Yesterday, during a phone call with a friend, I remarked that the people closest to me often come into my life in a way that seems as if they’ve been there all along. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a time and place and tell you when I met them, or the circumstances surrounding our first conversations, or what exactly drew me to them, much like noticing a beautiful flower in your backyard for the first time.
Because of my LiveJournal, I can look back and pinpoint the exact day that River came into my life, although even without this electronic wonder I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. I may lose the date, but I’ll never lose the memory of his unrelenting smile, his goofy tongue that was too big for his mouth, or his loving eyes and one messed up ear, and the night he ambled up to me, asking for Home.
My last year living in New York City was very difficult. I felt very lost. A serious relationship had ended, an employment change had backfired, I could barely pay my rent and expenses; everything resembling security had gone. However, I still had some very wonderful friends and one of them, my writing partner Becky, said to me, “Our first book is about to be published. Why don’t you leave New York on a high note, and come home with me?”
When River came home with us that first night and passed through our front gate I thought about that time in my life when I was lost and rescued. I knew I could share the love and protection that I found in my friends with him. Two strays would cancel each other out and create a kinship that was immediate and instantaneous, like hot water mixing with a Lipton Soup mix. Yes, I reluctantly went through the normal channels to find River’s proper owner, because surely a dog as gentle, friendly and loving as he must have a desperately frantic owner somewhere! But luckily nobody stepped forward, no shelters knew of such a person, and of course not, because I was his owner.
It still amazes me how quickly River and I bonded, how it seemed like he was always around, a part of our family, a bloom in the backyard. Margot and Guinness, Becky and Mr. Becky’s faithful companions, former strays themselves, accepted River with little fuss, obviously happy to have a new playmate. When River’s health problems began revealing themselves and interrupted our new routines, it warmed my heart every time River returned from a visit to the vet and Margot and Guinness would be overjoyed to have him back where he belonged.
River quickly became my friend. A keeper of secrets, never judging my actions, he always forgave my faults and unconditionally loved me for who I am. He made it extremely easy for me to return the favor. Unfortunately, all of his wonderful qualities made it extremely difficult to say goodbye yesterday, too. The good in him couldn’t overpower the parts of his body that weren’t made right and the parts that were compromised by outside forces and inhumanity. River was a dog with many stories, but he was very quiet about them, never complaining and never bad-mouthing his previous humans, but I know they had to be terribly cold-hearted and almost evil not to want to do right by him. I can only hope that I and the humans who took me in gave him a better seven months than he ever knew in his lifetime.
The seven months River gave me was a lesson in love. Each morning I’d wake up to see him smiling, obviously happy to be alive and share the day with me. The little things meant a lot to him. His food rarely varied, but it brought him joy. Outside was to be celebrated, and though his lungs were weak and respiratory system underdeveloped, he played hard because I was there with him and it made me happy to see him having fun. He was as smart as a whip and eager to please, more than happy to sit, stay, or lay down, because he wanted to be a good dog. A pat on his head was bliss, a tummy rub pure ecstasy. At the end of the day he’d look longingly at the bed and then later curl up against me with his head on my chest, gangly limbs twined around me, contentedly snoring, yet raising his head every now and then to protect me from the noises of the ever-lurking cat.
The lessons in love from River continue, even though he’s gone now. Friends have called, telling me how privileged they were to meet and spend time with him, and how happy they are that he got to live with me. People have sent me similarly kind and warm-hearted emails about him, making me wonder which of us was the lucky one, River or myself? People who never met him have sent me notes of condolence, touched by what I’ve written about my friend in this journal and the pictures I’ve posted of him online. The majority of the staff at Sunset Blvd. Animal Clinic shed tears with Becky and I as we went to say good-bye to our friend. It made me feel a little better knowing that they understood what a good dog he was, and that while he was there, there too he was loved, appreciated and cared for.
I got to spend some time alone with River and I told him that everybody loves him. The truth in that statement is profound, because for centuries people have wondered what love is and here was a dog who knew the answer and shared it willingly, easily, without question, and in spite of his history and untold stories he never questioned that humans are capable of knowing and sharing the truth about love. River was love, and always will be. I also promised him that I’d never stop telling his story, and he would always be alive in my heart and the hearts of many others.
So thank you for indulging me yet another entry about my friend, River. And thank you those who loved him and opened your hearts to his story along with me. Though this last chapter was a little rough, I hope you don’t mind if I leave his story unfinished, because I promised River that he and I would write the final words together some other day.