Bullet died yesterday.
Only three days prior, she collapsed suddenly. We were at the Grand Canyon. The elevation, maybe, I thought. We drove quickly to Flagstaff, where they found an aggressive tumor in her spleen, causing internal bleeding.
Put her to sleep right there were the options.
The tumor too big, she too old, an operation only had a 50% chance of survival. Letting her die immediately, I couldn't bare. So we packed our things and I carried her home, my love of her more intense than ever before.
For three days, we were inseparable. In the back seat of the car, driving West we snuggled up under my jacket . The tumor made her very cold. In the hotel, while she slept under piles of sheets and towels, I would sniff her little feet hoping to remember the smell. When she was up and willing to eat, we cooked steak and pork chops and she, like in the old times, begged for every last bit. My little hedonist. We took a short walk before returning to bed yesterday. And then, suddenly, she collapsed again.
So that's what happened.
But, to be fair, that's the least of it.
Bullet was a wee puppy when she fell in my lap 11 years ago. Even though Mary warned me, "If you go see that puppy you'll come back with it!" I never really thought I'd adopt a dog, let alone one that needed as much care as Bullet. But she ran up to me with such an unmatched enthusiasm (we would later name that run "Bullet's zoomies"), and so I put her in my lap and kept her there for the two hour drive home.
It was December 2004.
Even then, my life only had an instinctual sense of direction, but no clear path. No master plan. Bullet became the only thing that anchored me - to a place, to a goal, to a desire - her simple presence ensured I was always thoughtful about where we were headed. And we were always heading somewhere.
The act of driving for hours to find a perfect river and trail was our obsession. Nothing filled my heart more than her, surrounded by acres of secluded woods and water, running. Her mouth would open in a big smile, her little ears would flop in the wind, feet kicking up dirt and leaves in a dust cloud behind her. I'd toss a stick, and there she'd be, leaping into rivers without hesitation, my little seal baby.
Bullet and I took those detours of nature everywhere we could: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. We traveled and we ran and played and then some stuff, like apartments and jobs, happened in between. I'm sure it seemed like that to her. On good days, it seems like that to me too.
At the beginning of 2015, the world gave me a hint. I looked at Bullet and noticed the grey hairs, noticed how quickly a decade had passed, and how as time went on I was caring more about the things Bullet cared so little about: money, jobs, apartments, things. And it shook me. As a unit, we were always happy around people and dogs we loved and landscapes we couldn't be contained by. Yet there we were, on lockdown of some false idea that was supposed to give us joy, but wasn't.
So, with a single grey haired suggestion, Bullet and I packed our bags and began to drive. We visited friends and family. We stopped at every creek, river and lake and swam. We'd pull off on random roads and just run. We had bonfires with friends, letting them feed us and love us and house us, before going back on long walks and traipsing around town with our tails wagging.
It's been a glorious year.
And now, Bullet is gone.
All that's left is for me to grieve, and to create some meaning out of my loss. And to not forget, and this is essential, that the correct and final response to her absence must always be one of gratitude for her existence in the first place.
What Bullet gave me was immense, and following her death, I can see that it all centered around a single act: her undying attentiveness. I think that's what all dogs do. They simply follow - with their feet, their eyes, or their noses - our existence without asking for anything more but our presence. Attention is the shrewd skill of a dog.
So when her grey hair called for my attention, I am glad I noticed. Glad I stopped, changed course, and spent our last year together, together. It seems that after ten years, she actually taught me a trick - to pay attention to this world, and answer its call when it comes.
To all of you who gave us your time, care and love, be it this year or in the ten that came before, thank you. Thank you, thank you.
It was one wonderful life.
I know I know nothing of what is supposed to come next, but this little poem makes me feel like that's quite ok.
"A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing."
- Mary Oliver