It was just before dinnertime and we were driving home from an afternoon at the pool: feeling festive, relaxed, joyous. And, in hindsight, feeling alive. And, three houses from home, I drove across the arroyo and saw the big, brown dog lying on the dirt of the road. I instantly recognized what I was eyeing and said “oh no” aloud. Even though I recognized it/him (that is death and Vinnie), my mind tried to concoct some alternate experience that I was not seeing a dead dog lying 40 feet in front of the windshield.
– What is he doing?
– Lying down.
That is all the response and words that I could muster to the three year old mind in the car seat over my shoulder inquiring about the oddity before us. I paused and tried to figure out what was most appropriate of the multiple things to do, to be done, of how to attend to what was happening: go to the neighbors’; move the carcass; go tell Brin before she saw him; hide it from a toddler’s line of sight; go check his pulse and see if he is sleeping; that is not a natural nor comfortable position to sleep in. So, I proceeded slowly and moved the car delicately around the dog, passing on the driver’s side so I could look out the window as we drove past and saw the flies flying above the small pool of blood underneath his mouth drying in the sand.
– Did you hit him?
– No, I drove around.
And I sped to the front door. I left the car running and knocked the knocker once. No response and looked like nobody was home. So I dashed back to the car, and got back to Vinnie’s body still lying in the road. I drove past so the car faced away, and the toddler could not witness what I was doing, and jumped out and walked over to Vinnie.
He was heavy. 90 pounds of hulking dog deadweighting. This is the fittingness of that single word: deadweight. Vinnie was less than one year old. We first met him December of last year, a puppy so small that he fit into two hands. A cute, cuddly pit bull mix with an brown and white coat. We have watched him grow for the last 10 months, and have only gotten to pet and know him in greater proximity in the last month as we tossed bits of jerky out the window on the way home. A few weeks ago, we had some pieces of cheese in the car, leftovers from another hot summer afternoon at the pool, and tossed those to Vinnie and his brothers, Rusty and Ozzie. That was the day that Vinnie walked all the way to the front door, lay on the mat and wait for 15 minutes to see if there might be more cheese that would come from within. Vinnie drooled such a long slobber that the toddler asked “what is that?” as she watched it fall from his lips to the ground.
That was the day that everything with Vinnie changed. He was still cautious with us, and would sit 20 feet from the car when we came and parked. But, he wanted to know if we might have a bit of jerky, tortilla chips or that godsend of more cheddar to toss his way from the window or have him come over and eat from our hand. It was only the last 4 weeks, but in 10 months, 4 weeks is a sizable chunk of life. It is 10% of Vinnie’s life this time around. And more importantly, it was the proximiny and the time spent and the trust built and burgeoning internatction that all three of us had. More than we’d ever had with Ozzie, and it was supposed to be the bond that would grow with Vinnie as he became the primary dog next door once Rusty, the 15 year old, bear-fighting-and-surviving-to-have-my-papa-tell-you-about-it, dies. We had been anticipating Rusty’s death to come sometime soon (his papa said he didn’t think that he’d make it through the winter, but he’s also said that for the last two winters). It wasn’t supposed to be Vinnie.
Vinnie with the long tail with the fat top that stretched out. Vinnie with the beautiful color and distinctive brand just above his hips. Vinnie with ginormous paws and the massive skull. Vinnie with the extra skin on his jowls that he’d just begun to trust us to hold and rub.
Akal, old baby Vinnie. Akal. Akal.