Yanni, or I Miss My Dog

Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s most famous poem came to mind recently.  Laugh, and the world laughs with you, or something like that, cry, and you cry alone.  Grief has been bad.  It’s been isolating, I think, for all of us.

I took Herschel to the vet on Friday.  He tried so hard to pretend to be stalwart.  He put on his three-legged game face and tried to fool me into thinking he wasn’t hurting, even as his hind legs quivered and he barely could stand.  It was time.  We drove to the animal hospital.  He leaned on me with all of his weight in the waiting room.  They ushered us back to what I gathered was their euthanasia room.

You could tell it was a euthanasia room because they had an electric water fountain, a big Persian carpet, and a box of tissues.  I told Herschel the only thing that it needed was Yanni piped in through the loudspeakers.

I told Herschel the only thing that it [the euthanasia room] needed was Yanni piped in through the loudspeakers.

Not sure if he found it as funny as I did.  He licked my face and rested his head on my lap.  They came in an administered some drug to make him drowsy.  Tough to tell the difference with Herschel, between drug-induced drowsy and his usual lethargy.  When they came in and shaved his back leg to administer the final injection, he looked up briefly, but was satisfied when I told him it was cool.  When they gave him the last shot, he looked at me one more time before closing his eyes.  The vet checked his heartbeat.  After it was done, his jowls twitched one more time, the same way they would when he was having one of his running/barking at something dreams.

He shared my amusement about the room.  I know he did.  But when he was gone, when the warmth left him and his big lanky body was empty of what was Herschel, I cried alone.

The myriad of adjustments for a Great Dane in our lives came crashing around us like cymbals in a marching band.  Leah was worried about leaving the bread on the counter.  I called him to go outside.  I thought I heard him do his “just dismounted the couch” yawn more than once.  Each time, our sentences trailed off as we choked on our own words.

He’s gone.

I went to Acadia National Park today.  I haven’t hiked much since our last trip on the AT in Pennsylvania; the hike I thought injured Herschel.  I climbed the northwest trail to the summit of Pemetic Mountain.  For the first time in years, there was no dog accompanying me.

It was beautiful, but it was a wounding sort of solitude, like I was betraying the memory of my dog.  My knees, especially my bad left paratrooper knee, really hurt during and after the hike.  I talked to Herschel as if he was with me.  Really, talking to my dogs on a hike has always been me avoiding the realization that I’m mostly talking to myself.  With the death of Herschel, I no longer can maintain that facade, so I realized that I was conversing with myself about tricksy hobbitses even as I encountered just a handful of other hikers.

An annoying dude and his teenage son came down the rockslide that is this trail to Pemetic as I was going up.  Spying my yarmulke, he said, “shalom,” because of course, “hello” doesn’t suffice when you see a Jewish guy.

How far?  Just a couple hundred meters.  You know you shouldn’t really hike alone, it’s so dangerous. Thanks, Mom.  I was hiking solo across the Alaskan Range 20 years ago.  I’ll be okay walking less than a mile up a mountain in one of the most visited National Parks, thankyouverymuch.  Move along so I can continue talking to my dog who is not there.

When I reached the top, it was a nice view in all directions.  The sun threatened to break through the clouds over the ocean to the south.  If there’s this or that bracha for seeing something spectacular, I couldn’t recall it.  Some rabbi told me at one point or another that “wow” may do the trick for G-d.

I took some pictures and indulged in a selfie or two.  It occurred to me that even if Herschel were there, he never really was much for panoramic views.  He’d be kind of shuffling awkwardly as if to say so, are you going to pet me, or what?

It was good to get out and enjoy Maine.  I’m sad Herschel never really could enjoy it as we did, but in a way, I can imagine him playing along with me talking to…him.

At least he didn’t have to go out listening to Yanni.  At least there’s that.


Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Down East Maine with three ladies and a dog.

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About Brian

Brian Kresge

Brian Kresge

Writer, soldier, programmer, father, musician, Heeb, living in the woods of Down East Maine with three ladies and a dog.

About Leah

Leah Kresge

Leah Kresge

Director of Education for Congregation Beth Israel in Bangor, Maine, special educator and former school board member, mother to Amelia and Nezzie.

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