The Last Walk

As we walk in the twilight-sunset-dark I find myself sniffling, then crying, then that other kind of crying. You know the kind, that overwhelming and heaving motion that takes full control but no matter how strong and disciplined I want to be for my partner I can’t find it in myself to stop. I’m crying because although here we are, together in this beautiful crisp evening, with this little dog by our side, tomorrow there’ll be no more walks, no more laughing at how awkward this round dog is, no more giggling when he waddles to his favorite bush. There’ll be no more grunts or awkward side-eyes, no more floppy ears and tongues poking between teeth. This is the last time, the last flickering moments of us together, and our last walk.

Tomorrow, before there’s too much pain, the vet will come. It’s the kindest thing for him now.

Through tears I look up at the stars muted in the sky. Only a few bright sparks are strong enough to break through the ambient city skylight and a contrail is weaving its way steadily across the sunset of dark purples and swirling orange. The few stars we see up there are permanent fixtures as everlasting as any everlasting thing could be but tonight it all looks so very fragile. It feels as if the stars are about to pop out of place, shake themselves free, and then tumble out of the sky because if this one thing—walking with this tiny round dog and my partner in hand—is not infinite and everlasting, then I don’t think I can trust the stars again.

Why am I crying? First: shut up. Second: I am crying because I already miss him. I’m crying because I admire my partner for making this hard decision for her childhood dog. She has chosen to do this terribly difficult thing despite pressure from her family to ignore the problem and make this boy suffer for it. She is brave when hard decisions are necessary and I’m crying because I want to be more like her.

The boy is now struggling to walk around the block so I rub my nose, wipe my eyes, and pick him up. He is a warm potato, soft and cozy with his wiry hair poking out of his little jacket. He is heavy and round too, but my favorite thing about him is how he smells. A dozen wet old men have dried themselves with the same dirty towel. That is what this boy smells like.

We turn the corner—two more to go—and we see the sunset in full glory. There are clouds peeking out from the sides and I have recovered a bit now. Everything is so peaceful out there, so very quiet, without anyone in the world. A great hush has descended upon San Francisco and it’s just us; me, my partner, and this boy. Winter has come but we are warm and safe and happy together.

As we walk around the next corner—one more left—I start thinking about what grief is, how it works, how to live alongside it. It feels like grief is an intergalactic atom bomb of sadness and misery that tears apart everything in its wake but as I look at this boy in my arms I know that grief isn’t that. Grief is love crushed into a tiny dot, love bottled up over years and years, love distilled into a single atom only to explode and release all its energy at the moment something terrible happens. I remember what my therapist said a while ago, that grief can’t be argued against, it can’t be intellectually maneuvered or circumnavigated. “Grief is grief,” he said. And it’s true. But knowing that doesn’t help me because I am still scared for tomorrow, I am still scared for the bomb and for the grief. I’m just not ready. I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to hold this old dog in my arms forever. I want to stay on this block, frozen in this happy place.

Just as we turn the next corner—the very last one—I’ve put him down now, he is no longer in my arms, and my partner turns to me in the impermanent-orange-glow of a streetlight. She asks me if I’m okay. Endless tears. Eternal, everlasting tears. Even in moments when her life is shaking to bits, she wants to make sure that everyone else is okay first. And so I struggle to keep my voice steady, I struggle to say the words.

Up there the sunset has dulled, as if it could be held in the palm of our hands—the sky is a dark and purple stone as now the sunset jewel and diamonds of sunshine have left us for the horizon—then, suddenly, everything is black.

“Yes,” I lie to her and look down at the boy who then turns his tiny head to look up at me.

“I think I’m okay.”