If the soul is the unconscious and fertile soil of our knowing and eyes are the window to that soul, it makes sense that sometimes our windows inexplicably fling open. A few nights ago I was lying in bed and without thought or words, tears bubbled up and began to overflow. I was surprised—I assumed it was grief but lately my grief has been feeling less runny. Then in the silence of my bedroom I heard what my soul already understood—there were no snores. Rufus’ sleepy-time breathing was a force of nature. His snores were a steady, deep-throated rumble. To me, they were the big soothing sounds of the Pacific Ocean. To others, well, they were just loud.
There’s a scene in my book, Life on All Fours, where the main character, Ben, brings his puppy, Beau, home for the first time. Beau is completely freaked out, confused, over-stimulated, and missing his Mama. Ben doesn’t know what to do but we get the first glimpse of his parenting instinct—from a man who never knew he had one. We witness the beginning of a bond and see that they are connected by that unsung miracle—breath.
My dad moved carefully towards me and picked me up. He sat down on a chair and cradled me close to his chest.
“Poor baby, do you miss your Mama?” My dad’s eyes glistened as he spoke softly.
I squirmed to get free. My dad rubbed all the right places in all the wrong ways. I twisted and turned. His hands held me tight.
“It’s going to be OK, you’ll see. Shhhh.” He petted me slowly. “There you go.” He was warm, and I felt the slow thump of his body. “Yeah, that’s a good boy. Shhhhh.”
His voice hummed low. My wiggles began to have less fight, and my breathing slowed with his. My body felt heavy and limp. My eyes twitched and things started to get blurry. I hadn’t closed my eyes in a very long time.
I heard a chuckle followed by a sniffle, and then my dad whispered, “Little boy, you snore like an old man."
At times, it feels like Rufus’ death is going to take my breath away. Yet, I’m still breathing. Like the undulating ocean surf, breath connects me to life. It is impossible to inhale and not experience the full complement of life’s hardships and joys. Likewise, it is impossible to hold on to any of it because of my need to exhale. My eyes, the window to my soul, understand this. Salty droplets slide from the corners of my eyes to express that which words cannot . . .
Whoever is running life’s clock has a sadistic sense of timing. It’s taken me over five years to finish Life on All Fours. There is nothing efficient about collaborating with a dog. Rufus provided the inspiration for this book but he insisted on showing and that takes so much more time than telling. The completion of Life on All Fours is a testament to those projects that you stick with even through all the “Are you serious, you're still are working on it?” that make you feel lazy and incompetent. As I approached the publishing process I wanted to celebrate with a new photo for the book’s biography page, Rufus and me—the happy, industrious, and competent writing team. Two days before the photo shoot, Rufus died.
Even though he’s nine weeks dead, it feels like I just left him lying on that aluminum table; his last heart beat as palpable as the air being pushed through my congested nostrils right now. I thought I was doing better but this feeling came careening into my carefully constructed mourning this morning. I was picking out a shirt to wear and there it sat on the closet shelf, like the enticing song of a Siren—the bright green t-shirt I had on when I carried Rufus into the pet hospital—the last piece of clothing to touch the breathing Rufus. I followed the music and held the shirt to my nose, inhaled, crashing again into the devastation that is death. It hasn't been washed but has long forgotten his smell.
The t-shirt is designed by one of my sister’s friends and reads, “Release, flow, give thanks, let go.” On the morning of June 17, 2014 with no idea that six hours later I’d be saying my last good-bye to my best friend, I got dressed. Nine weeks later—release and flow (mucus and tears mostly), I want to hate this t-shirt because I’m not ready to give thanks or let go but I can’t help but love the hope that waits patiently for me; like Rufus waiting at the front door for me to follow. The truth is that grief is messy business and the only way forward is lots of Kleenex.
Five days before his death
June 12, 2014, Buena Vista Park, San Francisco.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.