Last Saturday would have been Boone’s (albeit, made-up) second birthday. It was harder than I thought it would be. Here’s the letter I wrote to him at three o’clock in the morning, eight hours after his death:
You spent your early childhood roaming a recycling center in Durham, when somebody decided that you, emaciated and full of worms, were worth rescuing. St. Francis Animal Hospital fed and treated you, caged you during the week, and fostered you out on the weekends. Soon some couple adopted you—of course they did! You were a handsome little brindle with a dopey head tilt.
When the woman called to say her boyfriend left and she couldn’t take care of you on her own, St. Francis told her to bring you back and found you emaciated. And full of worms. You soon were back to your routine: weekdays in the kennel at St. F, occasional days at Sunny Acres paid for out-of-pocket by the rescue lady, and most weekends with your foster mom, who was training for an Iron Man triathlon and would bring you to Northgate Park Dog Park after her training runs. I don’t know—she probably could’ve taken you on most of those; your legs came from the greyhound side of your family, and you were fast and energetic, if your gait was a little goofy.
But I’m glad she didn’t because then I might not have met you. You and Violet were fast friends, and your foster mom opened the conversation with, “They play so well together.” I had to agree, and she added, “I’m his foster mom. Are you looking for another dog?” No. I wasn’t. Adopting Violet had been the best decision of my adult life, but TWO? The food, the poop, the vet bills, the noise. No thank you. Except yes thank you. Not that day. The next weekend, when we met again at the dog park, and yes thank you, every day after that when I couldn’t stop thinking about you. And yes thank you, when the rescue lady brought you over to my house for a try-out. Oh, well, you couldn’t eat that much, right? Right?
And the vet bills wouldn’t be that much, right? Except the occasional trip to the emergency vet on a Sunday to get you stitched up, and the occasional trip to the regular vet two days later when you’d romped enough to rip the stitches out. Or when you chewed through your Elizabethan collar—I found it hanging like a clown’s tie around your neck—and pulled out your staples.
We had a great life, the three of us. We went up to Cuttyhunk, and you got to experience a freedom impossible on the busy mainland. You galumphed down the beaches, rustled the bayberry, almost killed that gimpy duck before I waded in in my socks and shoes and released him to his miserable life. I think all three of us might have been disappointed at the Darwinism interrupted. Trips up the mountain to Cove Creek meant romps on Swift’s Hill. Mmm, deer poop. Mostly we just hung out here in Hillsborough, where Occoneechee Mountain was a mile away.
My barometer of whether you’d gotten enough exercise: did you harass the cat in the evening? An hour’s hike every day (I’d do three miles, you and Violet probably nine), plus yard time and wrestling with Violet: you’d lift your giant pit bull head off the couch and your eyes would follow Maxwell as he slinked tauntingly through the living room. An hour-and-twenty-minute leash walk: you’d bolt off the couch and pin that poor 16-year-old cat every time. The dog park could sometimes satiate you too, though you had that troublesome habit of fixating on a dog, which to me was clearly a co-dependent sort of love, but to the dog’s owner looked like you were just holding it down by the neck. You loved hiking. Hiking was the best. You’d take off after squirrels and whatnot, but you knew who had the treats and, unlike your sister, who would run by my outstretched palm without a cursory glance if it meant another minute of freedom, you never took off for more than 10 minutes. It was probably that sense memory of being emaciated, and full of worms, that kept you close to a reliable source of hot dogs.
So yesterday, when neither of you came back, I started to worry. Four hours later, when I was achy from all the mileage, hoarse from calling your names, and parched from crying, Violet came bursting out of the woods and gobbled the Subway sandwich Laura had gotten for me. I was so relieved. I was sure you’d be right behind her. Instead, Animal Control showed up, with your bullet-riddled carcass in one of the hatches, with a report that you’d been trying to eat some guy’s chickens. Of course you were! It was 7:45, and you eat at 6:15 sharp.
Maybe I could have walked a little faster, shouted a little louder, and I would have found you in time. I suppose I could’ve kept you on the leash, like I was supposed to, but that would’ve made us both miserable.
Erik and I buried you in the yard, and I’m going to plant a garden on your grave, so I’ll have a place to go and remember you. Not that I need a place. You’re everywhere. You’re in my mangled left clog, which I left on the floor a little too long. That confused you. Chew toys were left on the floor. My fault. You’re in the food bowl, which you would sit before, trembling with anticipation at the bounty inside, and then snorf and lick clean at my signal. I can hear you, when I’d come home from work and you and Violet would wake up and do your yoga, your yawn a giant “Aaaaaaaaaah-oooooooooo.” I can feel your forelegs and big triangle-head draped on my thigh, pinning me to the couch. I can see you playing Smackdown with your sister, with your mean-face on but that traitorous tail wagging joyously behind you.
Violet doesn’t have your rarely-heard, big, houndy bark, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” And she doesn’t smack her lips apart when going for a treat. And she doesn’t shit on command or in convenient locations like you did. She insists on having her belly rubbed, whereas you were content with any body-to-body contact. She’s not laid-back like you, doesn’t trust strangers, and is petrified of children, the smaller, the more frightening. She doesn’t sleep with her back legs straight up under her chin.
There are many great qualities that she has that you didn’t, of course, and many of them are written above. She sounds the alarm at strangers. She’s insistently affectionate. She doesn’t steal food off the counter. She sleeps in a little pit-bull ball. She’s smart and can sense danger. And most of all, she’s still here. Thank god she’s still here.
I’m going to miss you, Boonie. I loved you like crazy. I was already in a tailspin from breaking up with Jay and from the wrenchingly beautiful birth of Annabelle, the juxtaposition of pure elation with the concern of being nearly 34 and not having any prospect of having a baby of my own. I was circling the bowl when the universe flushed. And I’m drowning.