That’s the only way of describing the odd pangs I first felt exactly a year ago today.
That’s what it felt like to have my fate cross that of Hudson, a rescue Dog who, despite having endured a previously horrific chapter, persisted in exuding irrepressible exuberance.
I’d only intended to foster-care him as the most recent in a series of Weimaraners welcomed into my home, in trade for giving them attentive time which might, hopefully, shore up their hope and discipline them to the point of becoming highly adoptable.
Straight from the shelter I took him out for an adventure that any Weim would relish, a good, hard long hike up the sloping paths of canyons.
Immediately, his personality was distinct.
He was friendly and engaging with every Dog encountered, male or female, bigger or smaller, older or younger, leashed or unleashed, fixed or unfixed.
His confidence overflowed, feeling free to meander, taking his time to fully sniff out something on the sagebrush, and marking his presence wherever he felt compelled, to the fullest extent of his retractable leash.
He was overtly appreciative, suddenly stopping in the midst of his latest discovery to turn around and leap through the air back to me, pressing his hands against my chest, intending to dance but pleased to just face-lick.
Before the hike was over, I knew I wasn’t going to foster-care Hudson.
Within me, I felt the truth: I had to adopt him. Yet in the flash of that internal recognition, a grey queasiness rapidly overtook my joy.
That was the other truth which flooded my system. This went beyond a renewal of the bone-deep grief which came from facing the truth about the Dog Long Gone, forever. It was an overwhelming feeling that the great appeal I couldn’t deny feeling towards Hudson, the Dog Now Here was callously disloyal to the fellow I could never forget, abandonment of the memory of sixteen-year old, one hundred pound Yeager the Weimaraner, my Grand King Fido, the first Dog with whom I ever shared my life.
Only when Yeager’s life ended on June 3, 2011 did it dawn on me that I’d enjoyed a decade long experience without guilt or regret.
All during his life, I’d ensured that he had the fullest range of stimulation, protection, and nutrition, and the greatest possible personal care to be found anywhere on the planet in the period immediately preceding his natural, sudden death at home, on his favorite old armchair, in my arms.
It wasn’t heroic sacrifice and I’m no braggart; it was duty to a living being.
Even after Yeager had been gone for two and a half years, the lingering sadness was strong enough to keep the excitement so in check that I hesitated about making that commitment to adopt Hudson. We’ll see, I told myself. Be careful, don’t be impetuous, imprudent. Don’t make a rash decision which will alter your life. I turned to practical logic to guide me:
There’s no longer any friendly neighbors nearby to swap dog-sitting duties when need be. Anything can happen to a Dog which can ruin you financially. Do not let your heart rule your head. It will be more difficult to simply pick up and move if so compelled. No, it was alright to enjoy Hudson like all the other foster-care Weims, even to love him. Just because you love a Dog, however, doesn’t mean you have to share your life with him.
So there and then, I forgave my fancy and realized what had to be. No, I cannot, will not and am not adopting Hudson.
That new decision, however, was suddenly not working either.
In just a week, I’d learned too much about Hudson. And about myself.
After enduring yet one too many Lost Angeles traffic jams to arrive home fully enraged, I couldn’t help but literally laugh out loud as Hudson sprang from the very same brown leather sofa spot Yeager had once staked out for himself, to perform his ritualistic “happy dance,” a uniquely canine whirling dervish ballet to welcome me back.
And it is healthy and smart to laugh as much as possible.
The often insurmountable problems and unpredictable challenges of daily life did not magically vanish simply because Hudson was staying in my house. But it made life pleasurable in more enduring ways.
Yet escorting him on quiet morning and evening promenades returned me to again sense the subtle variations of shade beneath different types of trees, to again listen and delineate the different breeds of birds communicating amongst themselves, to resume an exchange of smiles and winks with strolling strangers.
Nature itself seemed to welcome me back into what is and always will be the authentic world, and doing so felt healthy and smart too.
I hadn’t been there since the last days of Yeager.
If even somehow Hudson comprehended that I was focusing on the fact that, phenomenal as he was, he could never be Yeager, he sure didn’t give one good goddamn. I could compare and contrast to my heart’s content, but he willfully refused to be unhappy. I began to believe that I had never shared my life with any other being that was quite so forgiving about a delayed dinner, grateful for even an abbreviated time outside, or simply accept that I had to work late.
Of course, I soon enough caught my thoughts to then remember that, yes, I had shared my life with just such a being, once.
Not a day has passed since Yeager died that I haven’t thought long and hard about him, not even after I initially used the rather selfish rationale of how much healthier my life would be if I finally just adopted Hudson.
Once I committed to do so, a growing sense of something that seems nothing short of miraculous began to overtake me.
It was a growing sense of Yeager, not the flesh and blood Dog but rather his meaningfulness.
The dreams about Yeager which I never had after he died soon began to soothe my sleep. The pictures I thought best not to see and the videos I thought best not to watch were suddenly all I cared to see and watch. Most of all, it is again his eyes which appear in my mind’s eye as if I saw them again through my visual eye.
Despite Yeager becoming more rationally distant as he receded in the practical timeline, the longer I was around Hudson the more acutely vivid to me Yeager became than any time since he had been a physical presence. I even slipped up a time or two to address Hudson as “Yeager.”
Yes, of course, both being Weimaraners there are certain ticks and traits which made Hudson and Yeager more similar to each other than they might be to another type of Dog.
Hudson, however, is eighty percent of Yeager’s size.
He uses his voice more to express different desires and moods than Yeager ever did.
He has neither the polite patience for being propped in dopey hats nor the feigned interest in animatronic Christmas toys which Yeager had.
This wasn’t about style, however, it was about substance.
I even began to wonder about the metaphysical aspects of this. I’ve a rather forthright pal who convincingly has explained with greatly detailed evidence her suspicion that the distinct personality of her Dog Long Gone has somehow returned within or near the very real physical presence of her Dog Now Here.
When once I caught Hudson not so much as staring me down but steadily studying my face, I actually murmured out, “Yeager? Are you back? Somehow?”
Whenever I even begin to move my mouth, Hudson will, at the least, stir. This time he remained uncharacteristically unblinking.
Mysteries of the Dead, Dog Version might prove a popular series for cable, but I remain highly skeptical. Certainly, however, without being aware of what was happening until after it had occurred, my feelings for Hudson inextricably blended into my feelings for Yeager.
Perhaps the greatest of all those subversive gifts that A Dog Now Here can offer us is to help us remember A Dog Long Gone.
For to grasp their blessedly abstract perception of what it means “to live” is to embrace that guiding force which drives them briefly into our lives but forever into our memory. It is that most avidly pursued yet perpetually elusive trait, the one we all hold sacred yet never seem to retain forever from our own species: unconditional love.
The communication between an animal companion and a human, particularly a singular figure in the animal’s life, is a secret language. Only those two speak it and when the animal is gone, the language seems as dead as one of the ancient ones.
But the discovery I made after adopting Hudson was that while he may not have spoken Yeager’s language precisely, he did speak it – with a slightly different accent. And so, the language was revived All the photographs and videos, all the writing and talking about Yeager after he died could never, of course, really bring the old Dog back to me.
It was not the vacuum of his definitive physical presence which was so sorely missing that is mimicked suffocation.
It was the element of him that was central to all us beings, human or otherwise, the light of life.
And so, only in adopting Hudson has Yeager finally come home.