An Open Love Letter to My Love
March 24, 2017
My Dearest Ollie —
One day in September, around seven and a half years ago, I got word about some shepherd puppies that had been born in the animal shelter in Pittsfield. I immediately submitted my paper application to adopt one of you guys. I touted all of my virtues: enclosed backyard, no kids, and best of all, my answer to the question about how many hours a week you’d be alone at home: ZERO. You’d be with me 24/7, that’s the kind of life we’d have. I anxiously awaited my invitation to come and meet you and your littermates. The invitation came, and up to Pittsfield I went. I wanted to spend a few minutes with each of the five of you — I wanted to ask you all about how you’d like to be a vegetable farm dog, explain some of the challenges of the job, and some of the benefits of the position. :)
The first night, I met with you, one of your sisters, and one more puppy who I don’t remember so well anymore. You and I hit it off right away, but I also liked your sister — I remember telling your now Auntie Em that maybe I should adopt you both and she, ironically (but we didn’t know how ironic yet — her twin babies were still on the horizon) — screamed at me over the phone: “No! Are you crazy? You can’t have two puppies! Two is nuts, I’m not letting you do it!”
So, one it would be. And of course it would be you. But first, I went back a second night, intending to meet your other two siblings — but you would not have it — as the shelter worker tried to reach past you to scoop up one of the other puppies, you climbed up on their backs for a boost and hurled yourself into my arms. That is the unembellished truth. And it was a done deal.
I still had to wait a little longer to bring you home — maybe it was a couple of weeks, until you were old enough to leave your little pack. I did end up picking you up about a week earlier than expected, so you could heal better from some ridiculous surgery they made you get on your dew-claws. So when I got that unexpected call, I rushed up to Pittsfield to get you, although my house wasn’t outfitted yet with puppy gear. I remember holding you in the crook of my right arm while I signed all the paperwork with my left hand. And then you and I went into the Petco up there together to pick out some basic puppy stuff — you sat in the red shopping basket and gave me your enthusiastic approval as we picked out some extra treats. I remember that the charming guy at the cash register was very taken with you, and I told him giddily that this was our very first hour together. I could tell he was genuine in his congratulations. I’ve often remembered, and often told, this story of how you and I first met. My heart swells with love whenever I do.
Since that night in early November, 2009, you and I have spent around 2,675 days and nights together. You filled each of those 2,675 days of our lives with love, with laughter, with all kinds of shenanigans and craziness. We’ve had these seven years and four months to share with one another — this letter could easily be 2,675 pages long. We had all those days to learn about each other, to learn to speak to each other and to listen to each other. We learned to laugh together. You met and fell in love with and devoted yourself to so many friends, so many farm girls, so many adoring aunts and uncles. Your people were your people, and then there was everyone else — “the others” — you needed some convincing but if they passed muster with you and were worthy of your love, you quickly took them into your circle. You are a dog who feels things intensely and loves deeply and loyally. Your song and dance of delight when greeting me or any of your people, is pure joy. You simply could not contain yourself, and really why should you? It always made me realize just how contained and reserved we guarded humans are. Your constant conversation of tail thumps and vocalizations is a vocabulary that I learned to read — “Yes! More of this, please. No, less of that, I don’t like that. Tell that person to stop looking at me! Am I up for walkies? Have you met me? Are you kidding? What are we waiting for??” You let me translate for you to your other human friends, wagging and thumping your tail in approval to let me know I was getting it right, and in this manner, you had many long and regular conversations with your inner circle. And although you are a serious dog, you also are ridiculous, and your sense of humor is unparalleled.
Your obsessions and compulsions often got the best of both of us — you never gave up on clandestinely teaching people to play rock with you at the farm when I wasn’t looking; you knew exactly who you could bamboozle into throwing them for you before I had a chance to tell them for gods sakes not to, as you worked yourself into a lathery rock chasing frenzy. You never grew out of your maddening puppy need to pounce on and get underneath and tear up reemay, with its shimmering flowing flapping temptation — which made the already grueling job of covering crops just that much more unpleasant. Your insistence, in the car, of riding on the passenger’s lap, was a little embarrassing, except you and I both knew that the best feeling in the world is you snuggling into a lap, finding a way to fit no matter the shape or size of the lap, and we knew that the passenger would eventually see it our way and would be glad you’d insisted. And speaking of slightly embarrassing, there was our winter ritual where you’d wake up in the wee hours and walk to the top of the bed, and give me the signal — the gentle but insistent tap on the edge of the bedcovers would wake me up just enough to lift them up for you so you could crawl underneath and nestle in the crook of my legs. Our secret.
We have walked and romped all over the Berkshires together. Remember a couple of winters ago when there was so much fucking snow, the only time we left the house some days was to go to Barnum Street, to your magic trail, to cross-country ski? Remember how you loved to pounce on the back of my skis! The motion was so exciting to you. And remember one of those wintery days when we were suddenly flanked by running deer on our left and on our right — they passed us and you took off after them — what elation that moment was. And remember when we snow shoed into town, and the whole place was ours? And remember when we used to snow shoe in the park in Lenox? And remember the time we actually got lost there?
Walkies with you, whatever the season, whatever the hour or location, was always the best thing we did with our day. Especially on those days when we’d been at the farm for twelve hours and could have just as easily have gone home — heading over to Barnum Street in the waning light of a summer night was always the right decision. Sometimes we even went after dark — remember that time with Auntie Anna, when it was bizarrely hot in the late spring? Too hot to walk in daylight — we did moonlight walkies on Barnum without flashlights! God, that was a gorgeous night and we couldn’t stop — we walked further and further and you, of course, were totally game.
And there was always, en route to walkies, your mounting excitement that you could not even pretend to contain as we approached the pullover spot, your gentle whining that crescendoed to ecstatic cries so loud that I couldn’t hear whoever else was in the car with us — we just had to stop trying to talk until we got there — your unbridled excitement to disembark from the car — the way you’d try to climb over me and get out on my side and I’d have to gently push you back to your side — “I’ll come around and get you on your side, Bear.” How many times have I said that? And then the first phase of the walk, when you wouldn’t walk linearly because you needed to rush from tree to tree, from smell to smell, to get all the messages about who else had been there since last time you and I were there. Tail up, nose down and quivering with excitement. Then we’d get into a rhythm, and you’d stick pretty close, looking back and up at me to check in — is this good? Are we gonna keep going? Yeah? And then you’d get comfortable and take your side trips, following a scent, in hot pursuit of a squirrel or a rabbit or a deer, dashing up the ridge on the left, crashing down through the ravine on the right, up ahead, circling back, running an extra mile for my every quarter of a mile, at least. Could there POSSIBLY be a better soundtrack — your paws thundering on the earth, swooshing up leaves and cracking twigs. And you’d return to my side, your speckled black and pink tongue lolling down to the ground, you smiling broadly, panting, eyes lit wildly with freedom and with the joy of being together again. The best was when we could find a running part of the brook for you to drink from — another exquisite sight and sound — you hungrily and sloppily lapping up the cold fresh water — or sometimes snow! By the time we got to the loop by the big part of the brook, you were usually settled back into sticking with me, you’d do your dainty trot up the hill and I’d follow you, huffing and puffing just a little bit at that point. We’d get to that place with the best view — last summer they actually built a bench there for sitting and contemplating that magical, serene view. And I’d catch my breath and sometimes pull out the phone to take a few pictures and you’d sit on the bank, patiently — this camera routine was something you were very familiar with and you were always so gracious in letting me take that time. And we’d head back on the return part of the loop, away from the brook, back through the woods — you might have another drink along the way, explore a few more scent trails and get a few more ya-ya’s out. And when we got close to the end of the trail and could see our car, you knew to wait for me, “let’s do this part together, Bear,” I’d always say, and you let me clip your leash back on, because there was a terrible blind spot on the road where we’d get off the trail. Then we’d heave ourselves back into the car, feeling deeply satisfied, starting to think about dinner, maybe stop at Guidos for a couple of things, and most nights, eventually settle on the sofa for a little snugging and Netflix before going to bed for real. Even though we’ve lived that story probably a thousand times, it isn’t enough, and I disintegrate into a billion gasps of grief to think we won’t do that together again.
People keep telling me that I gave you a beautiful life. I want to tell YOU that this is exactly what you gave to me. Even today, as I made the decision to drive with you down to Barnum Street one final time, I wondered if this idea was for my comfort or for yours…but like clockwork, as soon as we turned off of Route 7, your head popped up and you smiled at me and gave me that wonderful feeling one last time that I’d done something to make you happy. I think you used your last bit of strength when you stood up and walked a few paces up the trail, just as though it was a regular day. When you couldn’t go any further, I put my coat down on the snow, like a blanket, and we settled there for awhile, just listening. Just loving. Nothing could have made me happier today — and my happiness at your happiness — this is the definition of true love.
I am so honored that you chose me to spend your precious life with. That it was me, on whom you trained your gaze of unmitigated, devoted love. That you chose me to be your protector and nurturer and that you chose me to protect and to nurture with your entire being.
On this absolutely impossible day, this soul-breaking night, I thank you, my Bear, for every moment you gave me, everything we shared. Everything you taught me. For every ridiculous and hilarious deed — even, and especially, breaking into the refrigerator no matter how complicated I made it. I love you ferociously and I love you as you leave this world that you came into without me — we found each other once, and we’ll find each other again — I know you will never stop protecting and loving me, from wherever you are, and I’ll never stop loving you from wherever I am, and that in our hearts, we’ll always be together. I part with you now to protect you from suffering, just as we have always protected each other and kept each other safe. Living without one another is something I know neither of us would ever choose — not now, not in 100 years. I cannot bear the thought of a day or a night without you by my side, without you to check in with, without you to give my days shape and reason, without you to make me laugh, without the beautiful sound of your bounding self on the trail ahead of me. But the only thing worse than living without you, would be to live with you suffering, in a body that has failed us way too soon. I love you beyond these words and beyond any words, Ollie Wendell Bear. You are my love, you are my teammate, you are my Bear.