Over time I reckon I have become a bit jaded. Numb might be a better world to describe how I feel about certain things, things like affection, love, the news. If someone were to tell me that they had found their soul mate, I would probably roll my eyes in a Pavlovian response. Soul mates are fine for greeting cards, naïve adolescents and Hollywood. Now that I think about it some more, distrustful might be a better word to describe what I have become.
I did have a soul mate and his name was Otis. Somehow through the chaos of his early life and the numbness of mine, we found each other. Anyone who saw us together would see that we were perfect for each other. When I was at work for the day or away for a few weeks doing field work for my research, even when I went to the Loblaws down the street to get groceries, and when I returned home, I would open the door and we would great each other with such glee and excitement as if it had been a million years since we had seen each other. We were incomplete until we were present with each other.
He loved the outdoors, as do I and we went on amazing back-country camping trips where we would truly get away from it all. Just him and me, our canoe, our tent, deep in the woods with a lake all to ourselves and the only other things close to us were the stars, the sparks that crackled from the campfire and each other.
In the city, late at night, we would walk for hours along the Don River. We both had an adventurous side and would separate at times if one of us saw something that caught our fancy, that merited further exploring. We would be on different paths, lost for a moment in our separate pursuits, and then I’d get that feeling; where is he? Often, I could hear him moving through the forest, branches snapping, movement from something that was other than each of us. There were times when I could see him and he couldn’t see me and I could see the anxious look on his face, the tenseness of his body language. He looked lost. He felt abandoned and my heart would ache, until he would find me.
Otis was very philosophical by nature. Everyone noticed that about him immediately. He was deep. You could see it in his eyes. He was always thinking about something, deep in thought. I was always thinking about him.
He was stubborn. I am not. He would get himself into trouble, just stupid things like the millions of other stupid things that are happening at any given moment. He almost fell off a cliff because he was curious about a snake he saw and was following it without paying too much attention. He almost drowned because he thought he could walk on the ice but he fell through. I rescued him every time. He had rescued me a million times in a million ways.
When we were together, eating, watching a movie, zoning out, we would always find a way to be in contact with each other, always in touch with each other as if one of us were to get up an alarm would sound to alert the other.
I am a night owl. He was not. He was funny about sleep. He’d go to bed before me but if I wasn’t there shortly thereafter, he would get up and walk into the room or out of the tent or into whatever space I was in and look at me. He looked at me with those dark, deep, philosophical eyes. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t need to. I could hear him thinking, with some disdain, “are you coming to bed soon?”
If I didn’t get up, if something engrossed me or I had company, he would sigh and leave the room and go back to bed. A few times he would kick over one of the two litre bottles that were by the refrigerator, making it look like an accident, but I knew it was a statement. Stubborn but sensitive. It’s a beautiful hybrid.
I never fully got to understand the life he had before we met. I didn’t get all the details, but when he went to sleep, he would fall asleep immediately, like a quick escape. I had problems falling to sleep but he didn’t. When he slept, he would change his breathing so that it was the same as mine and there was something hypnotic about it and I would fall asleep, much easier than I used to.
We were together for 14 years. He was by my side all the time while I spent a horrific year on treatment that almost killed me and at times, during the treatment regimen, I wished it would. He stayed with me all the time and when people saw him they would observe and comment. “Otis, you look like you’ve lost your best friend.” He almost did.
I completed the treatment. I survived and I was cured but it came at a cost. It changed me and it changed him. I am not the man I used to be, the treatment damaged me and it changed Otis. It aged him. Whatever trauma he had in the past, he was revisiting it. and he turned grey prematurely, but I thought it made him look more handsome, debonair. He could do no wrong in my eyes. He did no wrong.
His health deteriorated rapidly. He lost his mobility and basic body functions. He lost his dignity and his pride and that is what we gave to each other by finding each other. Now it was being taken away.
It was not much later that I was at his side and I was told that he would die soon, that he would be gone in a few moments. I held him. I told him I loved him and I repeated to him, how good he was. My hand was resting on his chest. His suffering ended. Mine began.
I didn’t say goodbye and I still really haven’t. Memories of our adventures are what keeps me from turning incomplete and empty. Otis was the most amazing dog in the world.