You Can’t Divorce the Dog: A True Love Story

He might be gone now, but he isn’t really gone. Dogs can’t just be gone.

Even when they run away.

Even when they die, man.

Max was already the guy in her life when I met the woman I married a decade ago. And so much has happened, so many memories have come and gone, that for me to sit here and try and write about them now seems almost impossible.

But Max was special.

Everyone thinks that about their dogs and so that’s why it’s true, you see. It’s almost like human beings don’t quite have that magic sense or that perfect chip up in their head to ever fully comprehend the power of specific love affairs in other people’s lives.

Some of us try, I guess. But after a while, most of us just forget all about that. We latch onto the stories of love that we can identify with because we can see ourselves in there somehow. Mostly though, we sit at our work desks doing absolutely nothing, scrolling down the various cyber feeds we scroll down, and we see that someone else’s dog has died, or that their husband is sick, or that their kids are playing in a pile of leaves/tossing big fistfuls of them up into a perfectly filtered Instagram afternoon sky, and the moment hits us as something we recognize and maybe acknowledge with a quick jab to the “Like” button.

And, maybe, just maybe, if we’re feeling a little like Ghandi, if we’ve had enough coffee to be waking up the Buddha, we even leave a brief comment.

Sorry for your loss.

So cute.

You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

I’m here for you.

It makes sense. And it’s all we can do, really. A passing nod at someone else’s joy or pain, at their hope or their suffering, it’s all we can do to just catch their eye as we pass one another the way we pass one another anymore. Hell, we’re escalator people doing our own thing. We’re moving between floors without even trying.

But when it’s us, when it’s me or you in the middle of so much happiness, or so much hurt, everything is so different. We’re the stars in our own galaxy and I dig that. And that’s why every dog is the best damn one who ever lived. Because he was. In that particular galaxy, he really really was.

Oh, Max.

I cry just typing your name. I love you so much, buddy. We both did.

When I met Monica I didn’t think much about divorcing her. Perhaps in the years to come, people will start thinking about that, I guess. It almost seems inevitable. You’ll fall in love, have firecracker sex, refuse to even dream of a world where he or she stops answering your texts/picking up your calls, and then, at the same time you’ll start talking marriage while you poke around at the idea of divorce in the back of your progressive head.

But not me. I didn’t ever dream that dream. I dreamed of side-by-side graves, the two of us bitching at each other and holding skeleton hands down in the cold hard dirt.

The night I first encountered this woman, this Monica woman, I was taken by her beauty of course. And by her machine gun giggles. I was impressed by her fancy job and her car and her condo and all that crap too. But what really got me, maybe because I was a guitar player in a touring band who had nothing to my name but a pirate’s life and more on the horizon, was when she told me she had a dog. And not just any dog either. She had a black lab, a really young one. And his name was Max. And he chewed up her coffee table books of Frank Sinatra when she was away at work.

Oh my god. That was it. I fell in love, right away. It does happen. I should know.

I wanted to kiss her so hard on the lips right then. I wanted to smash my drunken tongue into her teeth and make her love me for the rest of my life.  And I wanted to be her doggy daddy, the dude who walked this pretty girl’s Max up and down whatever the hell streets we ended up on. Because dropping down out of the universe like sparkly bird crap that night I first met her, I was hit by the notion that the girl in front of me was something pretty awesome indeed. But this girl, with that dog, not with some fluffy muffin pocket pet, but a real live big powerful black Labrador Retriever, that was all my dreams come true.

It really was. Or so I thought.

And guess what?

I was right.

Max and Me, a Starter’s List:

— Chasing mule deer off leash in the Provo foothills.

— Chasing pigeons at McCarren Park in Brooklyn.

— Mouth kissing in bed, Sunday mornings, his breath so wonderfully dog.

— Christmas Eve, over by the tree, him trying to get at the chocolate I was sneaking in her stocking

— Fighting off a pitbull, her jaws scraping at his heart

— In the moving trucks, crossing the country, his June hairballs like tumbleweeds on the dash

— At the door when I came home from long rock-n-roll tours, his face happier to see me than anyone’s has ever been

— Swimming in Utah canyon streams

— Chasing tennis balls across snow-covered b-ball courts

— Him licking the stir-fry bowls, hot peppers and all

— Christmas mornings, his stocking of treats

God. WTF. I’m crying right now. As I write this. I’m not even kidding.

— The three of us together, the windows down in the car, we’re gonna be okay

— Bringing Milo home, Max kissing the new black lab puppy, like in a dream

— Bringing Violet home, Max kissing the new baby human,  like in a dream

— Bringing Henry home, Max kissing the new baby human,  like in a dream

— Birthing Charlie into a pool of water on the living room floor, Max peering over the side, like in a dream

— The three of us together, back in the day, the windows down in the car, we were gonna make it work.

I owe her everything when it comes to him. She found him. She owned him. She loved him and he loved her right back and then, when she decided to love me, she trusted me to love him, too. That is some big city fence corner windblown Doritos bag/potato chip bag/newspaper jam up of love and trust, huh? We meet a person and if we’re lucky, we melt down into their lives like popcorn butter, even if only for a little while, simply because they let us. We didn’t make it all the way to the end. The married people, I mean.

But, the dog people and the dog did. The three of us, in that light, we did it. We made it to the end.

Max died yesterday and there we were, all three of us, together again, our very human tears raining down into his fur, down onto his cancer-coated rib cage, his eyes tired and beautiful like planets in the nighttime sky.

I don’t know what else to say.

I’m bawling and I don’t expect you to care, but I hope you do, just for a few seconds more, because I need to thank them, both of them.


Monica and Max, thank you.

Hey Monica. God, how we loved that dog, huh? And oh my God, girl, how he loved us back. With the heat of a thousand suns. With the gusts of a thousand winds.

We can’t divorce any of that.

And I know we wouldn’t even if we could.


Image: M. Bielanko




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