January 8ish, 2004 - October 14, 2014
I loved her so much. Without her existence, I can’t imagine how selfish of a person this world would have allowed me to become.
There’s a poem that’s stuck with me over the years by Billy Collins:
The way the dog trots out the front door
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.
Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?
Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.
If only she did not shove the cat aside
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.
I love the poem, but I don’t like the last stanza because I think his perspective is wrong. Given the chance, Kaia would go through the trash and eat what she could. I hated it. I tried to train it out of her, and I punished her for it every time she did it throughout our entire relationship, but I became increasingly less frustrated at her for it after a certain point. Partly because I knew it wasn’t making a difference, but mostly because I began to admire her for continuing to commit the act. She was making a choice. I’d know the second I walked in the door if she had gone through the trash because her big brown eyes would be full of guilt. She knew she wasn’t supposed to go through the trash, but she’d rather take the chance that there would be something good in there that would make the punishment worth it. Some girlfriends used to say I wasn’t firm enough with Kaia. That she would’ve stopped doing it if I really punished her. Like Kaia choosing to go through the trash when she knew it was wrong, I chose to punish her lightly when I knew it was wrong. I always liked that Kaia never pretended to be something she wasn’t. I always knew exactly what Kaia wanted. If she wanted the trash, she’d get into it. Hell, one time she wanted the bread out of the oven, so she got into that. If she wanted a belly rub, she’d roll over on her back and look at me. If she wanted me to get up from my computer, she’d throw her nose under my right hand so it couldn’t get to the mouse. She knew she’d get in trouble, but she wasn’t about to pretend she didn’t want that trash, and I appreciated her honesty. So I punished her lightly. I’d much rather be at odds with a girlfriend than Kaia. There’ve been plenty of girlfriends, but only one Kaia. And to be honest, it was just as hard to train them (and myself) to remember to put the trashcan out of Kaia’s reach as it was to train Kaia to not go through it.
And, contrary to Collins’s poem, I never felt like Kaia’s god. We’d been together for two months before someone referred to me as “Kaia’s daddy.” I hadn’t thought of our relationship like that until then and I didn’t like the feel of it. We were partners, I thought. I was the upright-walking goon who had helpful attributes—I could speak English and was allowed in grocery stores—and she was the brains of our operation. I spent my days running errands all over town while she stayed at home watching squirrels out the window of the bedroom and had me bring her things. Kaia’s daddy? No. I went along with the idea because no matter how much I fought it, people couldn’t grasp another dynamic existing between a man and his dog. But Kaia and I both knew where we stood.
She was a beautiful animal, even when her body lay lifeless on the floor of the animal hospital, her pale tongue barely peeking out between her teeth. Even with a significant portion of her hair shaved off, the stitches from her lengthy incision freshly sewn. Even with the mustard-colored antiseptic staining her bare skin and the edges of her pure white fur. She was the classiest of ladies all the way to the end.
I loved her so, so much.
Vilonia, Arkansas. 10.14.2014.
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A Koala reflecting on his sins, his triumphs, and the inevitability of death.