Monday, January 13, 2014

Alaska Shorts: Just Between Us, by Kelly Thompson



Wayne says that he’s the one who took care of Clyde.  He does not want to take care of another dog.
  
But Clyde and I know differently.  Clyde and I had an agreement.  Wayne needed someone to take care of and Clyde and I agreed he would be the one.  This was our secret. 

That was partly why I loved Clyde so much, because he and I agreed that he would take care of Wayne by making Wayne take him for daily walks, and give him treats, even bake him special liver treats handmade by Wayne, and feed and water him, and teach him how to behave.  I’m the one who really taught Clyde how to behave, but that was our secret as well.  Wayne did not know any of this and he will not believe it now.  It was just between Clyde and I.

Right when we very first got him, I taught Clyde to stay off of the Persian rugs in the house.  I did this by using a spray bottle filled with water and squirting him whenever he went onto the rug.  Clyde thought this was a dirty trick and looked at me askance, sort of with a sideways glance, to tell me that not only was it a dirty trick, but that he knew it was a dirty trick.  He agreed to stay off the Persian rugs and the Himalayan rug too, but from then on he always put one paw on the edge of the rug just to let me know, just to remind me that the spray bottle was not nice; it was a dirty trick but he still forgave me.

Clyde was a big dog but he did not feel like that should count against him.  He thought that even if he was a big dog, he should get to jump on people like any happy ass dog would so I had to teach him a special command, “Off!”  The way I taught Clyde that was I would turn my body away whenever he jumped on me and ignore him.  Clyde hated that.  Wayne would probably say he’s the one who taught Clyde this, but Clyde and I know it was me, even if Clyde is no longer here to verify it. 

We had to teach Clyde that because, even at nine months old, when we first got him, he was huge and beautiful.  He had a shiny coat of black fur and a long red tongue that fell out of one side of his mouth because he lost a tooth when either a moose or a horse kicked him - back when he was an orphan before his original owners, whoever they were, abandoned him and left him to die by the side of the road.  Or maybe it was a ranch.  The story varied every time Clyde told it.

But Clyde never forgot to remind me how we fell in love at first sight, me and him, when he almost knocked me over with that long happy tongue and his big happy grin just like I never forgot to remind him that I hated dog licks until I met him and it wasn’t the crazy wet tongue on my face, it was the quivering ecstatic shaking of joy filling his big 60 pound puppy body that got me, that made me feel it too, that joy deep in my cells, a joy Clyde brought with him, his purpose in life, to remind me.  Life, his joy said.  Live!

Clyde knew, as I knew, that he had been a wild mustang in his previous life and that I had been a wild girl, a barefoot girl, who once rode him bareback through meadows where high golden grass grew tall and waved in the breeze like Clyde’s mustang mane did that lifetime, like his proud tail shaped in an S flew proudly behind him.  Clyde and I both knew this, though we spoke of it rarely, and in hushed tones.  We knew we were not supposed to remember such things in this lifetime, but sometimes we couldn’t resist and then we would just run and run down on the beach on Kachemak Bay behind the house in Alaska Wayne built us.

Clyde and I shared secrets we never had to put a single word to, like the one about taking care of Wayne.  The day Clyde chose to leave; he was sick with a rare blood cancer that came suddenly and out of nowhere, at least for me, (Wayne had known, Clyde told me in our secret code, even though I hadn’t, that he was that sick, not just sick like in getting better sick like I thought) so it was terrible for me to suddenly have to face losing him in one day and he knew that but he knew too, and told me clearly and in strong language, how it had to be for Wayne – that he couldn’t linger, that he would if it was just me, because he loved me, but he reminded me of our deal about him taking care of Wayne, and, of course, how we both knew Wayne couldn’t handle that, Clyde lingering, Clyde suffering.  Clyde could, if I needed him to, he said, just to hang out together a little bit longer, but is that what we wanted to put Wayne through, he asked me?  No, he said so clearly.  I’m doing my job here, he said.  I know, I said back.  I know you are, Clyde and I love you for it and we both love Wayne, don’t we?  Yes, Clyde said.  We do. 

And so, just between us, we said goodbye and part of our goodbye was thanking each other.  We thanked each other for loving each other, but mostly, we were just both so grateful to each other for how much we each loved Wayne – that we were a team – and how we shared that.

Now I keep thinking maybe if we had another dog, I wouldn’t miss Clyde so much even though I know that I will always miss him that much.  But Clyde is still with me and he says be patient; he says that I am not just missing him, but I am missing how we shared our love for Wayne.  Clyde says we may or may not have another dog someday.  He says remember our pact that he will take care of Wayne?  Yes I say.  Well, Clyde says, I've never stopped.  Besides, you never know when a great spirit may enter your lives again.  It could happen.

Clyde shows me this picture then (because Clyde mostly thinks in pictures) of him climbing into the truck with us the day we brought him home, how happy he was to find us, how perfectly we fit. 

When and if another great spirit comes, Wayne will know, Clyde says.  Just like he did when you found me.  Remember?  Yes, I nod.

I came as a dog this time, Clyde reminds me.  In another life, I was a mustang.  Who knows in what form we’ll meet again?

I swear I can feel that big lug of a puppy lick my face again.

Keep an eye out, Clyde tells me.

I promise.

He sends me another word picture.  He is headed down toward the beach, right at the beginning of Jeremy’s trail.  He pauses a second, looking back.  Our eyes meet, and then he disappears into the brush, leaving the fireweed and the devil’s club behind.  I get a last glimpse of his tail, shaped like an S, then he’s gone, headed, I know, straight for the water he loved, the ocean he once swam in, chasing some imaginary ball out on the horizon.


Any minute, I know, he’ll come trotting back with it.  I just need to keep an eye out.

Kelly Thompson lives with her husband, photographer Wayne Thompson in Denver, Colorado. They lived in Homer, Alaska from 2004 through 2010.  Clyde came to them as a rescue dog in 2004.  He enjoyed driving the AlCan with Wayne (Kelly flew) when the Thompsons moved back to Kelly’s home town, Denver, Colorado in 2010.  Clyde passed away from a rare form of blood cancer on January 8 2013.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love this, Kelly. Brought a memory or two, and maybe a tear.

Len&Mary said...

What a wonderful story coming right out of the heart and so aptly expressed! Yes we all miss Clyde and his rambunctious friendship who are part of his family======Dad

Anonymous said...

so good!

-Richard