I keep expecting to see him, like I've just forgotten him in the other room. Then I remember and there is a terrible ache. I never would have been ready to let go. I know I did the right thing.
His right eye had swollen tremendously last week. The swelling had largely disappeared Saturday and over Sunday and Monday it had stayed down. He was doing better, but his breath had been becoming heavier and the eye would have swollen again, and I know if this didn't happen soon he would be suffering without reprieve. I had promised him I wouldn't let him suffer.
He never really liked the vet, and when we went to weigh him for his dose and resting place he seemed to remember where he was. He only gave the lightest tug towards the door, and I gave only the lightest tug back and lightly touched his neck to turn him back around. He barely noticed the first shot. Only after the sedative had been injected he promptly sat down, presumably the discomfort of the liquid pushing into the muscle tissue rather than a delayed acknowledgement of the shot.
Steph and I were left alone with him for a little while after that, and as he started to stumble and become a bit disoriented we tried to usher him onto a blanket and my flannel. He walked several circles around us and leaned against me for support. I held him lightly and he laid on the ground, and around then we were joined again and the woman who killed my dog helped me move his left hind leg to be more comfortable, even though by now he couldn't feel it.
I couldn't hold myself together anymore. A tourniquet was applied to his right foreleg, and for the first time I saw the final needle. I'm not going to describe how I felt.
I didn't want to get up that day. We had already purchased his last meal, I had recovered what I needed from the boxes in the basement and refreshed myself on preparation. On Sunday he never finished his dinner (though he snacked on plenty of roast beef later in the evening) but in the morning he certainly had an appetite again. He ate a meal more elegant than anything I had enjoyed in years. Slice by slice, over nearly an hour. He ate every bite and looked for more.
We brought a bag of bacon with us to feed him bit by bit on his walk. We left close to eleven and guided him where the path was dangerous and let him lead us when the indulgence was possible. We gave him his first piece of bacon outside T.D. Bank and again arriving at and leaving the boys where we stopped briefly.
We stopped for a little while at Folten's Pond and took a few pictures on the island cut by rivers there. The ice was still frozen and as we walked along the pond itself I skipped stones like so many others and enjoyed the sounds of the ice. Cosmo trotted happily where the shore became grass beside me, sniffing here and there as always.
We went between trees where we could and along side roads and back ways, and stopped for a while at memorial park to rest at the picnic tables.
We found out about the cancer back in July just before The Hamburger Social. Cosmo had recently been to the vet because of a sudden swelling in his eye and loss of appetite. The symptoms matched an abscessed tooth and that's what we assumed it was. Steph answered the call from the vet, and she called me up from her fathers basement to the phone. Cosmo was outside, just laying in the sun and happy. Surgery had removed the pain in his mouth and medication was helping. I cried for a while.
We bought him a bow tie and let everyone feed him hamburgers, and I tried not to mention it. A little after we returned to Kentucky a neighbor arrived at our home to give us a "Thunder Shirt" that would swaddle him and hopefully help quiet him during storms. It was a sweet gesture and we couldn't bring ourselves to tell her right away. It's questionable how much the shirt helped.
I think Steph told more people than I did, which is fine really. I didn't generally talk about it at all. I choked up when I did, and I've never really wanted sympathy. I guess we all try to be strong, it just doesn't always work out.
He had one to six months, he made seven and was going into eight. At the park he found a spot to lay in the sun for a while. I smoked a few of the cigarettes I had picked up in my weakness at Town News while Steph fed him in the parking lot of Jimmy's Pub.
A mother and her child played and the schools let out and he expressed a little curiosity here and there. We fed him more bacon from our hands. I remember how he used to steal food right from negligent hands. When he was fed deliberately he was always so gentle, so polite for an opportunistic little bastard.
When we left the park we still had nearly two hours.
We tried to explore Maple Park Preserve, but the highway department has expanded to encompass the old entrance on that part of town. We took him over the bridges at Canoe River instead. He ate the last bits of bacon he'd ever taste and we let him wander free for a while. He sniffed around and wagged his tail a bit, and never wandered far from us but often looked back to see if we'd follow him. Mostly we did, but occasionally called him back when he made towards the road or another property.
Young kids, middle schoolers who had taken their time or made another stop wandered through and we three watched them play for a while. Cosmo sat peering between two fence rails at them. His hearing may have been going but he still had his eyes. If he had wanted to say hello we would have let him, but he stayed near us, maybe wondering if they'd introduce themselves. A little after they wandered deeper into the woods we also left, but not before Cosmo took his last drink from the frozen waters of the lake. If we could have, I think I would have put him down there. He was in the sun, out in nature, behaving as a dog must when given the chance. He had his last snack among the trees, took his last drink from the waters that belonged to him more than us. He was truly free one last time before his end, and I know beyond a doubt that more than anything, he desired our company. He never tried to wander where he couldn't see us.
He loved us, he loved me, and we loved him, and he knew I loved him, and he understood and expressed that love as only a dog can. Given forever, that's where we could have stayed and neither of us would ever have changed anything except to return him his youth. Beyond the tragedy it was a perfect moment, and a part of my heart is always going to be there, just as it will always be at the North Attleboro shelter where we first saw him playing with an old rag, my forearm from nose to tip of tail, ears still as long as his nose. In my parents backyard with his first plush toy, a multicolored jack full of squeakers. Outside Cafe Arpegio's the first time I walked him into town. Out in Pittsfield Maine where he sniffed after deer and made so many new friends. Beside Spring Brook, over the path before and after it was paved. On nights where I couldn't be home or alone. I remember the trouble he got me out of, and the trouble he got into. I remember how the world changed around us, how I grew more distant from people and he pushed me back towards them, and how unconditional his love for me was and how readily I returned it.
He was my nature, he showed me the world. He stopped to smell the roses and the shit. He raised me as much as I raised him. I don't know who I'd be without all of these memories. Cosmo wasn't just my dog, he was part of me. He always will be part of me.
We visited St. Mary's across from the Mansfield Animal hospital where he had his first and would soon have his last visit. We visited family of Steph's where we fixed the flags and Cosmo rested and we payed our respects. We wondered if Cosmo would see any of them in an afterlife. I left a roughly trapezoidal piece of white quartz atop the marker for the resting places of some family of a friend and we climbed the stairs to what used to be Videomania to wait for the end.
I was having trouble denying it then. We had walked four miles and he was tired. He was ready for a rest, and he had earned it. Even when you know what the right thing is, even when you want to do the right thing, sometimes it's still so hard. Sometimes every step punishes.
His final arrangements were brief. I knew if I didn't push through it I'd risk backing out, I knew if I backed out I wouldn't be keeping my promise, I knew I had to let go.
I tell myself he was confused but not afraid. I tell myself he fell against me because it was me. He kept looking from left to right. In a way it was silly. I wish I could know what he felt or saw or knew in those final moments. Smells probably, sleepiness I'm sure. In human years he was nearly a centenarian. It'll be a long time before I know his exhaustion.
I tell myself he knew he wasn't alone, that he knew he was loved and that he felt peace. I tell myself I'm right.
His heart stopped. He was gone, and now he'll always be gone. He'll always be with me, but I'm never going to see him, never going to play with him, never going to touch him, never going to hear him sleep. I hear his absence now at night. His lungs were almost exactly half the size of mine. When I had trouble sleeping I used to breath to his second breaths.
I'm never going to be with my dog again. I had to leave him there on the floor, limp.
They have more than one office there and this was only his second time in that one. Once before he was put under the gas for a minor operation. I came in with him and I stayed from when they gassed him out till he woke up. He fell out with a few harumphs and then spent some time twitching his legs, presumably chasing some rabbit or squirrel. I miss watching him sleep.
I always knew but didn't really acknowledge that my dog wouldn't live forever. I'd almost say it was the same blanket he was on when I went to wait for him to wake from that operation, but I think that was blue instead of red. Memory. I cried a little then, he was younger but old and I saw it as a premonition beneath everything else. Someday a vet would make him sleep and he wouldn't wake up, I couldn't have known it would be the same clinic, the same room I had been in.
He woke up that time. He didn't wake up this time.
I took off his bow tie, took off his collar, slide his detached leash from under him. I'm between those object now, and they'll always be near me. I left him with a bit of my hair and a squeaker from a plush toy, a sound that gave him joy in his youth and a part of me to keep him company. He'll never be alone.
I scratched his side and held him lightly and said goodbye, that he had been a good dog and that I loved him, and he knew all of it already, knew I was there, he knew I wasn't abandoning him. We stayed for a while. We cried for him, Steph comforted me while I saw his soul off. I had my hands on his right hindquarter and chest. I pet him for a while. I ran a finger lightly along the velvet of his ears, closed his nearly shut eyes, lifted his head to treasure his possessions, cried over him and kissed him goodbye and struggled to regain my stance. I will be there forever too, unwilling to leave.
I would have stayed there forever too. I would have slept an eternal sleep next to him. He was gone, and it felt like so much of me had left with him. I remember every spot on his legs, and all fifty whiskers. The white hairs on his right side, the first time he played with another dog (pepper,) the color between his shoulders, the way he fell in love with empty soda bottles. I'll never forget anything.
I wonder who will chase off the storms now.