This week, on one of my first nights in a new town and on a new job, I got a call from my girlfriend back home and I instantly knew something was wrong. In a choking voice, she managed to tell me that Lucky had been hit by a car. I know from the sounds in the background she is by the side of the road.
Lucky was a chocolate lab/pit bull mix I picked up off the street a little over a year ago. On the way home in the car from where I found him, he lay down in the passenger seat, put his chin over my arm that rested on the console, let out a big breath, and went to sleep. He had me from that sigh of contentment. Linda suggested I name him "Lucky" because it was I who found him. But really, it was the other way round.
He was 34 lb. and in reasonably good shape. Something less than a year old. Lucky must have lived with a pack of dogs because he loved piling on...in play, but especially in sleep. That was the one thing that particularly endeared him to Linda and me over time...his wedging himself down between us in bed so that he was snuggled up like a hot dog in a bun. I think even Max, my 95 lb. shepherd/great dane mix who is the gentle giant of our pack, looked up when Lucky lay down alongside him for a nap and lay his litle square head on his back and said, "Humph! Oh, well, if it makes him feel ok it's fine with me."
Linda's voice came through the dark almost two hundred miles away. "He was hit twice. And, Michael, I, I don't think he's going to make it."
At that moment, I wanted Lucky dead so he wouldn't suffer. I wanted him alive so I wouldn't lose him. What I didn't want, though, was for him to suffer unduly.
When Lucky found me (I believe that, at times, "things find us." I don't know the reason why this is--whether it be fate, luck, or synchronicity--but I do know that when we are thus found we are called to give our love; and, we when we love, we sign a chit that can be called at any moment.) I had a dog. Or two, or three, depending upon how you figure. I really wasn't looking for another one. But, as I said, I was found and called to love.
Lucky was quite the pimply adolescent: all play, all fun, all smiles, and had only one fault, that being that at times he could and would instantly slip away from you and run free. His free-running could last only a monent or two, or it could last for an hour or more. All during the time he would be loose, the Wheel of Fate would turn. In some regards, his name had been eponymous for more than just us coming together. Until that night, that is.
I hear people talking, I hear Linda, her voice strong, caring, telling Lucky, "Mama's here, Baby. Mama's here." Much as I knew how easy it would be to panic and lose control, she managed to calm Lucky. That's the kind of woman she is. And then there was the high-pitched yelps of pain and fear. Then there was Linda's voice again. Again, I wanted Lucky dead and I wanted him alive.
Lucky brought extra life to Max, who dropped five pounds and toughened up with all the play. Lucky and Mika, Linda's husky mix (another stray that had, strangely enough, "found me" and who Linda had adopted), became swim buddies, working together to retrieve sticks in lakes, ponds, and even the Red River. (Well, actually, Mika would retrieve the stick and Lucky would take it from her as they got close to the bank.) When the three dogs played, Lucky would go back and forth from Max to Mika and back again, playing with each until they were tired out. Finally, all three would collapse in a heap and slip off to doggie dream land where their feet would twitchg and they would let out little barks of dream-pleasure.
Street noise was the background behind the soft whimpering, crying, and tight, unknown voices coming from the small phone speaker. One of these unknowns was a young woman who had stopped to help. She had the Animal Emergency Clinic in her phone...what are the chances of that?...and helped Linda get Lucky there before, like an angel, disappearing. All I can do is to let my chair hold me off my knees that have lost strength and fight off a swirling mass of blackness that surrounds me. My stomach is turning and I feel like I may vomit. I don't want to lose that little boy. He's alive. He's still alive. Maybe only his leg is broken. This I tell myself.
When he first found me, Lucky had proportions that were a little odd: big head and neck and short back. But in a year as he put on weight, his legs grew under him and he lengthened and strengthened to a beautiful build of all muscle, sinew, and bone.
He also grew emotionally so that instead of avoiding our gaze, he would look right at us. In bed, he became the biggest snuggle bunny we had ever seen, tickling us with the walrus-like whiskers set into a wide muzzle. And when we had coffee in bed before getting up, he would jump off, play, but always ended up springing back up and setlling down as we talked.
The phone goes dead. I know they are on the way to the emergency clinic. I know Lucky is in the car with Linda, and I envision her talking to him and reaching back and stroking him while she drives as quickly and carefully as she can. My heart aches for her, having to balance care for driving and care for our little boy.
Lucky loved touching us. when we ate, he settled down at our feet and lay a paw, if not his head, over our feet. He loved watching us. He would sit on the back of the couch and cross his front legs and watch us in the kitchen. Or he would lie on the edge of the bed--again, front legs crossed--and watch us. He wanted to be in the same room we were in. When we had coffee in the morning, he lay stretched out across us both.
Linda needs help. She'll be at the clinic alone. I call Cathy, my ex-wife. We are close in the way that some people can be without sharing house and home, as we had for almost twenty years. She meets Linda at the pet clinic. That's the kind of woman she is.
Lucky didn't make it. This time when he broke loose from Linda, Fortune's Wheel stopped on a bad number. There was no sleep for me that night. Little the next.
It will be easy to Monday-morning quarterback what could/should have done, why the cars didn't see Lucky, why they didn't stop. But as Cathy said, "Shakespeare talked about this in King Lear; he said, "O, that way madness lies."
But, of course, we wonder "what if"? I, for one, am convinced Linda had no good choices and was in the terrible position of having to try to make the best worst decision possible. I love her for her composure. I only wish I could erase the image from her of the final moment. You see, Lucky was hit the first time in the far lane of the road, and we think it only broke his front leg because he instantly regained his feet. Linda said he looked like, "Oh, no, I'm in trouble. I'd better get back to Mama." And he started back across the road to her. Sadly, Fate threw down a black joker because a pickup truck hit him square on. He was merely feet away.
A year with Lucky just isn't long enough. Would ten years have been enough? When it is ever long enough?
We do have Max and Mika, and, at times, Taylor. They seem to be doing well. We aren't. Not yet.
Linda and I look down when we eat and there's no little brown body at our feet. We walk around the kitchen and there's no pair of brown eyes set into a squarish head looking at us from the top of the couch over a pair of crossed paws. In the morning, there's no little warm body nudging itself down between us and stretching out.
We see his toys scattered around, and at times, when we're not thinking about him, feel we get a glimpse of him running through the house on his way to something fun. But now and then we do trade a memory and laugh. I feel assured that Lucky, wherever he has gone, has started a party and is spreading joy. That's the kind of dog he was.