I came home to find three women crying in my living room. They were sitting on the floor in a circle around a dog bed, petting a rottweiler. I said hello, resister the urge to crack a joke, then walked out to the back porch. Here another circle, this time of somber men, was standing around smoking cigarettes. I kissed my husband in greeting, then went back inside to get the crackers.
This was Syrus' wake.
Syrus, the encircled rottweiler, was dying. He'd been getting a little slower over the years, but in the past couple of months, his mobility became increasingly limited. His hips were obviously hurting, and he suddenly developed a limp that the doctor could find no reason for. Another visit to the vet revealed bone cancer - parts of his spine were already all but gone. That was Wednesday morning. Trevor decided that he'd bring Syrus back to the vet Saturday to be euthanized. In the meantime, people could come and visit him.
I rummaged in the fridge and found some salsa, a bag of cherries, and a couple blocks of cheese.
Syrus was popular. Trevor brought him to parties, to rock shows, on weekend tours. He used to be this scared thing, 90 pounds of pussy cat, abused until frightened of his own shadow. But with time, he lost his fear and learned to sit contentedly, as long as he knew Trevor was there. When the band went out on longer tours, Syrus stayed at a series of friends.
I sliced the cheeses and arranged them on the plate with crackers. I poured some tortilla chips in a bowl and put them out with the salsa. I washed the cherries and set them in another bowl.
For the past year or so, Syrus (and Trevor) had lived at my house. He chilled out most of the time on the futon, but when the dogs next door started barking, he would run to the door to go out and bark right back. He sometimes played with Remix, but mostly he ignored her like you would a relentlessly playful little sister. For the past week, he'd taken up residence on the oversized dog bed. Moving had become so painful for him that he started having accidents because he wasn't willing to get up and go outside. And then when he needed to, no one would be there to open the door. Trevor had taken to carrying him out and then supporting his great bulk while he did his business. He'd apologize for hurting him and then sit and pet him for a while, telling him over and over what a good boy he was.
The men came back inside. They continued their conversations, started new ones with the women, went over to pet Syrus for a bet. They ate cherries and chips and crackers.
As the night wore on, they made their leave. It was Wednesday, after all. Some of them promised to be back tomorrow or the next day. Josh and I put 101 Dalmatians on the TV to watch with Syrus before bed.
The next morning, Josh left for the weekend to go to choir camp. That night, there were more mourners, some of them repeats, some of them new. One friend brought a package with two steaks inside. She cooked one, medium rare, which Syrus ate with more enthusiasm than we'd seen in him for a month. The other was wrapped in a bag and put in the fridge. More cheese and crackers for the humans.
Trevor brought out his laptop, and we Skyped a friend in Asheville. I felt more than a little ridiculous being a part of a Skype conversation with a dog. However, Syrus responds to screens. He watches TV intently, something Trevor taught him a long time ago. Syrus would be anxious and Trevor would tell him to lie down and "watch baseball." He loved anything with animals in it, sometimes getting so excited that he'd bark and growl and then try to jump at the TV. Braveheart was a particular favorite. He responds to the sounds, but also the music cues, and even the action. It was the darnedest thing.
And on this Skype call, our friend at the other end had a dog. As much as possible, she kept the camera on the little dog. Syrus was alert and active, watching the pup on the screen. I know that as I tell you this, that I would not believe it if I hadn't seen it.
Our friends went home again. Trevor said he'd eat the rest of the cheese and crackers. He set himself up on the floor next to the dog bed and queued up Turner and Hooch. He stayed there all night.
Friday night, my in-laws came into town. Trevor had told them it wasn't necessary for them to make the 3 hour drive, but they insisted they were there to see Syrus. We ate takeout and told stories. I cooked the remaining steak for Syrus. We counted down the hours until the following afternoon and watched Beethoven. Again, Trevor spent the night on the floor, watching a marathon of The Dog Whisperer.
All week long, I'd felt a sort of hollowness about me. People came over to sit and cry, and I set out crackers. Growing up, we didn't attach this kind of sentimentality to animals. We had a small menagerie, but they all lived outside and some of them were half wild, which makes them hard to get close to and easy to forget about. My dad used to scoff about people who "treated animals like people." As an adult, I see this attitude as a particularity of my dad's, and I know that a fierce love for critters is not a defect.
I loved Syrus, too. Syrus was the dog that showed me that animals living in your house was not a crazy idea. But I did not seem to be as hard hit as everyone else. I would not have driven three hours. I would not have Skyped. I probably would've found out too late and then sent Trevor a condolence text. I know that Trevor appreciated me being there and doing the small hosting duties, but I felt like I didn't care enough somehow.
Saturday morning was like a deep breath. My in-laws had stayed the night, and everyone was up early. Trevor cooked us bacon and eggs, and I made biscuits. After breakfast, Trevor went out back to smoke a cigarette. My in-laws followed, because it was a nice day, and they were really here for him anyway. With the dishes cleared and nothing to do but wait, I sat down on the floor next to Syrus. I pat his head, scratched his ear, and told him he was a good boy. I made up a song for him which I thought was pretty good but have since forgotten. I cried, after all.
That afternoon, two of Trevor's friends came over to go with him to the vet, the same couple he'd accompanied to put down their dog, O'Malley. I waved both him and my in-laws off, then went back inside. And then I left again, almost immediately, to go to some thrift stores. I was tired of being in that house, full of sick dogs and sad people and cheese crackers.