Astro entered our lives as a pup one spring day in 2001. Part Bernese Mountain dog and part mutt, he was tossed out on the road by a nearby college where my wife picked him up, noticing the lone boy was trying to make friends with anyone. He had me the moment I first saw him-all head, shiny eyes, round tummy-a fur ball that just wanted to please.
I had lost my mother just months before, and he injected a full life back into mine-he was Astro, Mr. Bang, Slurpee, and a dozen other names, and he answered to them all. Over the years we had our own vocabulary, our own playlists of songs-both real and imagined ones we made up together-the Bacon Dance, the Son Song, Goin' Outside. We had a bond of shared empathy that most humans never seem to achieve with one another.
He was a majestic boy, a stubborn, mischievous child, a dog of labor and the water, and a seeker of adventure. He taught and reminded me of the immediacy of the now and of being present, that it is always better to give, and together we discovered the magical truth of existence-that the ball is the essence of life.
When I was physically shattered by a drunk driver, he was beside me giving me his all. The hundreds of mornings that I woke to pain and disability and that every-day decision to simply suck it up and get up and get on was made possible by that companion guarding over my waking bedside, his head softly reaching up and over the bed edge to nudge me into life.
When I would falter in step, he would plant himself against me to steady me. When I sat, he would carefully climb halfway onto the couch and put his head in my lap and stroke my leg with his paw. He told and reminded me of possibilities and dreams and wishes and that water wasn't simply water and that a day wasn't just a day-it was a wellspring of taste and life and joy-and he did it all by just being that good, fine boy he was on that first day and every day since.
Our years passed like fast moving clouds in the sky and cool rain in the sun. We both aged, and we both got lame, but we both kept the sparkle in our eyes, our shared dance, and our songs. Barely five weeks ago, I got very sick and then discovered he also was ill-a fast moving, last stage renal failure from probable kidney cancer. He had been in pain and discomfort for weeks, and in a testament to his strength, he never displayed it, and to my detriment, I did not fully sense it. Days, the first vet said. So, I rallied and fought through bacterial meningitis, a series of strokes, and debilitating every-second nausea, fighting for him, and he for me. Good soldiers in a shared, precious life where pity parties aren't allowed.
And we got five weeks and a day. Five glorious, tragic, wonderful weeks. And a day.
Early this morning, the quiet of waking told me secrets of my boy, that he would fight to the end with me at his side-no quarter, no submission, but that the tide of battle was swiftly moving him to an ambushed endgame-one where there would in moments be only suffering until eventually, he would be claimed. I woke my wife-my partner in Team Astro-and we began the long, slow planning and with stops, starts, and endless re-thinking, I set up a home vet specialist for the night. I walked outside and the warm sunny day turned a bit chilled and a soft rain fell like everything around us was crying for the moment, for the coming loss, and the victory of things that shine, but that to my eyes seemed dulled.
This is not a maudlin post of bullshit sentimentality of a boy and his dog. This is a post of respect, and honor, and love. For Astro was not my dog-he was my wife's, and in a way-he was everyone's dog, because he saw only one thing in people-a friend he could love. In these five weeks, help, assistance, and that love came back from the most expected and unexpected places-loans, vet support, gifts. All enabled me to push days into five weeks.
We loved him all day, as we had every morning, night, and eve since the first. We lay down beside him and petted and scratched and just were present in the moment. And my wife, the love of both my and his life, was the ease and grace that was the ground he had today. He was weak, as each day he had eaten less and less 'till naught, and the storms inside him that were gathering that would surely begin raging in deadly earnest tonight, tomorrow, or the precious early morning abated, the rain outside ceased, and peace reigned through our little house.
Soft music played, a triad loved, and late in the evening, though forever early, we allowed our guy to be taken easily-all the while filling him with praise and touches and heart sounds. And then it was over, and there was nothing maudlin about it-to me, it was the most blessed, incredible gift and the feeling of the most damning, betraying destruction coupled together. The three became two again, and moments passed, and I have spent the last of them searching for and following his spirit all around and about me and into vapor.
All alone and late, I type a post of one of the most beautiful things I have and will ever know. Sleepless and wordless, I am unsorted. I am damaged. I am bewildered and shaken and tired. The only thing I trust at this second is that all seconds, all moments, count. The savoring of people and animals and fellowship, and most importantly-their bond in heart and love. Twelve years that were seconds into moments into days, then into five weeks. And one day.
This day. All moments of a good, fine boy. My boy.