You’ve been gone a month now and, I’ve gotta say, for a dog…I don’t miss you. You were *terrible*.
Allow me a quick list of your faults. This is in no way meant to be exhaustive. I’m sure I’ll miss dozens of things. Hundreds maybe. So let’s not pretend this is complete. OK? More of a sampling:
You didn’t play. You didn’t fetch. You didn’t chase. You remained legendarily incurious. You didn’t like toys. You didn’t like most other dogs. You didn’t like most people. You bit my friend once for committing the crime of…walking in the front door. You stared at my Black friends. You REALLY stared at my Asian friends. You stared at the wall. You stared at nothing. You stared at everything. The older you got, the more egregious you got in begging for food. No matter how old you were, you whined for treats. You whined when I walked to the kitchen. You whined when I opened the jar or bag or box. You whined when they were in my hand. You whined when I tossed them to you. You whined when you couldn’t find them even though I tossed them RIGHT THE FUCK IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.
You whined a lot.
You walked around aimlessly on the couch. You stepped on my balls constantly. You stepped on other people’s balls constantly. You would shed like crazy. If I didn’t get you groomed once a month, you’d shed. If I DID get you groomed once a month, you still managed to shed. I could have gotten you groomed every twelve minutes and I’d be up to my nutsack in Winston hairs until 2076. Up to my nutsack that you stepped on. Constantly.
You were too nervous. You were too quiet – I’ll never figure out how you did that ninja stealth bullshit where one minute you weren’t even in the room and the next my lower back was sweating because you’d silently wedged yourself in between the cushions and me. And that was another thing – you were ALWAYS FUCKING HOT. HOW. Your 13-20 pound body (why did your weight fluctuate so goddamned much?) was like a forest fire in the middle of Summer on the equator. If science had harnessed you, you’d have been able to thermally power Scranton for six months. COLD months.
When you started breaking down physically, it got so much worse. I had to buy you stairs just so you could get up on the aforementioned couch. I had to put carpets and towels down so your legs wouldn’t go out from under you. I had to put you – oh my God – in a goddamned stroller just so we could go on the same walks you were used to. “It’ll freak him out if you disrupt his routine too much,” the vet told me. I think you had some kind of pact with him. That’s what I think. I think you set that up behind my back, just so you could shame me as your chauffer. There is no way to explain to an *actual* parent who is pushing their *actually* helpless baby in an *actual* stroller as you pass on the street that no, I didn’t always do this, he’s old and his back legs are deteriorating, I’m not one of “those” people. You can’t communicate that in a look on Doheny as you pass one another at a brisk pace. There’s no time, and it wouldn’t matter. I’ve already been judged. I’m pretty sure that’s how you wanted it. Why?
Because, as a dog, you hated me. And you made sure everyone knew it. And now that you’re gone, I’m free!
The night after we had to put you down, I had a dream. I was sitting alone on a couch in a strange apartment in a strange city. It was one of those dreams where I was at home, but I knew it wasn’t my “home”. It was a place I lived in a dream. That was very clear.
You were laying next to me. As you often did. Snuggled up, snoring, making my leg sweat just by pure proximity. I seriously cannot believe how constantly roasting you were.
Anyway. At one point, I realized, in the dream, that you’d died. And you were still just laying there next to me. And I had to do something with your body.
So I walked over to my kitchen area, where there was a pile of black garbage bags. I looked under the sink for another one. All I could find was a bag that was clear. I put you in that. And I laid you down next to the trash. And I went back to the couch. And then I sat there. And looked at you in the bag. And…that was it. That was the dream. Me failing you.
It made me wonder how many times I failed you in waking life. In real life. I’m worried it was so many more times than I’m willing to admit to myself.
I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry I am.
I know you know these last couple years weren’t the best for me.
I live a pretty blessed life, and I don’t think anyone would argue with that. But even those of us who drew the long straw go through shit. Right?
Part of the problem, as you noticed over the almost 15 years we spent together, is that…you remember above, how I made that dreadfully incomplete list of all your faults? Sadly, I’m an expert in that area. I mean, you know. I’m a deeply, almost comically-flawed person. I make so many mistakes. There isn’t anything I can’t fuck up, and there isn’t any lesson I seem to learn the first time around. Or the twelfth. And that’s just as a BASELINE.
The last few years…it’s been so much worse than that. I’ve become such a shell of the person I used to be that I’m worried I was only ever a shell of the person I was supposed to be in the first place. Which makes me, like, a Russian Nesting Doll of disappointing humanity. And not even a complete one!
I haven’t felt good about who I am or what I’m doing for a long time. And I don’t know when that changes. Or IF it does. And that’s terrifying.
And, again, I know you know. But I point it out just to say this:
You never, honestly, seemed to care about any of that shit. And you could have! Maybe you should have? I don’t know. What I do know is that you never left my side – literally (ugh) and figuratively (double-ugh). And yeah I know, I can “ugh” all I want, but it’s still true. Both ways.
For all your bad qualities as a dog, you had a few great ones. Paramount among them: you were a sensational nuzzler. I can’t remember exactly when you started doing it – I’m sure it was at some point when you wanted food or attention or attentionfood – but you’d do this thing where you anchored your head in under my chin, and it was just…I was so weak for that shit. It worked every single time. It’s one of the things that convinced me I’d have been a walkover father. Zero backbone in the face of selective cuteness. And you selected…often.
There were some days where it felt like you were my only friend. Not because you were, but because my mind was bad, and because sometimes when your mind is bad, the fog rolls in and it’s hard to see out of your own bubble. But you neverminded. You’d still sit there next to me, when I was spiraling or couldn’t move. And we’d just be two buddies, fogged out of life for a bit.
You were always right there. Laying next to me, or laying on me, or laying near me. Probably about to step on my balls. But always where I needed you, when I needed you.
You were always there. There are a lot of ways in which you probably saved my life. And I’ve spent a lot of time this past month worrying I did measure up as a buddy. As your human.
I’m sorry for every time I got mad at you. I’m sorry for every time I yelled. I’m sorry for any and every time I didn’t make you feel safe. Or loved. Or appreciated. Or needed. I’m sorry for the times I took out my bad days on you, if for no other reason than you committed the unreasonable sin of Being the Only One There. I’m sorry, Winston. I’m so, so, so, so, so sorry.
You’d have never done that to me.
I’ll never stop worrying about the things I did, and, perhaps worse, the things I didn’t do. I hope I gave you a good life, even if just by accident. God, I hope I have you a good life. You gave me a GREAT life. A good life is the very LEAST you were due.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I will never stop being sorry.
I moved almost all of your stuff into the spare bedroom. Put off doing…you know, whatever it is I end up doing with it, for another time. It’s fine. I’ll get there eventually.
One of the things I left out were your bowls. Food and water. Practically, Dolly still comes by all the time (she says hi, I imagine), so I can always fill them up for her. But I have this odd fantasy that other people will bring their dogs by too, just to hang out with me for a bit. I’ve always been more than a little but ridiculous. I’m sure you noticed.
But a couple days after you died, I walked by the bowls and had a wretched moment of pure, unadulterated panic. Both the dishes were empty, and I wondered, about to have a stroke, “FUCK, how long have I left Winston without food and water???” And then I came back down to earth. It was the first, and only, time I was glad you were dead. I can (probably) live with being awful, but not negligent.
But it made me realize something: I’d never had a moment like that when you were alive. I never panicked that you didn’t have anything to eat or drink, that you didn’t have a home to relax in, that you weren’t comfortable and cared for. I never wondered if you were OK.
I know, right? Wow, Geoffrey. Way to celebrate doing the bare minimum. And that truly IS the bare minimum. But hopefully it was more than that. I think you knew that as much as I hated you, I loved you. Way more, really. And I hope that translated into you being happy. I really NEED that to translate into you having been happy. I have to tell myself you were. Anything less and I’ll just…I’ll just never be able to forgive myself.
Goddamnit, I hope I gave you a good life.
So, then. What else is there to say? I mean, it’s not like we’ll never talk again like this. If this is “talking”. Is this “talking”? As an avowed agnostic, I have to believe you went somewhere when you left here. And as an avowed agnostic, not knowing how or where or when leaves me sick to my stomach and with a lump in my throat. That’s the price you pay for being an overly philosophical, pretentious dickhead.
I kid. Sort of. You know what I mean.
I hope you’re somewhere. And I hope you’re happy. And taken care of. And that someone(s) or something(s) is giving you a good afterlife. The best, in fact.
But, if we’re being honest, this “letter” to you HAS just been one big, solipsistic existential wank, hasn’t it? Well, that’s…pretty Me, really. Just about as Me as anything gets. I’m sorry for that, too. But I needed to say all of it so I could tell you this:
You didn’t ever need to do hundreds of things well. You didn’t need to do dozens of things well. You didn’t need to do anything. From the second we met, you were mine, and I was yours. That’s the long and short of it. And you only did the only thing I ever asked you to: you stuck around, and you took care of me.
And so, OK, you weren’t the greatest dog.
But you were the best friend I’ve ever had.
And I miss you so much that I can barely stand it.
See you at the end of the rainbow.
Your human, your bestest ever buddy,