Today’s date, 10/11/12, is one of those dates that’s numerically fun. (For my European friends, I guess it was yesterday.) And, of course, in one month and one day, we’ll have the last “golden date” of this century, 12/12/12.
But for me, October 11th is a sad day, a day of mourning. Eight years ago today, in 2004, my dog—who brought me as close as I have ever come to having my own child—took her last breath. Her name was Samantha; she was only ten.
That she died a couple of years after we moved into a new place I’d bought in part to provide an ideal home for her was tough. That she died a bit over a year after my divorce was final was really tough. That she died only months after the first time my job at The Company was eliminated and I had found a new position two days before my end date was just icing on a shit cake.
Today I choose to commemorate her passing by writing about the perfect day.
The day in question was back in 1994, the year Sam came into my life. And to make the “child I never had” connection very real, she came into my life in June, on Father’s Day. As with so many of the great joys of my life, she came unasked, unsought, from an unexpected direction.
When I was a child we had family dogs since I was in grade school. I’ve been close to the dogs of friends and have even shared a dog with a roommate. But I’ve never had my own dog.
In 1994 a friend told me about a friend of theirs with a litter of Black Labrador puppies they were looking to place in good homes. They’d first offered them free and had no takers. After putting a price of $25 dollars on them, they sold like hot cakes (or like cute puppies). People are funny about value. There were two pups left, a boy and a girl, and my friend—knowing I love dogs—wanted to know if I wanted one.
I’d gotten out of a heart-breaking serious relationship years before, rebounded into breaking another and then short-sightedly messed up a third that could have been a keeper. I’d spent years licking my wounds and getting my head clear, so I was ready for something new. I opted for the girl pup.
And so it came to pass that I picked up this new pup, born in early April, on a lovely Father’s Day in June of 1994. We went through the usual adjustment period, there were some rough spots, but it didn’t take long for a real love bond to form on both sides. There is nothing quite as joyful and fun as a young dog!
That December, our department, a great group of people, held their Christmas luncheon downtown at one of the finer eateries. The perfect day begins with my drive to that party. I’d worked at home that day, so my drive took me from my suburban townhouse into downtown. That day we had a snowfall, the wonderful winter kind of snowfall with giant snowflakes drifting slowly down.
It made the drive fun. I love driving through snow; there’s something slightly magical about zipping through the falling flakes. In 1994 we didn’t have Google Maps or GPS like we do now, so finding the right place to park was a bit of a crap shoot. Downtown is filled with parking ramps; the trick is choosing the right one.
I picked on that seemed fairly close to where I thought the restaurant was—turned out to be about five blocks. As with many cities in winter country, downtown has a network of second-story skyways that let you navigate without ever going outside.
So I wandered through the skyways, enjoying the falling snow outside, seeking my destination. I’d given myself plenty of time (thinking I might do a bit of exploring, downtown was not hugely familiar to me), so I arrived in good time.
The restaurant was a bit upscale and very trendy. The food was in that nouvelle cuisine style where presentation and unusual ingredients are key elements. With some trepidation (at least on my part) we ordered some pizza appetizers that were unlike anything Domino’s ever dreamed of. And they were delicious!
The meal, the service, the camaraderie, everything was perfect.
After dinner, a few of use went downstairs to a separate establishment, a brew pub. The luncheon had ended long before happy hour, so the place was fairly empty and we got a booth.
And the fresh beer flowed as did the conversation. The place filled and the energy level rose. At one point, the joint served a round of free beers to all patrons to celebrate having been open one year. They tapped a special anniversary batch of apple-spiced ale. Delicious!
This next part I’m not proud of, but it goes along with the perfectness of the whole day. I got as drunk as you can possibly get and still be having a good time. Not falling down, not out of control, but well and truly bombed. Perfectly drunk, if you know what I mean.
One of my co-workers had his boyfriend come pick him up, and they drove me to my car. The snow had stopped, and the evening was still fairly young, so I drove (yes, drove; the part I’m not proud of) down to my best friend’s house to hang out with him for a while, play video games and drink some more beer.
At one point I realized I was seeing two images of my beer bottle, and I have a rule that once you start seeing double, it’s definitely time to stop drinking. So I left that half-finished bottle alone. (But I can still remember, almost 20 years later, that it was a bottle of Summit’s Winter Ale.)
Shortly after I decided it was time to head home. And here’s the thing. I’d left my not-even-one-year-old pup around 11:30 that morning. It was now a bit over 13 hours she’d been confined in the house. I hadn’t learned about kennel training at that point, and we’d been having minor issues with house training.
I assumed I’d be returning home to pungent odor and damp carpet. But the day had been so perfect, so completely crystal perfect so far that I just shrugged. Such is the price you pay for fun sometimes.
On the drive home I hit fog, heavy, pea-soup fog. I love fog, so it just added to the perfectness of the day. (Fog always makes me think of sexy evenings in the girl’s dormitory in college where evening fog was common—college was close to the ocean.)
The fog was so thick, couldn’t see more than about 10 feet, that I took a wrong right turn at one point. Not to worry, I knew the streets there were grid-like, so another three rights put me back on my course (always remember: two wrongs don’t make a right, but three lefts do).
Eventually I got home (yep, still hammered) and lo and behold, my happy puppy had held her own! The day continued being perfect! It was now after 2 AM, but we’d missed our evening walk, and I wasn’t particularly sleepy, and the fog was still thick, so naturally we went for a long walk.
It was December and close to freezing, so ice crystals formed on our leading edges. Sam had the cutest ice rime forming on her upraised tail and on the front edge of her ears. That was a, pardon the pun, cool sight. And the fog absorbed the few noises there are at that hour, so we walked in a silent white cocoon all our own.
Among our family dogs, two were strictly outside dogs (except for rare occasions), one was confined to the basement when indoors, and another spent days outside, slept in the kitchen (sometimes) and was otherwise mostly only allowed in the family room or living room under supervision. My parents liked, but didn’t really get into, dogs.
And I’ve read that, once you allow a dog to sleep on your bed, it’s almost impossible to undo, so you’d better be sure about making that choice.
That night, after Sam and I got back and I finally went to bed (it was Saturday by then), I looked over at Sam on her cushion near my bed and said, “You wanna sleep on the bed? Come on!”
It was like she was waiting for it. In a single bound she launches off the cushion and up onto the bed.
And that was her place for the rest of her life.
Which ended long before I was ready.
I still really miss her.