Some years ago, I was finally diagnosed with what used to be called Asperger’s. It helped explain a lot of things. When our son died in 2007, I had a difficult time processing my grief because normal ways of expressing emotion are foreign to me.
Not long after Corey died, we got a puppy, an English Yellow Lab. Gus helped me deal with the grief which I couldn’t express. Given the way my brain works, I kept writing, because that routine, that need to express, is something that can’t be stopped and is a form of escapism. But now I had Gus who I had to take care of, and was with me 24/7, and sleeping under my desk and we went for runs in the forests of the Pacific Northwest together. He’d sit in my Jeep, looking straight ahead and tourists would take pictures of him, because he was so calm and regal. Gus was a dog who emanated peacefulness and earned the moniker Cool Gus. Because his entire emotional being was facing outwards, he taught me to feel my grief and was with me every step of the way from denial to acceptance.
I didn’t know how to share what I felt with people, not even my wife or friends. I’d dealt with my feelings all my adult life by writing to escape. Gus didn’t care under the desk–but he got me out on my kayak, promptly capsizing it the first time we launched in Puget Sound, and made me laugh. He got me back to the water and our son, Corey, was in the water. We’d go to the beach and I throw him a ball and he’d swam after it and one time pushed it so far out that I had to go into the freezing water and get him back. And I felt Corey all around me in the water and I began to cry and my salty tears fell into the salt of the ocean and Gus heard me and turned around and I carried him to the beach and we watched the red ball float out till it was a speck under the setting sun and Gus and I sat on a pile of driftwood while I cried so hard and he leaned into me and licked the tears from my face. We let the ball go because it was Corey and I wondered if Gus pushed it out there so I could watch it float away and know that everything we love does float away eventually, but we can keep it all around us once we express the pain and keep the love. Cool Gus gave me that. Then I said–let’s go home, Gus.
Cool Gus passed the other morning after almost 14 years. In my mind’s eye, I go back to that beach and see not a set of human footprints and a dog’s but just four paw prints because Gus carried me until I could walk on my own. He rescued me because he had no expectations; he didn’t wonder why I was sad but couldn’t cry. He didn’t wonder why I wrote and wrote; he just sat under my desk with his head on my feet.
We miss you, Gus.