“You think I baby her,” I said.
“I don’t think that,” my Someone said.
“Yes, you do,” I said.
“No,” he continued. “I know that you do. She’s even more spoiled than the last one.”
“That’s because I have all this stretched out love leftover to share.” Then, I gave my dog her third big treat of the day at 11AM.
“I killed my dog,” Charlie said.
The room erupted.
“Stop saying that!”
“No you didn’t!”
“It wasn’t like that!”
Daughters and son-in-laws and a wife all patted down the abrupt declaration. The Iowa living room quieted again.
“But I did,” Charlie said again. “I killed my dog.”
The room erupted a second time.
“How do you mean?” I asked, when the shushes had cleared.
“I mean it was too hot out,” he said. “I kept pushing her. She died of a heat stroke. And it’s my fault. I killed my dog.”
“That’s tough,” I said. Something clarified in me.
I had killed my dog, too.
My Someone and I were driving through Dayton, Ohio early in our touring days playing radio scan to keep us awake from an early Nashville departure. We landed on a story of a stunt plane at the air show, which had crashed and killed both people on board.
The man driving the plane had years of experience. It was all very sad. But the peculiar part was the woman who was doing acrobatics on the wing when the whole thing went down. The woman was the man’s ex-wife. And they were set to be remarried after years apart just the next week.
I couldn’t navigate whether I was happy or sad for the couple– to end things before they had a chance to crash again, or to have it all go down in flames just after it had gone down in flames. It was a difficult thing to hold in my head–whether they saved themselves from another failure or lost their chance at a second chance.
“Do you think he did it on purpose?” he said.
“Maybe they both did. Maybe it was their death love pact. Like the last thing they said before they split up was, ‘We will get together over my dead body!’ And then they did it.”
This was easier. To believe in the world as an elaborate, deliberate joke made by consenting parties is easier than the world of accidental fiery deaths or last minute revenges. Or maybe it’s not.
“But I really did!” I told my Someone. Our roof was coming off the camper again, and we were waiting overnight in a parking lot for someone in Omaha to fix it. “I killed our dog.”
“I don’t see how that helps you to think that,” my Someone said.
“Because,” I continued, “all of this wondering– all this talk of a freak accident, that can turn circles in my head forever. But I felt weird about that stupid bone she choked on. I had a weird vision of leading her to her death as we walked away with it. We both felt a chill when you wanted to take it away from her in that hotel room. But we persisted. I persisted. I kept letting her have it against my better judgment. And it killed her.”
“So where does that leave you?”
“It leaves me wanting to do better next time,” I said, looking at my other, alive dog.
“Margo is the platinum child,” Erin said. Erin is Charlie’s step-daughter. Margo is Charlie’s 2-year-old golden retriever. Charlie just smiled. He called the dog to him. He slipped her more treats and sat back.
“Our first dog, man, I thought– ‘This dog is the favorite child.’ Then, after she died, they got Sierra. Sierra was a yellow lab. And she got even more than the last dog! Treats and rides in the car and walks. And I told them, I said, ‘She’s the golden child!’ Not even just a favorite, but really golden. I thought no one would be greater than Sierra. And now there’s Margo. She’s platinum. She gets on the bed and the front seat. Margo is the platinum child,” Erin finished, feigning jealousy.
“Well,” Charlie said, “it only gets bigger.”
Love, he meant. You can only love bigger with the next one. Even if the last one nearly killed you with all the stretching it made you do. And it’s more than the guilt of having not done enough. It’s the inevitable accumulation of love. And you keep taking the risk, even if you will inevitably go down in flames.
And it only gets bigger.