As my days in Gainesville slowly draw to a close, I find myself thinking about the people I’ve been spending these days with. I think about how kind they’ve been to let me drop into the middle of their lives like this and how welcome and included they’ve made me feel. I think about the meals we’ve shared and the games we’ve played Oliver family style with lots of laughter and name-calling and friendly-ish competition followed by more name-calling. (There’s a reason they call it Spite & Malice, people). I think about seeing Avengers in 3D and Titanic in 3D and South Pacific on the stage and spending an afternoon at Kanapaha Gardens and an evening at the bowling alley and an hour at that dive bar drinking beer because we went to the wrong theater. I think about these people, these lovely people that I call “family” and that I’m so proud to be related to, by blood and marriage and circumstance, and I already ache a bit knowing how very much I’ll miss them. But I also know that they’ll have each other when I’m gone and that meals will continue to be shared and games will be played and movies and gardens and bowling alleys and all the rest will be enjoyed. Their lives here will go on as they did before I arrived and that’s okay and good and reassuring. For the most part, I’ve left everything as I found it, like a good Girl Scout.
Except for Hampton, that is.
Hampton. As I said to Mrs. Johnny Rocket the other day: “While my life, in many ways, will be starting again when I head for Austin on June 1, Hampton’s is going to come to a screeching halt.” A bit melodramatic, yes, but kindof true. That dog is in for a world of hurt.
Hampton and I spend a lot of time together. We’re together when I’m taking him for a walk or feeding him or standing over him to make sure he drinks his water or sitting with him on the lounge on the back porch or stretching out with him side by side on the couch. Of course, we’re also together at times that are less about me wanting to spend time with Hampton and more about him being a bit clingy. During those times, it’s Hampton following me throughout the house most days or sleeping just outside my bedroom door most nights or waiting around the corner from the bathroom for me when I’m showering or pressing his nose up to the front window when I’m off on my morning run. In short, Hampton could be classified a stalker except that he lives with me so it’s unlikely that a court of law would take any petition for a restraining order seriously.
And so, when I’m thinking about the people I’ve spent these days in Gainesville with and I’m getting weepy about saying goodbye, I feel a serious knot in my belly when my thoughts turn to this sweet sweet dog and everything he’s meant to me and how distressed he’s going to be when he realizes that I’ve abandoned him. Can dogs even realize something like that? I hope not, but I’m fairly certain that when or if he does he’s going to be pissed.
So here’s an open appeal to the two-legged people I so lovingly spoke of above (you know who you are) regarding my four-legged little brother. I probably never told any of you this, but in the days after Johnny Rocket died last year — those sad February days — I would spend hours lying down with Hampton in the yellow bedroom at MJR’s house. That little yellow room is the spot that I most closely associate with my childhood — it’s my favorite room in the house, truth be told — and it’s the refuge I sought out in that dark hour, along with Hampton; it’s where I curled up with the lights low and cried and cried. In that yellow room, I put my arm around that dog and squeezed every ounce of comfort out of him that I could. And he let me. He didn’t squirm, he didn’t move, he didn’t complain. I think he was grieving, too, in his own way. I like to believe the comfort was flowing both ways, but who knows. I do know this: every time I take him for a walk, every time I check his water bottle or offer him another treat or worry about his excessive scratching and the way that Loki toys with him, I’m thinking about those days and the debt I owe him. And I’m telling you all about it now so that maybe you will, too, when I’m no longer around to repay it in kind.
One lap around the block takes about twenty minutes. That’s all I’m sayin’.