Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“ He reached up to my face and licked me. And then he died. "
There are a million mugs and refrigerator magnets about how our dogs are like our kids. That’s not the truth for many of us, especially gay people who don’t have their own children. They are our kids. When I brought Luke home in a box at the age of 9 weeks, he was a baby. His every meal, ounce of water, comforting hold, need to go, toy to play with, and basic survival depended on me. These are the things I would have done for a baby, except babies don’t bite hundreds of marks into your body while you’re trying to care for them. When he was six months old, I bought a cabin in upstate New York for both of us. He was getting big and needed space to run, and it was my dream to have a simple sanctuary away from the chaos I never loved about New York. He went with me to select it, as I knew he would tell me which was the right one. He did. For the next few years, we went every free weekend and every vacation, and we discovered the woods behind the cabin, which neighbors were likable, and how to coexist in and out of the city. It took the pressure off so we could experience both sides of the other, and have some space. After my husband bailed on us shortly after we married, I thought I would never want to go back. Luke didn’t see it like that, and would pace around the door in that way that meant it is the weekend and where are the keys. I couldn’t say no, so we went back, a three hour trip. He bolted out of my truck and ran laps around the cabin as he often would the first time we opened it each Spring. I laughed aloud, the first time in months, and I realized that this was our place, just his and mine. He wanted to swim, to explore, to sunbathe on the lawn, and to eat. With me. And he brought me back. For ten years, he was my reason to get up, to make our home comfortable, to have a routine, and to learn to be responsible for someone other than myself. When he was sick, I dropped everything. When he was bored, I took him anywhere. When he was uncomfortable, I figured out why and fixed it. When I couldn’t seem to survive in New York any longer, I had two choices of jobs in two different parts of the country. I chose Portland because I knew it was surrounded by mountains and near the ocean, and I could picture him discovering the trees that he loved with all new smells. It was like getting my kid into the best school, and if I had to move to a different address to enroll him, then that’s what good parents do. We drove three thousand miles through ice storms and tears. We stopped in every landscape change so he could see and smell it. We shared shitty roadside food in the motels that would take him. We drove into Portland with no expectations except to start over, together. The first thing we did was find Forest Park, walking the first trail near the first entrance, and it was all uphill. He pulled me the entire way, sometimes breaking into a trot. When we moved into our new house, he ran from room to room like a child, deciding which would be his, and excited when he figured out there was a yard with trees and squirrels right out the back door, his dream. Watching him realize this was going to be our home was one of the best moments of my adult life. That we had pulled ourselves out of a dark place and could start over together. When Covid happened and my job ended, his other dream came true. I was home every day, 7 days a week. We were given the gift of time together. At nine, his health began to change. He squirted pee a little when he slept, and the medication that might help him might also weaken his heart. So instead, I covered everything with light blankets, and changed them frequently, sometimes doing four loads of laundry a day. I wanted to keep our house clean, but also didn’t want him to feel shame over something that wasn’t his fault. The local water department called to say they suspected a water leak, because my bill escalated to over 300 dollars a month. A couple of months ago, when he first collapsed at Kelly Point, his favorite park, I screamed aloud like a widow and fell to the ground to hold him. I realized he was going to be old or sick now, and my heart started to break. Over the next two months, my strong hero became my elderly care patient. We still made the most of it. He had good days when he would wake me holding his blue Hedgehog and want me to chase him, and then bad days when he didn’t want to walk and couldn’t sleep comfortably. I clung to every second of our time, making sure we were touching even when I was on my laptop or watching a movie. I held him every morning and for a long time before we slept each night. I couldn’t smell him enough. His trust in me grew even deeper, understanding that I understood what he was feeling. I have never had more respect, or have been more respected, for my feelings and my needs, as I have been with Luke. We just got each other. And when, last week, when we were once again alone in life together, him pushed against me chewing his toy, and his first seizure began, I knew what this meant. And I laid on the floor with him until I could get him into the jeep, and Jonah came over to drive us to the E.R. as I held him close. In the parking lot of the E.R., he began to die. I chanted Hare Krishna with my head against his head, and when they came out to sedate him I told them they could not take him unless I could be with him. A few minutes later they wheeled him into the room, sedated. I held his paw and thanked him for sharing his life with me and for helping me through my darkest times, and that no one would ever replace the things that we had and did together. He reached up to my face and licked me. And then he died. Please don’t ever tell me that he was not my child. He was my baby, my kid and my family. He loved me, protected me and understood me. No one else has ever come close, or has even cared to try. I’m grateful, I’m heartbroken and I’m lost. Like anyone would be when their child has died.