JUNE 16, 2010 2:54PM
(Originally Published in Dirt and Seeds)
She had been the Geezer for so long.
So it was easy to forget.
As a young dog, she was the fastest animal I have ever seen.
She was a sight hound with no regard for windows.
She broke at least three and weakened countless others.
She had been a runt and was a contrary, vexing animal.
She was born on April Fool's Day.
She loved a few people absolutely.
We were her pack and she had mixed feelings about us.
In her middle age she barked so much she drove a man who lived four houses and a full street away, crazy.
He is an asshole, anyway.
It was one of her finer acts.
But truth be told, she had one of those rhythmic, throaty barks, one single bark after another that said, "I can do this all damn day until you come see what I'm doing out here."
It was usually a squirrel, just out of reach.
She never seemed to know where she wanted to be so she was either at the door waiting to go out or at the door waiting to go in.
The first two years of her life we took her to meet other dogs at the McCabe golf course in Nashville at dusk and she would run side by side with them until she decided to pull away and then she would be gone.
She would return, still not winded, after running the entire course.
She ran with her friend Betty who was almost as fast but was clever and would roll her over to slow her down.
It was something to see.
She bounded like a deer and was ridiculously beautiful.
She was a combination of a collie and something like a whippet.
Or maybe a cheetah.
She was terrified of thunder storms.
She treated our children well.
She lived with cats yet barely tolerated them outside the house.
She had one true love, a woman who lived down the block that she stayed with sometimes.
She would stand with her head in this woman's hands for long minutes on end.
Sometimes she would let me pet her long nose with my index finger until she was hypnotized.
Mostly, she ran, bounced, ran some more, spun, chased, ran away, taunted and tantalized.
It was hard for her to relax because everything she saw made her want to give chase.
As she got much older and her sight began to fail she became calmer, happier, and got some of that "I'm old, fuck it, I'm jumping around anyway" verve.
She started to go deaf and couldn't be startled so she began to enjoy just walking out in the backyard.
She no longer feared thunder or hated the UPS truck.
Old age was better to her than youth.
She was always there in one of the dog beds in the living room and in her last year she stayed near us because she needed help getting up sometimes.
She had a strong, stubborn heart that worked harder as her body failed around her.
She conquered cancer, a torn tongue, and a Thanksgiving meal.
She had her own way of doing things.
Our two younger dogs honored her, even when she could no longer physically hold sway over them, and it was comical watching her stare them down when she was on the verge of tipping over.
It was comical but it was damn impressive.
She learned to walk on a leash, finally.
After we had children, the walks got fewer and farther between and we fenced in our yards so she could still run.
And run she did.
When she was 12, my wife, Leslie, brought home a funny little brown puppy, soon to be named Molly, and she was offended.
So she stayed out in the back yard for exactly 30 days.
One day she sauntered in and acted like nothing had changed.
A year later when we added a black Belgian Shepherd-Mix puppy named Amy she was a little disgusted but the soft, happy bundle of fur went straight to her and let her know that she knew who was boss.
So she acted like nothing had changed.
Four years ago, when she was 13, after surviving cancer and the great turkey dinner debacle, my wife made an appointment to take her to the vet for a check up and said "She looks so scraggly and awful, she must be on her last legs."
We prepared for the worst.
They gave her a bath at the vet and when Leslie picked her up she realized that she wasn't near death, just really dirty.
She never became terribly affectionate but she learned to stay a little closer, until time was up and with a snort and shake of her head she would go back to her safe distance.
It was hard to know how she felt.
I know she would have done things differently.
But she was always there.
She came to us a biting, crazy puppy from the Nashville Humane Society too soon after the death of a young, affectionate, beloved dog.
Leslie wore the scars of her puppy hood on her ankles and forearms.
She was never an easy dog.
But she was our dog.
She alerted us to the presence of all moving creatures.
She played fetch with sticks, endlessly, and could leap so high that I was certain she would be a great Frisbee dog.
She was too damn noble to chase a frisbee.
I should have guessed.
She would run in huge circles in the yard zeroing in on our legs and coming so close on each lap that she would make my pant's legs flutter.
When she ran, she was free.
She was all gypsy.
We learned to accept her.
This February, as her legs worsened, she kept me company, as best she could, during the days after my shoulder surgery.
And she was patient when I would struggle to get her down the steps and out to the yard with only my one good arm.
It was touching because it was a patience that she had been forced to learn.
She was that rare old dog who did learn a new trick or two.
Last weekend the light in her eyes finally went out.
Her legs stopped working most of the time.
She had faded down to almost nothing.
It had been coming for a while but how do you know?
Last weekend I watched her closely, checking her almost silent, slow breathing, touching her still soft head.
She rarely even lifted her head.
She rarely moved.
And finally, she couldn't help but ask, silently, for the help she needed.
I hate myself for the decision.
But we could help her, finally.
Next week, at dusk, on the kind of summer day where she would burst from our hands the very second the leash was removed from her collar and, in the blink of an eye, be 100, then 200 yards away, we will take the dust and ash that is the simple remainder of a complicated 17 years, and sprinkle it across the grass that was her real home.
Her name was Lily.
And she ran.
She was 17 years old.
The only song for today is the sound of tags on a collar in the distance fading until the wind and the soft sound of feet on grass are all one and the same.
She died yesterday and I didn't really understand until she was gone.
She was one of us.
RIP (Run in Peace)