One for the Road

Old Dog

LOOKIN’ FOR LOVE: Outdoorsy male, in the autumn of his years, loves life and seeks a free-spirited female for good times. I don’t care about your height, weight, age or looks, but you’d better have a sense of humor. I smile a lot, am good with kids and live each day to the fullest.

That’s my friend, Pete, quite a catch!  Sorry, that’s not his real name.  I have to use some discretion here. And it’s not a real singles ad but it’s the one I would write for him.

Pete is irresistibly handsome and solid as a fireplug. He’s a bit of a chick-magnet, with chiseled features, thick hair and bedroom eyes.  You don’t see that every day in an old guy.  I like women, too, and am married to one, but when I’m with Pete, women don’t even see me.  I’m used to it.  In Pete’s youth he was robustly physical.  As a senior he still has those rugged good looks, tempered by some distinguished gray.  He’s also a bit vain – spends hours fussing with his hair. And he does not need glasses – never has.  He makes me feel old and decrepit.

The part I’m leaving out is that Pete is a bit simple. I don’t want to use the word “retarded,” but Pete does not have the highest IQ. He has been dependent on others all his life. Like many who aren’t playing with a full deck, Pete’s gift is a generous heart. He’s affectionate, an unapologetic cuddler, and is not capable of deceit. Pete’s thing is honesty. His attitude is locked in positive.

I think a lot about what I can learn from Pete.  I am a far less worthy individual – a grump and a complainer.  I get stressed and handle situations badly.  I sleep poorly, am often tired and don’t want to go out.  Pete sleeps like a baby and is up for anything.  It’s true I worked for a paycheck and Pete didn’t.  Call him a drain on society, but we’d all be better people if we were more like Pete.

He outshines me around kids, which probably comes as no surprise. Pete has never missed one of our family summer parties. He’s with the kids all day and they love him and always look forward to seeing him. Kids aren’t always as thoughtful as one would wish, but Pete is forgiving and patient to a fault.  He understands children.

Pete had a live-in girlfriend for a while, a blonde who was his intellectual equal, and they were really something. I’ll call her Mary. She went along with his sense of humor, which is a bit “out there.” Whenever they were getting ready for a walk, Pete would leave first and – get this – go out behind the garage and hide.   I know this seems sick but you have to allow for Pete’s sense of humor, which really is quite charming.  He dreamed this up on his own.  Mary would walk innocently out the door and Pete would wait till she was out in the open. Then he’d come charging like a bull rhino, as if he intended to knock Mary silly.

Yeah, it’s adolescent.  I think Mary humored him.  She knew it was coming and played along with it, for Pete’s sake.  She’d duck behind the nearest shrub and Pete would go flying by with a big grin, as if to say, “You were dead meat but I let you go this time.”  Sometimes he’d circle around the garage and hide again, and catch Mary a second time. Then they’d be off, side-by-side, happy as two kindergarten mates swinging flower baskets.

Pete is technically what you would call mute, but when he’s happy, he sings. This is something else he just started doing one day, when he felt it in his soul. I love it and know I’m having a good day in the “human being” department if I can make Pete happy enough to sing.

Did I mention Pete is dying?  His doctor says he’s going to lose the fight, but we don’t know when. Right now chemotherapy is holding back the tumor. The last few months have not been easy for Pete, with far too many medical appointments. But his enthusiasm for each new day is infectious.  I swear he gets up every morning with the same joyful discovery: “Hey! Cheated death again!”

I don’t know when Pete’s last day will be and he doesn’t know either. I suspect he doesn’t care. He’ll simply make the best of each one right up till the last and will accept death as part of the natural order.  He was with Mary the morning she slipped away. He watched me dig the hole in the rose garden and we did what we had to do, with a few tears, and I believe he understood and accepted it.  I hope he goes quickly and peacefully, as we’d all like.

Yes, I hear what you’re thinking. “For crying out loud, you are dee-lusional!  Get a grip on yourself and get control of this sick thing of comparing him to the rest of us. If you ever had a real child, you’d know there’s nothing remotely similar about your Pete and my kid. What in the world do you know about love?”

And yeah, I get it. But I also know dogs make us better people, bring out something greater in our humanity.  Not in everyone, but in many people.  And because the language of dogs is unspoken, we have to communicate by the consistency of our actions, not the hollow promises of our words.  Dogs can spot a lie faster than you can avert your eyes. They intuitively understand what many a jilted lover learns the hard way. “It’s not what you say that matters. It’s what you do.”

Loss is part of life. Death is what defines life and makes each day a gift. My wife, Sue, and I never had children. Pete has been our child, bringing us smiles and love and laughter every day of our marriage. We will miss him terribly, but we’ll accept this loss and move on.  It’s the natural order and we have no choice.

Someday our own turns will come and it’s better this way, that he go first.  No one can foresee how the end will come, but I picture myself in a bed, wired with monitors, all but gone. I’ll have nothing left but a few thoughts. Pictures will flash through my mind, the last, fleeting snapshots of a lifetime, as I drift toward the abyss.

Perhaps a nurse, sensing the moment, will linger. Perhaps she’ll glimpse a brief smile on my lips and wonder if I’ve seen a brilliant, white light in the sky.

What she won’t know – couldn’t possibly know – is what I really saw. I believe it will be my old pal Pete, the friend of a lifetime, paying one last joyful visit to my memory. He’ll be hiding behind the garage, taking one more run at Mary just for fun, just for the sheer love of life.

“You are dead meat,” he’ll be saying, “but didn’t we have fun!”

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7 comments for “One for the Road

  1. Bob Richardson
    January 29, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    It think this is FABULOUS.

  2. January 31, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I couldn’t put it down. And on my phone!
    Peace to ol’ Pete.

  3. Dan Pedersen
    January 31, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Thank you, Jan and Bob. We lost Pete almost a year ago, but he’s still with me every day in my thoughts, bringing me smiles.

  4. February 5, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Hi dan
    I like the name for your group that you decided upon, and I am sorry about Pete, but love his story.
    I wish I could write about all the wonderful dog personalities we have known over the years.

  5. Dan Pedersen
    February 5, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Thank you, Pat. Every dog is an individual that touches your life in its own way. I know you and Ted have lots of first-hand experience with that.

  6. Roland Stephan
    February 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    I would say Pete is very likely getting all the love he needs right now. Well done.

  7. mj
    September 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Pant, slobber, bark, whine. Great tribute to “Pete”.

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