Just two weeks ago, I sat up with him in the yard until the wee hours of that Sunday morning, huddled in an army blanket that would equalize my experience of the cold desert wind with his, covered as he was in his heavy winter coat. Like boiled wool, that hair would get, and it never smelled anything but wool-like. Wool and the heather off a wide gray moor, I thought that night, for the nth time and then some, my hands moving over his coat doing reiki to ease the pain that his meds couldn’t touch. He pressed his head against my leg until he finally fell asleep on my feet, and I sat there and looked at the moon and outright prayed to any being listening or not that somehow this duty would pass from me, this having to serve as the one with the responsibility to choose when to end his life, that somehow it could just happen, peacefully and naturally, praying for some inkling of what else we could do to make his tumor-riddled and arthritic joints ease up, praying while the rest of our little world slept because when there’s not one thing else left to do a person can do worse things than speak to the unhearing skies.
The next morning, we gave him his summer haircut and a nice hot bath (which he has adored since infancy), and suddenly, he stood up and ran around, stiffly yes, but all on his own. Back legs not moving as well as the front (the growth was on the lower part of his spine), no, but moving. Even cavorting some. Capable of walks on his own four feet and without mom or dad carrying his hindquarters in a sling between us. I didn’t breathe a word of this to anyone, fearful of jinxing it, but suddenly, it seemed as if he’d rallied, as if the reiki at last had done something besides ease his pain and my anguish. He’s been his old self since then, getting up and down at will without our assistance, well enough even that we decided we could spend yesterday with a friend in the city and did it, too. All my worries about our Old English Sheepdog dying too soon were receding. Completely. My writings about him before: this great contrarian soul alongside? Premature. Well-meaning, but premature. Coober Pedy has an ornery streak a mile wider than his namesake, and ornery gives one some umpff for going on strong when all about are dropping like flies done early with fruit season.
I spent part of last night figuring out what we could do to build a better cooling shade structure for him for the upcoming summer, believing the rally was permanent and thus we could carry on. I was glad I’d gone to spend time with our friend in that hot noisy city, glad I’d stumbled onto another friend there from far away, glad we’d made it to the little shop for accordions nearby, glad we don’t live there but happy to have been and returned, and I gave no thoughts to sorrow last night. Everybody was fine and sleeping on our return, even me. Then this morning the truth of it all hit.
What was happening, likely even to some extent while Dad and I were away during the day, but definitely under these night skies so healing, so endless, so dreamless as I slept unaware and unpraying. For when I awoke this morning, our great contrarian soul alongside was no longer alongside or anywhere this side of eternity. His body—so faithful to me all along—lay stone cold dead, not waiting quietly for me to wake up, no, but gone. For good this time. So my prayers from two weeks ago were answered, it seems, me stupidly, raggedly begging the abyss that my cowardice not have to be tasked with making the decision to end his life and to please grant me some understanding of how to do best by him meantime and to ease his pain, and this dearest of all my fellow contrarians ever has finally gone onto the paths just ahead and I did not one thing to assist. Not one.
I detest the saying RIP, rest in peace. Can’t say it, never have done without feeling a little ill. I don’t want you to rest in peace, Coober Pedy. You weren’t about rest while here except in rare moments of lolling for effects unspecified, and I cannot imagine you opting for such a sidelong approach to being now. Don’t go rest high on that damn blessed mountain, either. Your work here is done, yes, and you’ve earned a release from it all, from us, from keeping track of us, from trying to herd us into paths that were safe and straightforward, but resting? Not that. Please, not that.
As I sit here now, I tell my soul that you’re doing as always, following your breeding and instincts and your fierce love and sense of responsibility for your pack: you’re going ahead and I am certain that, if consciousness remains to those who walk on thus, you are looking back over your shoulders right now, pausing, urging us to come along, to not tarry, to get with the herd and march forward together. Carry on, my dear good and faithful friend. Carry on. Weave and bob on that trail, showing us (your usually errant charges) the way, pressing ever forward. Carry on. Don’t rest in some half-cocked version of nobody’s peace. Walk lively into that long night. I’ll keep bringing up the rear as always and, in the blink of one eye one day soon, I’ll be alongside you again. That is a promise. We’ll find the far edges of that world together, too, just as we did this one. One day soon, Coober Pedy. One day soon.