Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Last Best Friend

Chica, the red, floppy-eared Doby in the soon-to-be-published novel (Rafael) that I’ve just finished writing has actually been my dog, and best friend, in real life.  The descriptions of her; her actions, her behaviors, proclivities, and sensitivities, as described in Rafael are taken from actual accounts of our life together.  Hombre, the red Australian Shepherd in the book has been Chica’s friend and running mate in real life as well.  He is actually two years younger than Chica.  The three of us have all lived together on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  Everything else in this novel is fictitious.  My dogs are not.
   Chica and Hombre came from different litters (obviously), Chica being a Doby, and Hombre an Australian Shepherd.  They are both red with tan markings, the same markings, and the same patterns.  Both dogs were the last one’s left in their litters when I found them, and the only ones red in color.  Both were the runts of those litters.  It was providential, and serendipitous, that they both ended up with me.  But it was not coincidental.
   I’m more than sad to say, and in fact I am devastated to even have to acknowledge, that two days ago (the very morning after I finished writing Rafael), Chica, my best friend and constant companion, died suddenly from what I now know was Dialated Cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that affects Doby’s, often without notice, and in disproportionate numbers to any other breed of dog.  She was just seven years old. 
   As is true of many, I have experienced tremendous loss throughout my life; loss after loss along the way; more loss than I can sometimes even bear.  But never have I experienced the kind, or degree, of grief that I have been suffering since losing Chica.  She has given me joy when I have lived, what has too often seemed like, a life of perpetual sadness.  
   She was (is) that significant in my life.

   At about eight in the morning I took the dogs down to the river for a swim, and to let them fetch some sticks in the water; their favorite activity ever.  After about ten or fifteen minutes of play Chica got out of the water, and wandered off about thirty yards away.  She walked around on the river rocks, through, and under bushes, kind of wandering around in circles.  She told me somehow that she was looking for a place to die.  I led her back down to the waters edge and she collapsed to the ground. 
   Chica lost consciousness, went totally limp, her eyes glazed over, and she stopped breathing.  I began to pump her chest, and pour cold water on her from the river.  I tried to breathe for her, but with her long snout it was impossible to seal my mouth around hers.  After a few minutes of this frantic treatment she revived.  I intuited that her heart was not pumping blood to her lungs, and determined that if I left her lying there she would die.  Wanting to get her heart pumping again I raised her up on her legs, held her steady, and asked her to walk with me and Hombre back to the truck to ‘go home’ (knowing that she would feel compelled to try and get home with us).  We walked together about a hundred yards to within about forty yards of the truck, and then she collapsed again.  I ran to the truck to bring it to her.  When Chica heard me start the truck she got up, took about eight more steps toward me and collapsed for a final time.  
   I lifted her into the truck cab and, knowing there was a veterinarian eight miles away from where we were, I took off at about sixty miles per hour on a curvy two-lane mountain road, flashing the emergency lights, honking the horn, and driving on the wrong side of the road to pass the cars ahead of me.  I did everything I could to get us to the vet.  I was too late.  With Hombre by her side, Chica died in the truck about a minute away from the clinic.
   I pleaded with the vet for a hot-shot, some medication, anything that could revive her.  She listened to Chica’s heart, and simply said, “She’s gone.  There’s nothing we can do.”
   I took Chica home, laid her on her bed, and spent the better part of the day just being with her, petting her, comforting her in her absence, comforting myself in her absence, and giving her all the love that I held (hold) in my heart for her.
    I spent the late afternoon/evening digging her burial site.
   Chica always loved to have my scent near her.  Sometimes I’d put my shirt on her bed at night, and she’d lay her nose on it for comfort.  I took off the tee-shirt I was wearing when she passed and pulled her head and front legs through it so that she was wearing it, and could wear it for all eternity.  I wrapped her in her favorite blanket, and then wrapped a white sheet around the blanket.
   I laid Chica to rest where I thought she would like to be. 
   I have been in tears since the river.  And I feel like I will be for the rest of my life.  I have never felt such profound, or boundless, grief.
   But I have never been as inspired by a creature as I have been by Chica.  She has given me love immeasurable, devotion unqualified, and protection at her own risk.  She has given me comfort in times of distress, calmed me in my anxiety, made me laugh when I needed a good release from stress, and has asked nothing in return except to simply be with me.  
   Chica has raised my consciousness, and enlarged and enlivened my heart.  She has been ever-present, and ever vigilant as a guardian for me, for her pal, Hombre, and for anyone else she considered to be friend or family.  I cannot even entertain the thought that she will never be here in my company again.  I see her in every room in the house, in my studio, where she was my constant companion, on the deck, and all over my property.  She’s in my truck with me, as she always has been, when I’m out driving.  
   Some people might say that my experience of, and with, Chica is anthropomorphic in nature, rather than an authentic understanding of her.  And all I can say about that is, “Obviously they have never lived with Chica.”

   I buried her outside my studio window, where I wrote so much about her in Rafael.
   Hombre is very sad, has been laying on Chica’s gravesite, and has taken to peeing about ten feet away in an arc around the grave; a notice, I’m sure, for any intruders to stay the hell away from our beloved fallen friend.  

   Chica has been (is) for me, symbolic of, and a rare accumulation of, the best of all that is good in life.  I will miss her like I’d miss the sunrise were it suddenly, and permanently, missing from the morning sky.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


    (The following selections are a brief introduction to my forthcoming novel, 'Rafael')

   My father:  I have never known a man like him.  He is more than he appears to be, but less than he expects of himself.  I don’t know if he was born too late, or if he just came into his own too early for everybody else.  He wants to be honest, from the inside out, but from the outside in as well.  And he is.
   There are those, however, who never wanted to allow that in him.  They were just not comfortable with it.  Not because they didn’t respect him.  They did.  But because they were just not willing to comply.  It was too high a standard.  It was too much work, they said.  It was just too hard.  The unfortunate part about it is that he did not require their compliance.  He required it only of himself.   
     But honesty is not linear, it is a revolving glass door; the kind you’ll see on the entrance to a fancy hotel in the City.  Most people find it to be clumsy, though; more unwieldy than they are willing to live with, more difficult even than deceit.  They continue through life with the door of truth open only inadvertently at times, or closed up deliberately, but never transparent, as it were.  It is not circular for them.  Someone else’s honesty, they feel, does not necessitate their own.  And no, it does not for them, but it does in the broader interest of life. 
     Many continue to hide behind opaque disguises, even though it doesn’t need to be that way.  My father was never one of them.

* * *

   Dad put up a teepee and camped on the property with very little in the way of creature comforts.  He constructed it entirely from the bounty of the land, the natural resources, by his own imagination and with a practical, no-frills utilitarian sixth sense.  He focused on being alone.  With the absence of his wife, and his youngest son, he wanted to feel everything he needed to feel.  He wanted to remember every moment they each shared throughout their many years together.  He wanted to miss them both, he wanted to grieve their absence, and he wanted to become friends with the void.  During that first year on the property he explored every acre of his new world like a young boy would explore the insect world beneath an old decaying log.  He got to know every nook and cranny, every bend in Pilot Creek and the Rubicon, every pool, falls, rock, wooded glen, canyon, and anomalous outcropping.  He also got to know himself, better than most would have, even over the course of a full lifetime.  My dad became sole guardian of both his property and his own sanity.  Eventually his sanity began to mirror the 350 acres, changing quite noticeably with every change of season.

* * *
   I must admit, after so many months apart early on, seeing my dad in an old hotel bar in an ageing gold rush town was a very difficult challenge, an unexpected first impression for me to get past.  With his grey scraggly beard, and weather-worn demeanor, he looked as if he’d wandered out of the makeup trailer of a spaghetti-western movie set in the hills of rural Italy, or like he’d been lost in history, waiting for the world to come back to catch him up on things.  I got a cramp in the pit of my stomach, my heart raced with anxiety and bewilderment, and my eyes moistened like a mirror in a settling fog.  But when he opened his mouth he immediately became my dad again, the man I know, the dad I’ve always known.  He said, almost under his breath, “Had I known you were coming, son, I would have shaved, and worn something more appropriate to the occasion.”  We both laughed, and we were back on familiar ground.
     It was a long time ago, but I remember that we met up at the Georgetown Hotel on Main Street.  We spent a couple of hours catching each other up on the previous year, then jumped into his 4-wheel drive light beige 1972 Ford F-250 pick-up truck for the twelve mile drive out to his property.  He’d named the truck Henry.  Still has that old dinosaur today.  Says he wouldn’t trade Henry for a Hummer.  I was anxious to see how my dad was living, where he was living, and what it was about that particular place that had so captivated him.  What was it that had the kind of hold on him that nothing, or no one, had ever had, other than my mother?  The picture of our meeting is still vivid in my mind, like an old Polaroid photo you might have carried around in the pocket of your coat for all these years.  A little faded, crinkled, ragged, but vivid, nevertheless, because of its importance to you. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Honestly, what’s so damn difficult about being honest?  Telling the truth, and not misleading people, is all that it ever requires.  What’s so bad about the truth?  It’s been said, “The truth shall set you free.”  What’s so bad about being free?  I kind of like being free.  If you haven’t tried it yet, I’m sure you’d like it too.  At least try it to see if you would. 

Lying has become so common in our world today that most people no longer even consider it to be lying.  To them it is simply a way of positioning themselves with others like they want to be positioned; whether it be family, friends, bosses, acquaintances, or strangers.  If it involves being less than truthful, so be it. 

‘To give a false impression’ is actually one of the common dictionary definitions of lying.  There are not many people today who even consider giving a false impression to be lying.  But I am not one of them.  Giving a false impression is actually of deliberate and conscious intent, the intrinsic character of a lie.

Sure, our political leaders lie, our national religious leaders lie, our celebrity royalty lie, the corporate executives lie.  It seems as if all the ‘successful’ people lie.  Our parents lie, our grandparents lie, our teachers, mentors, coaches, and local priests, ministers and rabbis lie.  Yes, it seems that all of our role models lie.  So the question is, “Why can’t I?” 
Well, to be perfectly honest with you . . . . . . . . you can.  That’s the point.  And now you can lie via Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging without ever having to look the recipient in the eyes.  You can lie any time you want, and to whomever you want . . . . .  just like they do.  And, I must say, “You will be just like them when you do.”  If that’s what you want, go ahead and continue to lie as much as you’d like.  And then let me know what you think of yourself.  Let me know how that has impacted you in such a positive way.  Let me know how it’s elevated your self-esteem, and allowed integrity to take root in your life. 

If you’ve ever taken to heart the admonition to build your house on rock (rather than on sand), so that when the ground quakes and shakes your house will remain solid and intact, then you understand the principal at work in preparing wisely for the future.  Or if you’ve ever considered the admonition to build your house on higher ground so that when the river rises your house will not be swept away, then you further understand the importance of planning ahead.   Common sense says to not build your house on sand, or on a flood plane.  It would just be stupid.  Well, experience and common sense teach us that lying is the life-equivalent of building your house on shaky ground, or in a sketchy place.  Building your life on lies is stupid.  It will often serve you temporarily, but your ignorance and deceit will come back to haunt you, at various times, and in various ways.  You can count on it.  And, in fact, it hurts and offends other people too; especially those who love you.  Why not avoid all that personal and collateral damage in your life?  If not a question of conscience for you, it seems to me that (at the very least) it would simply be the smart thing to do:  The smartest thing to do.