Letter to My Dog on the Eve of Her Last Full Day on Earth
You carried me for eight years, and now I am going to carry myself
I’m sorry I brought you to the city.
I’m sorry we ever left the mountain, I’m sorry the last four years of your life were attached to the end of a leash, and I’m sorry I didn’t take you swimming enough when we came here. I’m sorry for that time we had been driving for 12 hours, and I yelled at you in the car for trying to climb from the back seat into my lap in the middle of the night somewhere in Ohio. I’m sorry for every walk that wasn’t long enough because I was tired after work. I’m sorry for not letting you on the bed.
I know you don’t care about any of this right now, while you lay with your head in my lap. I know you have forgiven me, and you would forgive me for anything in the world. I know you have no idea that I am sometimes awful, that you have no interest in hearing about my ugly moments. You’ve never called me a shitty friend and been right.
To you, I am perfect. I am the most perfect I ever could be, and when I think of the kind of person I want to be, I think of the infinite faith and trust you have in me. For eight years, you’ve lain on the bath mat while I showered, stayed within earshot outdoors, warned me about intruders, run ahead on the trails to make sure it was safe, and leaned the whole weight of your 50-pound, warm body against me while I cried. You would do anything for me. When I think about the kind of person I want to be, I think about being someone who is worthy of that kind of love. I’m not, you know. I think if you did know that, you wouldn’t mind.
Every time something broke my heart enough for me to think it was maybe broken for good, there you were, leaning your head against me.
When I had to leave you with friends, sometimes on the way to the airport I would have panic attacks about the possibility of the plane going down and you thinking I just never came back for you. The thought of you assuming I abandoned you was unbearable. You never had separation anxiety. I did.
For eight years, it’s been you and me. Eight years, seven homes, and about 15,000 miles together back and forth across the country. Eight years, five failed relationships, and at the end of each one, you and me. Eight years and countless photos of you in the ocean, you in the snow, you in the back seat of the car, you crossing the river with me, always next to me. Always next to me. Nobody ever loved me more or better than you, and every time something broke my heart enough for me to think it was maybe broken for good, there you were, leaning your head against me. I hated how you would sneak into my bed and lie right on top of my legs so I would wake up unable to move them, and I’m sorry I ever hated it. You were the one who lay on my body the morning I came home with hypothermia and couldn’t get warm. I should have just let you sleep where you wanted.
You could lay on my legs every night until they were asleep if it meant you’d get better, but I know bargains with God don’t work that way, and I know all time is borrowed, and I know that things happen all the time without our permission. And I know if you had your way, you would never leave me. You would let yourself get sicker, you would suffer if it meant you could keep lying on the bath mat while I shower. If it meant you would be there when I came home. If it was up to you, you’d just stay. Because you’re not sure I can take care of myself without you, and you know I am not sure either.
You’re used to being the one to let me know if there are snakes on the trail. You know you are better at this than I am.
So this is what I want you to know: I am going to try. For the rest of my life, I am going to know that I was once loved by the most beautiful creature who ever existed. That I was loved with perfect devotion and grace and that Jesus Christ himself and all the saints would have been humbled by the immaculacy of this love. For the rest of my life, I am going to remember how brave you have been. How you arrived—a young, unsocialized, petrified literal half-coyote, shaking and afraid. And how, on the first night you lived with me, you got between me and whatever was on the other side of the door, snarling, because even your fear would not stop you from protecting me. How it took you less than six hours to decide I was your person, and that you would trust me to lead you into the world of people. How nobody who met you today would ever believe you had once been so afraid. You are the bravest girl I have ever met. For the rest of my life, when I am scared, I will remember this. You taught me well. You did what you came to do, and I am going to try.
I think I would have turned out differently if it hadn’t been for you. I think you kept my heart warm when it would have otherwise frozen over. I think most of the good parts of me grew to be anything because of you.
Eight years and I came home every time, and this is what I know you know: I did my best. I did my best, and I always came home, and so did you. Even when we lost our home, we knew how to get back to the car. Even when our home was a series of someone else’s homes, we knew how to find each other. We knew what home was. It was us, together.
So on the day after tomorrow, when it’s time for me to do the biggest, most loving thing I have ever done for you, I am going to have to trust you. I am going to have to trust that you will know how to find me. Eight years and even mortality can’t separate us. It is time for you to go. You know it and I know it. And I cannot drag you through your own suffering just because I am afraid to be without you. I love you, and I owe you this exit.
You carried me for eight years, and now I am going to carry myself, and I am going to carry you too, right to your last moment. This is a bridge, and you have to cross it without me. But geography is tricky that way, and so are the boundaries of mortality. We love past them, over them, through them. They can’t contain us. They can only make it difficult for us to sit together. Where you are going, I hope sometimes there is snow.
This is what I want you to know: Thank you. I’ll see you out there, Coyote. After this, you live in my heart. And in my heart, there is a river you can swim in at any time, acres and acres of tall grass, and chickens nobody will ever scold you for eating.