Monday, March 03, 2014

That Lonesome Road

The journey I made this past weekend was one I had been putting off for some time. Delaying because, when we were there, Chester's times were the happiest of his life. He was known and loved by all who came in contact with him, and there were more than a few. Once in Pioneertown someone asked me, "Are you Chester's mom?" That was one of the great gifts his special dog soul had given me: along with learning (not always successfully) patience, tolerance, and being able to receive the neverending love of such a huge force of nature. Literally: he was 97 pounds.
That lonesome road

I had avoided our favorite place in the last few years because Chester's arthritis had gotten progressively worse and he wasn't supposed to run or play like he used to. In the desert, trying to stop him from doing that would have been near-impossible, and I made excuses to myself as to why we couldn't go anymore. But it was really about seeing Chester aging, knowing his days were limited.

It's not that I didn't know. Every day I told him that I loved him every second and the seconds in between, that he saved my life and was the best thing that ever happened to me. None of that was a lie. Still, it did nothing to cushion the blow of his loss. Thirteen years with a ninety-seven pound dog by your side has a profound effect. I didn't feel like my heart broke, not in the conventional sense. Instead, I felt crushed. The grief was heavy, thick, choking, massive. My entire life in Los Angeles had been with him. I felt at the edge of some shore, except I didn't know if I was looking out onto a new life or had just landed and wasn't sure where I was going. The silence was deafening and I went back to Massachusetts for a time. Before I left I scattered some of his ashes on Mr. Frederick and Fatty Arbuckle's stars, as we had strolled down Hollywood Boulevard daily, and without fail, Chester would try to go into Frederick's of Hollywood. Sometimes, men would cheer him on.

A fitting tribute from one ladies' man to another. Chester liked very few men, and you were one of the lucky ones, then he loved you.

Nearly three months later (he died on December 13th), I brought his ashes back to the high desert to scatter. I had Daisy Mae with me, a ridgeback that landed, serendipitously, on my doorstep when I returned from Boston in January. I had been angered by people's helpful suggestions that I foster a dog or go to the shelter; it took me a month to open my mail, fearful that there were sympathy cards (there were), and I avoided most e-and voicemails. Daisy Mae arrived in what would be called "fair" condition, but that is a story for another time. A meek and gentle soul, I could not rehome her yet again.
 Daisy Mae, the little wonder

And so Daisy Mae accompanied me to the desert, to the place I went to nearly every weekend when  I could, keeping a spare set of everything in the back of my long-gone SUV in case I wanted to hit the road. Why didn't I live that way anymore?

I left early, like I usually do, trying to outrun a wild storm that had descended on Southern California. That night, in the desert, we had high winds and flash floods, but we were cozy in the cabin that I usually shared with Chester. I put his ashes on the table in the tacky patterned box they came in.
 So hideous.

Then the cabin flooded through the air conditioner, and we moved to another one. I had never slept anywhere else there, but in a way I was relieved. The next morning, I awoke early and went to get his ashes. As I was in the kitchen, the door flew open. I knew he was there.

I scattered him on the first ridge of our usual hike, one that he loved and ran free on. Daisy Mae, bounding like the puppy she never was able to be, led the way. Never once did she run off.
 Take me to the ridge.

The rest of the day I was drained and listless. I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye. But I knew he was home, where he belonged, not in a box on a shelf.
 Daisy looking over the ridge. Those are Chester's ashes.

Godspeed my friend, my companion, my partner through thick and thin, through moves, boyfriends, jobs, crises, scared men who never took me on a second date after meeting him, the thing I loved most in the world, who gave me what I never had and showed me that hope and joy and love are possible, without being jaded and that pure happiness is there, if you want it. He was my greatest teacher so far, and I look forward to always remaining teachable.
Three days later, he's still around.
Daisy stands guard.

Lead on, MacDuffaisy.

My beautiful baby lamb. 

A friend, Didier Chevalier, wrote me yesterday:  "Chester loved the desert. I remember when you guys came to the house. He went around telling everyone: Horny Toads, Rabbits, Rattlers, Lizards, Deer, Coyotes, Bears and Mountain Lions... THIS LAND IS MY LAND ! I felt like I had a protector."


ilduce said...

Journey on.

Donna Lethal said...

Thank you, dearest.

The Cool Cookie said...

That box for his ashes is so "Loved One"

Donna Lethal said...

You should see the flyer I got from the pet cremation company. It's straight out of "The Loved One." I had written across it in marker, "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!" I just found it shoved in a drawer. It was stuff like that made me laugh in that first week. You know I DID watch Loved One again right around then. It was one of my coping skills.

Vincent-louis Apruzzese said...

Not having Nomi's ashes was the worst decision. I was too broken up to make any decisions and the vet hospital tried their best but the footprint in plaster in a frame solution just didn't work for me and it was too late to change my mind. Thought I feel a little better thinking his ashes might have arrived in a box like that... he would have been mortified!

Beautiful words, beautiful photos from beautiful you.

Donna Lethal said...

Thank you, love. Your photos of him are so playful, happy, and you got him at his puppy stage - they are a gift and part of my heart.

Oh, those ashes. They send them in what looks like a paint can. There is no getting around the tackiness of it. Luckily for us, we have a sense of humor but it is not pleasant in any way. He would have laughed.

Holly said...

Absolutely beautiful. I love how Daisy Mae seems to be feeling Chester's presence.

Donna Lethal said...

She's pretty spectacular. When she got here, she had cancer, was underweight, and had a few other issues. Now she's like a kangaroo!

Thombeau said...

What a wonderful post. I love you, honey. XOXO

Donna Lethal said...

Thank you dearest. And thanks to everyone over at the Salon for being to patient. I love you, too.

Lindax0x0x0x0x said...

I only met Chester once. His giant pumpkin head & overwhelming smile won me over immediately. Then he laid his head in my lap & looked at me with those beautiful eyes. He was a ladies man for sure!

MatthewScott said...

I am not surprised that you are a dog person too, Donna Lethal. To know a dog's soul and to have a dog know yours is one of the best gifts we humans can have. What did our species ever do right to deserve them. I've realized in my journeys of losing my K-9 soul mates, that we are also given the painful yet sacred gift of holding them while they cross to the other side. If given the chance they would do the same for us. I would have such a relationship no other way. I'll send Woody to look for Chester. Maybe he already found him in the Great Dog Park (where grass eternally grows and doesn't get tramped into dirt!)

Donna Lethal said...

Thank you, Matthew. I can't imagine feeling this way again but I couldn't say no to Daisy.

Donna Lethal said...

Thanks, Linda ... he adored you!