the last moments of my childhood. How sad that seems now! But then it was just exciting. Racing down that pretty green road, on our way to get something new, yet another something else to pull close to us, the simple happiness of the moment blinding us, blessedly, to where it all ends.