I had picked up her and her twin sister Ann from along the side of the road in Mississippi, back in late May of 1985—indeed, there’d been a third pup with them, already dead, struck by a car or truck—and though part of me was aware that I had saved her, had given her 16 and a half great years, there was another part of me that knew she deserved much better; that she deserved for me to be there with her, comforting her, and that she deserved a painless death. She was the most loyal and affectionate dog I’d ever had, and I was angry at the carelessness of the pilgrim who had not been more cautious, coming down a strange driveway out in the country; angry at the unthinking disrespect of trespass, but angriest of all that after all those years together, I had been unable to give Homer even that one small dignity of a natural death; that one small comfort at the end. That instead, after all those years of service, she had known in the end only pain and confusion.
She was not yet decrepit. She still enjoyed being a dog: being fed and cared for, and wandering her well-worn route, her territory. Being dressed up in bows and dresses by the girls—surely the only Coonhound in the world to wear frills. Even now, I’m sad and angry about the injustice of it, the unfairness, though I am also struck by the possibility that the odds were stacked against her from the beginning—that she began her life as an orphan, road-dumped, and that there was or is a force in the world that asked her to end it that way, too—though for whatever purpose or reasons, I cannot begin to fathom.
The strangeness of the world and all its murmuring cycles, both beautiful and dangerous: She had died not five feet from where her twin sister Ann had died, also beneath the wheels of an automobile several years earlier, so that it was as though their blood was together again. Ann was buried in a grove of aspen trees, beneath a stone into which we had etched the word “Bravery”—it had been Ann who was always getting into tussles with coyotes, defending hearth and home—and long ago, we had decided that when it was Homer’s time to go, we would lay her next to Ann, with the word “Loyalty” scratched on the stone.
The bridge they build across our hearts: For parts of three decades, that bridge had been crafted, a living and specific thing, like a path or a process. Now that she is gone, the bridge still remains, as ornate and beautiful as ever, though it is no longer living, has forfeited the supple mystery of life, and has instead assumed the durable calcification of myth and memory—the residue of where our love was, the residue of the love we had for her, the residue of sweetness, of loyalty, the residue of a great dog who lived once upon a time.