Waiting for Tyler: A Eulogy of Golden Love
Each memory brings you closer, as if we could touch. Familiar hopes return, with their inevitable enticements. Maybe this time they are telling the truth. If we open our hearts once again to the myriad images pressing to come in—if we let your still vivid presence cross into the hollows we haven't returned to for so long—surely we'll get to feel your warm body sleeping next to us like before, the slow full pulse of your breath at one with ours all through the night.
This is the promise of remembering. You'll be here, with us, and the world will not have broken.
* * *
That extarordinary spring day, three years ago, the day you were born, it turns out. Strolling in a quiet neighborhood of Mill Valley, Kathryn and I. Talking about you, Tyler. Indirectly. The idea of you.
For weeks we've been musing about what breed of puppy to get. As we walk along today Kathryn has made up her mind: a golden retriever. I answer, yes, that seems right to me too. A baby golden.
A few moments of gratifying silence, and then: magic. Around a bend in the road, like out of a dream, appears a dog walker with a pack of magnificent dogs organized around the presence of a particularly beautiful godlen retriever. Honey-blond. Stately. Massive. Elegant. Playful. Exuding affection, yet wonderfully calm, clearly well trained.
His name is Logan, we learn from the woman at the other end of his lead, Ellen. Logan is proud, because that very day, Sophie, Logan's bitch, will deliver a litter of puppies.
Kathryn's eyes meet mine. As the dogs surround and include us, there's only one question: How can we get one? Ellen gives us a phone number to call that night.
We don't wait; we call within the hour. Ann, the breeder, puts us on the list for a baby Logan. That night, Sophie whelps three females, one male. The boy is yours, Ann calls back to say, if you want him. Do we ever.
* * *
Six weeks pass. Pickup day. Late June, so hot and humid. The long drive north to Napa.
There they all are, stumbling around the lawn in their tentative mammal bodies, to my eye equal parts dog, bear, lion, cub seal. Sophie watchful, Logan regal.
That's him, Ann tell us, pointing to a small ball of angora busily delighting himself with the sheer astnishment of being: closing in on a tall shoot of grass, edging fatefully toward a spectacular pounce.
"Tyler," we call. You look up, for an instant transcending yourself and taking us in. In that moment, our life together began:
Your delirious sigh as I cooled your baby belly with ice cubes during the hot drive home.
How I'd put one end of the rubber chew-toy in my mouth and coax you to take the other in yours. How tug became our best game.
Your sharp squeal (alarm? pleasure? both?) when you made your first mess on the bedroom rug.
That dolphin smile you flashed each time Kathryn sang to you.
How I'd throw stick after stick in the reservoir as you barked and growled, bit and and pawed at the muddy edge. That immortal moment you pushed away from the shore and collapsed into the water. Your startled "but where's the ground?" terror giving way to amphibious ecstasy.
The way you learned to track gophers through their mazes of underground tunnels, always meeting them at the end.
How after midnight you'd leave the cold tile floor, step up onto the bed and fall asleep sprawled—luxuriously, aristocratically—on your back. The way you'd whimper and tremble during dreams. The deep breezy soul-breath that came each time we reached for you. Your animal warmth joining ours.
* * *
Your soft brown eyes, so sad, so knowing. What did you know, Tyler? Did we seem to hear? Did you think we understood?
The day we brought you two-month Yoshi, your Great Pyrenees companion. How you welcomed him dog-to-pup, showing him every part of the five acres, including your best hiding place; how he outgrew you in size so quickly. The gorgeous sight of you running together, biting ankles, charging like bulls, colliding like elk; retreating, returning, and falling exhasuted; stampeding through the tall grass near the creek and beyond; showing up on the porch drenched with the black mud of eons.
Our life had become full. Whole.
* * *
All of this, and moe, returns, each time I say your name. As do the fast, heavy shadows of that last morning.
The delivery driver was supposed to have been watching, especially in our driveway. He was supposed to know where you and Yoshi were, as you barked alongside his truck. He said he didn't notice; he should have.
Yoshi nudging your writing body as I ran to you; his baby brother confusion unbearable to watch. Holding you and pleading with God.
* * *
The uncountable ways I've tried to play the tape backward, to keep that day from happening.
So you would be here today for our afternoon walks through the orchard, to watch and smell the pippins whispering ripeness, enjoined by the rhythms of some larger alchemy.
You and Yoshi and Kathryn and me together.
Do you see?
All day and night at the vet hospital. The songs we sang, the prayers we murmured. Tyler don't go. The moment we knew we had to let you. No more medicine, tubes, heroics. How we held you as your body quieted to silence. The unspoken, unspeakable holdines of that moment.
The weekend vigil we kept at home. Your musculear form so still on the makeshift platform, surrounded by daisies. Clearly, certainly, you wuld get up any moment now.
Friends arriving and leaving. The incense, the candles, the chants, the countless rounds of last words, separate streams of laughter and tears coming together. Your blond fur still soft, your body getting harder, cold.
The sound, the sense, the feeling of earth calling for you, and you for earth.
* * *
Sunday, early dusk. Securirng you on the platform, we begin the dead march into the woods, slowed by the weight of your body, our hearts. Each step an image from some ancient lucid dream. Muffled drums. Taps. Dirge. Death bell. Funeral ring. Tolling of the knell. Requiem. Pallbearers. Lasst rites. Raven. "Weweeping and gnashing of teeth. Crepe. Black. Saackcloth and ashes. Cypress.
* * *
Yoshi keeping his distance, as he has these slow days, watching intently as we approach the grave I dug at dawn, "the lone couch of his everlasting sleep," said the poet. Yoshi simply attending as we lay you down below with your ball, a bunch of your favorite cookies, a print of our first Christmas family photo, so you'll remember us on the Other Side. And your first chew-toy.
Your soul all around. Everywhere.
Good-bye, sweetest boy.
* * *
One year has come and gone since that day. Afternoon air warm in some patches, cool in others. Wind says fog coming back to the valley. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.
Tonight Kathryn and I will sit on the porch with huge Yoshi and look down the driveway. We'll talk, and we'll be silent. Yoshi will catch sight of a deer and take off, barking in the translucent dusk.
Neither of us will says so, but we'll expect to see you come bounding back up the road with Yoshi. The road to this house that was ours together.
* * *
How we miss you, golden Tyler. How we wait.
—from Soul: An Archeology edited by Phil Cousineau (Harper San Francisco, 1994)