By Pete Souza
Made using Caroline Crawford’s poem (below) as inspiration
By Caroline Crawford
Meaning he sticks around where he knows he’ll be fed.
He sleeps in the same place every night.
He goes for a walk. Looks for something new to sniff.
Returns home without thinking about where home is. He knows the route by instinct.
Or, more likely, by memory.
He doesn’t say much.
Sometimes you see his eyes looking far away.
But you say his name, ask him what he’s thinking about,
And he looks surprised, and then benignly indifferent.
Then he settles down and takes a nap.
Dogs don’t drive.
So if it weren’t for his ability with the car keys
The way he can put the Ford in gear and head out
To the hardware store, the diner, the golf course, the errand
that could take 10 minutes and instead takes a good part of the afternoon
It might be easy to forget that he isn’t
Bred for a purpose
Although that purpose may have be lost in the generations before him.
So now he wants to hunt, and point, and retrieve and return
Although he doesn’t know exactly why.
A faithful companion
If faithful means
But watch him run in his dreams
Hear him bark and whimper while he sleeps.
He wants to be off leash for good.
He knows his name and answers your call.
He’ll show up if you say, “Come.”
He’ll stay if you say, “Stay.”
And he’ll go if you say, “Go,”
But he might not look back over his shoulder
As he walks away.
By Pete Souza
Inspiration Piece provided to Caroline Crawford
By Caroline Crawford
The first time I saw him naked, I knew I was looking at a body that had earned its muscled contours not from a few hours a week spent in an air-conditioned gym lifting weights while listening to classic rock but from a life of honest outdoor work and play. His broad back was testament to his teen years spent loading hay bales into tractor trailers in central Washington State; his strong quads bespoke a lifelong devotion to cycling; his taut calves to his affinity for sprinting everywhere rather than walking at society’s pace.
And so when I saw him naked that day, for what was probably the 3500th time, I thought back to that first time, and that memory made it obvious that I had to accept that I was indeed losing him; he was leaving me, despite our struggle to hold that tide at bay.
He’d been bending over to pick up his just-removed briefs and had to hold onto my arm to steady himself. I looked at his legs–hairless, bony, his knees protruding in a way that brought to mind those horrific photos of almost lifeless men staring at a camera in a newly liberated concentration camp. He must have seen my face, my look of despair.
“What? What it is?”
“It’s just… it’s your legs.” I couldn’t help myself. We’d been so honest throughout our whole relationship. How could I stop now?
He walked, naked, over to our full-length mirror and stared at himself. His blue eyes were dark. “Look at me. It’s horrible.”
It was. He was bald, hairless… even his eyebrows and eyelashes had fallen out because of the massive doses of chemo that still wouldn’t stop the errant cells from continuing their evil colonization where they didn’t belong, deep in the parietal lobe of his brain. He was pale; his face and stomach swollen from the steroids that kept some of his other symptoms in check but which ate away at his muscles and strength. “It’s horrible.”
After he’d gone to sleep that night, I lay awake next to him, watching his face in peaceful sleep, looking at his skull and wondering where in his brain the cells had come from to create the tumors and where at this very moment were they moving to. I’d given up believing that they’d go away. I just wanted them to stop long enough to let my husband get his sense of self back again–his strength and agility were at the center of his being, and without them he didn’t know who he was.
After the chemo was mercifully ended and the only care offered was for comfort, his eyebrows reappeared, his lashes grew in and some faint color returned to his face. But his strength did not return.
Without his strength and physical ability, he was perplexed. He would hand me a jar to open or, in the last few weeks, his knife to cut into the butter that would no longer yield to his pressure, and look at me in quiet disbelief. I would brush those moments off as simple favors, not wanting to let him know the alarm bells ringing in me, wondering what was happening to his formerly whole man, right in front of my eyes, and when would it stop?
Watching as a formerly vibrant, vital, radiant man who was barely forty had his identity and then his literal life slowly drawn from him was like watching a horror movie in slow motion. I knew that he was leaving, leaving himself, leaving me, and it filled me with almost mute despair.
I promised him that if he had to go, he would go gracefully and on his own terms. No hospital, no drips, no needles, just who and what he loved around him. When he moved to the hospice residence for his last week, I brought photographs of him in the fullness of life so that when he opened his eyes he would see who he was, not who he’d so recently become. Alan on his bike in the Kittitas Valley; Alan in his gi at the karate dojo in Austria; Alan leaping from a rock in Acadia; Alan smiling at me as he emerged, dripping wet, from the sweet blue of the Caribbean. “Ah,” he said with a satisfied sigh as I showed him the photo display. He couldn’t say much more.
A graceful exit, a smooth passage, on his own terms. I watched him leave and move away from me to the place beyond the body, and I felt his peace, and I see his wake.