Marking the Days

By Caleb N. Miller, May 2021
old dog

Day 1

Today I had leftovers. I lacked my usual enthusiasm as I ate the salmon and rice. It was a dry meal, but I generally love dry meals. My thoughts were too occupied with Gladys; I just couldn’t find the pleasure and excitement I usually have while eating.

Gladys, my life partner of 19 years, has fallen deathly ill. She is in the hospital. And here I am, trapped in our home, barred from visiting, prevented from providing comfort in her final hours. So, I ate my food alone. When I reached the final bite, I hesitated. I wanted to leave it; I wanted to preserve just a few morsels of the final meal Gladys would ever prepare for me, but I lacked the strength. I ate all the leftovers.

 

Day 2

I had a meal of off-brand beef and rice. Gladys’s nurse, Ira, brought it for me. It was quite good, but it upset my stomach. The first digestive pangs came while we were in the backyard. Ira was updating me about Gladys. Gladys was expected to die very soon, and Ira promised to go to the funeral with me. I spent the rest of the day in bed, restless and awake, ashamed of the mess I had made after Ira left, the smell filling the room. I stared at the wall, ashamed of how Ira would have to clean it up in the morning. Still, a part of me hoped Ira would bring the same meal tomorrow. It was quite good.

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Day 3

Ira brought me the same beef and rice from yesterday. I seem to be digesting it a little better. Though the possible mess it may cause later was furthest thing from my mind. Gladys had died in the night. The love of my life, my life partner, my universe of love, is dead. I am truly alone in this world.

 

Day 6

Beef and rice again. Ira took me to Gladys’ funeral, but they wouldn’t let me inside the church. I had to wait in the parking lot. My sorrow escaped in anguished howls. Ira waited with me; I am truly indebted to her kindness.

After the service, I rode with Ira in the funeral procession. It was my sweet Gladys’s final journey. I felt suffocated and trapped as the line of cars approached the grave site. Panic overcame me; I needed fresh air. Ira opened the window. I stretched out my head and drank the wind. It blew across my face and through my hair. It helped ground me, providing a momentary distraction from the spiraling thoughts that threatened to engulf me in the dark pit of the nearing grave, threatened to pull me in and drown me in the blackness.

The graveside service was beautiful and devastating. I sat with Ira, only half-listening to the words the preacher read from his black book, my attention locked on the casket suspended over the waiting mouth cut in the earth. The sun reflected diamonds and rare jewels off the polished wood and golden handles.

The yellow lilies resting on its lid wafted a fragrance, and with it, waves of sorrow and memory. Gladys’s favorite flower. I hoped she was smelling them too. The scent of lilies made me wish I could smell my love one last time. It took all my strength to not approach the casket, push up the lid and take one final sniff. I knew Gladys would smell just as sweet in death as she did in life.

I imagined how peaceful Gladys must look inside her casket, and thought of the last time I had smelled her. Consciousness slipping, she was being wheeled away by paramedics. As she crossed the threshold of our house, our eyes met. Mine were wide and fearful; hers were merely slits, struggling against the weight of their lids. In the seconds before the door forever closed on our life together, she whispered her final words to me. “Goodbye, my good boy.” Gladys was my good girl, and I was her good boy. I wanted to cry out in pain at hearing her use my pet name for the final time, but I remained strong. In that moment, my emotions were lead ingots, buried in sand at ocean depths.

I do not know how I can continue living without her. The world is sorrow and pain.

 

Day 7

Ira brought me something special today to help me deal with my overwhelming feelings of loss. A beef stew with gravy instead of broth. Gladys used to make this for me; it was my favorite. Ira has been so good to me; I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a good, caring friend.

 

Day 8

Sorrow, pain, loss, devastation, left-over beef stew as cold as my heart.

 

Day 9

Back to beef and rice today, dry, but that’s okay. The enjoyment I had eating the stew bred feelings of guilt. Gladys is no longer here to share my joy. Along with my meal, Ira brought unexpected news. I still don’t know how to feel about it, but Gladys has left everything to me. Our house, the furniture, her savings—which amounts to $20,000—all mine. The only possession she didn’t leave me was her car, an old, rusty thing that barely runs. I have no use for it anyway. Gladys left the car to Mike, her son.

 

Day 10

I think I’m severely depressed; I didn’t even finish my beef and rice today. It didn’t help that Ira had more news to share. Mike is angry. Very angry. He’s claiming that the house, the furniture, the money, everything that Gladys left me, is rightfully his. Mike is going to hire a lawyer. “He could have just spoken to me; I would have shared!” I wanted to scream to Ira, but there was no use.

Mike was already a grown man by the time I met Gladys. He never saw me as a father; I never really saw him as a son, though I always tried my darndest to be his friend. But every time he visited, he acted as if I weren’t there. When he did acknowledge me, it was only through criticism and insults, calling me names like “Dirty Reggie.” Still, I’ve always been kind to Mike. I understand how difficult it can be to adjust to having a stepfather.

 

Day 11

Salmon and rice today. I’m glad for the change, but gladder still for Ira’s company. She told me Gladys had specified that some of the money be used to pay Ira for my continued care. I have no objections. I’m immeasurably grateful for how well Ira has treated me. Gladys, my love, you were an incredible woman who is still capable of astounding me, even from the grave. I long to be with you again, to lay my head in your lap, to gaze up and become enraptured in your eyes, eyes more beautiful than a universe of stars.

 

Day 13

Beef and rice. Ira’s keeping me on my toes; yesterday was salmon, today beef, what might tomorrow bring? Mike decided not to hire a lawyer. Ira said he probably realized he didn’t have the money and couldn’t win. She laughed as she told me, and I realized the sparkle in her eyes reminds me of Gladys. Ira smells nice too. She is finalizing her arrangements to move in with me. Gladys wanted me to have 24-hour care, and I actually feel a little excited. I love you Gladys. You were and will always be my angel.

 

Day 16

Chicken and gravy stew! I have been spoiled since Ira moved in to take care of me!

Mike came by today to get the car Gladys left him. He was in the driveway for a couple of hours trying to get it started before he finally left. Ira wouldn’t let him in the house, and I was grateful. She told him it would be in violation of the will, but I knew Ira was doing it for me. I watched Mike from the front window. I was angry and wanted to shout at him through the glass. And I would have, but Ira sat down next to me and calmed me down. Instead, my fury at Gladys’s ignorant, hateful son came out in low, deep mumbles, too quiet for Mike to hear, but they made Ira laugh. Her smile really is beautiful. There is a deep kindness in it. A kindness I have only ever seen in Gladys.

 

Day 32

A meal of shredded chicken seasoned to perfection! I have been feeling much better. Don’t get me wrong, the feelings of sorrow and loss are still profound, and they overwhelm me some days, but the weight of depression is much lighter. I began this diary to cope with the hopeless loneliness I felt after Gladys was taken to the hospital, and this may be my last entry. I still miss my Gladys with my entire being, but it has become harder and harder for me to feel lonely with Ira here.

 

Day 166

Ira prepared a chicken broth for me today. My body no longer has the strength for solid foods. I will be with Gladys very soon now, in both body and spirit; I am not afraid. Ira, her voice so soft and musical, told me that Gladys had one last stipulation in her will. The remaining money Gladys left will be used for my gravestone and burial. I will be buried next to my love. Gladys had already written my epitaph. I wanted to cry. My epitaph will read:

Reginald “Reggie” Growler

The most loyal of dogs

The best of friends

***

Notes on the Translation

During a sunny morning walk through the park near our home in Texas, Penny, my Border Collie, uncovered a little black notebook buried under an oak tree. The notebook was stained, filthy and reeked of urine, which I could smell even before I saw what she found.

Penny often finds various items—cans; the occasional shoe; once, a wallet (which we returned!)—but she usually gets bored with whatever she finds and drops it long before we return home. However, Penny acted very peculiar about this notebook. She held it gently, almost reverently, between her teeth, and deliberately kept it away from me. When we reached our front door, Penny still had the foul-smelling thing in her mouth. She wouldn’t drop it when I told her to, so I reached for it. Penny growled at me! Penny never growls at me!

Against my better judgement, I let her bring the notebook inside. She went directly to the living room, where we have a series of buttons on the floor. When Penny presses a button, it says a specific word. I had been training Penny with the buttons for a few weeks and she had caught on quickly. She mostly just used the buttons that say “play” and “walk,” but this time, she pressed a button I forgot we had. As Penny looked at me, the notebook between her teeth, the word “help!” sounded from the button beneath her paw. So, I helped.

The next two and a half years were the most extraordinary of my life. After thousands of hours spent programming new words and arguing over countless drafts, from pages consisting of stains, smears and dried urine, we translated the diary entries you have just read. If you don’t believe a word of it, I hope it at least provides a moment of pause the next time you see a dog marking a tree or squatting near a bush. You may just be witnessing a great author, a writer of epic journeys, lost loves and chased squirrels.

Or, maybe sometimes dogs just need to pee. I don’t know.

Take care of yourself and take care of your pups.

Penny and Laurence Mitchel

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