Roo and I lay nose to nose on the floor. Her paw was on my shoulder and her brown eyes were calm now. She kept them fixed on mine. She was filled with love and I could see it and I knew that she could see that I was, too.
“My little country monkey,” I said, pulling the flap of her ear through my hand the way she liked. “My little bear. I know you are sick now and you don’t feel good. But you are my daughter bear and you are the best girl who ever lived and there is no one your old daddy loves more than Chigi Bear Beker. You are my girl and I am your daddy. You will always be my daughter bear and I will always be your daddy. And where goes the Rooki goes…”
A small smile appeared in her eyes and I felt her move her arm to prompt my answer.
“… the daddy. That’s right. And where goes the daddy goes…”
Again the glimmer of a smile in those deep eyes.
“… Goes the Rooki. That’s right.”
I was determined not to let Roo see how upset I was and somehow, I still don’t know how, I found a way. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I knew I was going to have to keep doing it without fail for what little was left of her life. It was the most important thing I could do for her now and if I couldn’t do it I would have failed in a way worse than all the other way I failed her and it just could not be. Roo’s nose was close to mine and I could feel her breath. She kept her eyes on me, almost never blinking. I don’t think it was because of the Xanax. I think that only made it possible for her to be as present now as she wanted to be.
“Before you became my little bear, no one knows what you were named or even if you had a name. All we know is that someone was mean to you and the only thing they taught you was that the world is a terrible place where even a little puppy can get in trouble for things they didn’t do. And then, the next thing you knew you went to jail. The jail was scary. It was hot and it was filled with dogs and they were all sad and frightened and they all barked and screamed. And what did they do with this little Rooki bear but put her in a cage, with nowhere to hide, not even a corner to put the nose, and the noise never stopped and it was so hard for the little puppy. You didn’t know what to do. You didn’t even know how to hope, so you didn’t know that someone would ever help you, because no one ever did before, even though every little puppy needs help.
“And as if the jail wasn’t bad enough, everything was also hurting the little Roo. You had big holes in your legs, here, and here –” I touched Roo on her forearms and her ankles where the sores had been where she had licked through her skin and down to the muscle “– and no one helped you with that. Those little paws of yours hurt because they were filled with sharp rocks and even that no one helped you with. And even though everybody could see how upset you were, no one took you to a quiet place. Do you know what they thought in the jail, Rooki? They thought you were so frightened that you could never get better. They thought it might be better for you to kill you down. They didn’t even know you were just a little puppy because you were so skinny and looked so sad and your teeth were so black that they thought you were already an old girl.
“Then, one day, someone came to take you out of the cage. Oh, you were a brave little puppy and I bet you put up a big fight. But they forced you out and the next thing you knew you were someplace even scarier, at a doctor, and that doctor cut you on the stomach, here.”
I put my hand on Roo’s belly. The cancer inside her had swollen under her soft skin and the short fur that only grew back to a fuzz after chemotherapy and her belly felt tight. I rubbed her for a few seconds and moved my hand back up to keep stroking her ear.
“And that hurt my little bear’s stomach. But then, when you came out of the doctor there was your daddy. No one knew that daddy was your daddy. You didn’t know it and even your daddy didn’t know it yet, but you came out of the doctor and someone gave your daddy the string and that was the first time Chigi Bear and her daddy ever walked together. We went outside because you really wanted to get out of there and you had to go outside and the first thing you did was make one of the biggest pee pees of your life, which is really saying something considering how long you can hold it, Chig. You did not want to go in the car and your daddy had to pick you up and put you in, and the next thing you knew, you went home with your daddy. That was what happened on the day you found your daddy and your daddy found you.
“My poor little bear, you were in bad shape. It’s hard to imagine it now, because you would go on to become a little bit of a fat bear, but you were the skinniest little girl. And even with all the beautiful fur of the Rooki, no one brushed you and your hair was tangled up and those little paws of yours had rocks stuck in them and no one checked those for you even though anyone could see that it hurt you to walk. And those black teeth of your, Chig. They were black because no one ever cared enough about you to give you anything to chew, even though you were just a little puppy and everyone but the biggest idiot in the world knows that a puppy needs lots of things to chew, but they didn’t care. Maybe you looked for things to chew where you were trapped, but there was nothing, and you probably got in trouble for trying. Even that little tongue of yours was skinny and weak. You should have seen how it flopped around, Chig. The only exercise it got was the you licked the foot, which no one told you not to do the way your daddy always would once you got a daddy, and you licked and licked until you had a bog hole and then you licked another leg until you got another hole. Those holes were terrible, Chig, but the worst thing was that you were all alone, and that’s no way for a puppy to be. You were all alone for a long time. And on top of everything, all the fleas of the world were biting you. The world is filled with poor little bears, Chig, but you were one of the poorest. It broke your daddy’s heart to see what a poor little bear you were. It still breaks my heart to remember you that way.
“Do you know that when Rooki came home with her daddy she did not want even want to come inside? Yes, Chig. You had no reason to suspect that daddy was any kind of a daddy. You didn’t even know that there was such a thing in the world as a daddy, so how could you know he wasn’t going to be mean to you. You didn’t want to come inside because the old daddy had his hand on the door when he opened it. Well, that wasn’t good. You thought daddy was going to slam the door shut on you the way doors were always slammed on you. And every time a door slammed, you were locked up alone again. In the bathroom. Or in the cage. But your daddy saw how that hand worried you and took it away and didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to do and when you saw that you thought about it and then you decided to take a chance. Oh, it took a brave bear to do that. And, come to think of it, that was the first time I would ever be proud of you. Of course I have been proud of you the whole time since then, which is why your daddy tells you that every day, but that was the first of all the brave things this good little puppy would do, Chig. In the house you ran straight to the bathroom and you went behind the toilet and curled your tail up underneath you and you pressed your eyes shut to keep from having to see any more things. After all, you were seeing too many things for the first time and it was too much and you were tired and sick and after such a long time alone being alone was the only way you knew.
“Seeing you hide like that broke your daddy’s heart because when he was little he also used to hide from mean things, and so he understood why a little bear would do that. Daddy didn’t hide behind the toilet. He hid under his daddy’s desk. And do you know that you also hid under your daddy’s desk when you weren’t hiding behind the toilet? And so, the old daddy understood something about this little bear, and even though I would never know for sure what the mean people did to you, there was nothing a little puppy can do to deserve whatever it was. And, by the way, if we ever find out who hurt you, we will go and kill them down. We will kill them s-l-o-w-l-y and tear them up into little pieces and mix them with old rats and flush them down the same toilet where you used to hide when you were a lonely little puppy. This I promise, Chig.
“At first, Rooki Bear, your daddy didn’t know if you would ever be okay. Everything worried you. It wasn’t your fault. Everything you saw you were seeing for the first time. Even lights, even leaves on trees. Even a stick. Everything you heard you were hearing for the first time. Everything that moved was moving in a way the little Rooki never saw before. You were locked up all alone, so you never had a chance to see anything or learn anything. There you were, the littlest girl of the world where no one ever helped her or protected her. No one played with you. You had nothing to do and no reason to expect anything good from people. They were mean and all they ever did was push you around and yell at you.
“But right away your daddy found out that you weren’t the little scaredy-dog some people thought you were. Yes, Chigi. Daddy saw that what you really were was the bravest little puppy in the world. Even though you were just a little puppy, you were already the bravest dog in the world, with the biggest heart any dog ever had. And dogs, as you know better than anyone, have the biggest hearts in the world. This heart, here, Chig,” I put my hand on the fine fur on the hard curve of her rib cage. “Here is the big, strong heart. And do you know how the daddy knew you were so brave, Chig?”
Roo’s brown eyes were shining and looked so deep and she kept them steadily on mine as I spoke and any time I paused for longer than it took to take a breath, she let me know that she wanted me to go on with a twitch of her paw on my shoulder. I choose to believe that she understood it all, maybe in the way of a dog, but she understood. She understood the love and she understood the connection and this time with her was as important to her as it was to me and I know that as surely as I still breathe and she doesn’t and it was the only thing that equipped me to believe that I had not prolonged Roo’s life for too long.
“Daddy found out that of all the brave bears in the world you were the bravest because soon you came out of hiding and came to me. Even though, for all the life of little Roo, all you knew about people was that they were mean and they threw you in bathrooms and cages and yelled at you and hit you and threw things at you and didn’t give you anything to eat or chew or take you out when you needed to go – still, you came out. Maybe you don;’t think that’s brave, but I do. I could see how hard it was. I could see what a big chance you were taking, and how it took more bravery than your daddy ever saw before, and your daddy, who has been many bad places and in a few cages of his own, thought he had seen some pretty brave things. Never anyone as brave as you. You are such a good girl, Chig. The best bear who ever lived. And every day of our life together you have been a good girl. I didn’t even know there could be such a good girl in the world. And you will always be. Of course that’s not to say that sometimes you didn’t listen to your daddy when you were checking mouses over the years, but even then you were a good girl and it made the old daddy happy that you were checking mouses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk about the mouses later.”
The only reason I stopped talking for a moment was to gather myself, but when I did Roo licked my nose and eyes. In her eyes I could see everything.
“After that, there was no stopping the Rooki. You are a very smart girl and you wanted to learn everything, and the more you learned, the braver you became. You let your daddy cut all the rocks out of your feet, which took a long time and is something that nobody likes, especially if they were worried about everything and still sick from the doctor who cut you the stomach. The doctor tied the stomach up with wires, and you held as still as a lizard to let your daddy clip those out. You learned to go for walks. You loved that, Chig, and that’s why we always take so many walks. But in the beginning, Rooki and daddy had to walk very slow. For one thing you had the string* tied to your neck and you weren’t sure about that and then there were so many noises in the street and naturally you had to stop to make sure they weren’t going to hurt you. Even that showed what a brave puppy you were because you learned to listen to your daddy when he told you that something was not a noise. Every day your daddy still says, ‘That’s not a noise, Chig,’ and still you trust your daddy when he says that, which, my little girl, is the biggest honor of my life. Oh, you had to learn everything. You had to learn how to go in the car and how to go to the park and how to play with other dogs. You went everywhere with your daddy. How proud your daddy was to have such a good, beautiful bear with him. You went to the airport and saw the airplanes. Do you remember the airplane, Chig? What a big noise it made? I know you remember that, because still even today when there comes a noise from the airplane all daddy has to tell you is that that’s just the airplane and you stop worrying. You learned to go to the store with your daddy and you were always such a good girl. Maybe you still worried about things, but every day all you did was get braver and braver.
“And, Chigi Bear, all those things your daddy showed you, but the truth is that you showed him even more. Your daddy was in bad shape, too, when you came along, and it was you who made everything better. You were the one who gave daddy something to be happy about. You showed your daddy how to be gentle and how to think more about someone else for once instead of only himself. Yes, your daddy teached you many things, but you teached him more. Everything good that came to daddy came wrapped up in this little bear. That good will never end. Roo is such a good girl that that will always be. Your daddy loves you because you are the best dog ever. There has never been a day when you weren’t. Thank you for being such a good girl, Roo. What a good job you do of being such a good bear.”
In the seven years Roo and I had been together, she had never kept her eyes on me for as long as she had been now. It was past two in the morning. Roo must have needed to sleep. But any time her eyes began to close and I stopped talking she opened them and moved her arm on my shoulder. She seemed to be, as her life was ending, living for this.
And so we kept talking into the night.