Breaking Up is Hard to Do: A Dog Story

baxter-ballWhen my third marriage ended, there was no custody battle. No kids who had to deal with the split-up and no rancorous accusations nor venting of pent-up hostilities. There was, however – and still is – a dog.

His name is Baxter, a Border Collie with bright, inquisitive eyes, and leaving him behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. There’s no explaining such a thing as having to go away to a dog. I tried, believe me.

Every time I told Baxter it wasn’t his fault that I would be going and that he would be in charge now, he’d give me a tilt of his head and make a motion toward the door as if to say, “We’re going out – cool. Let me grab the tennis ball.”

He was a wizard with the tennis ball. I’d arc it toward the sky fifty yards out, and he’d tear off and be there to catch it on the first bounce. On such occasions, I’d call him Brooks, after the “Human Vacuum Cleaner” Brooks Robinson. “Good play, Brooks,” I’d say, and palm him a treat. And then we’d do it again.

Baxter is living his life apart from me, and three years later, I wonder if he’s still agile enough to perform his tennis ball wizardry. There’s certain to be more white showing in his whiskers now, as there is in mine, and I can’t help but wonder if he recalls those days, wondering where they went – and why.

I’m convinced that dogs have long memories. The internet is full of stories of dogs holding vigil while their masters were away, sometimes even sitting graveside after their master has died, awaiting death themselves, a mournful expression on their faces.

There’s a Vern Gosdin lyric that goes like this: “It’s hard to know we’re still living/But we’re living apart/It’s enough to take the living/Out of my heart.” Baxter still goes about his day. I still go about mine.

I want to tell Baxter that I didn’t ever intend to leave him. It’s my fault. At any given time on any given day, I’ll stop in my tracks and wonder how Baxter is and what he’s doing. Breaking up is hard to do. Without closure, it’s damn near impossible.

Oh, I have had closure with dogs before – each time involving them laying on a stainless steel table awaiting the veterinarian’s needle. And those times, with my beloved Hank and my sweet Reba, were damn near impossible, too.

Kids are different. With my daughter, I was awarded Wednesday nights and every other weekend. We made do with that. It got to the point where she got older and I could explain things better to her, to have her make sense of it.

You can’t do that with a dog. None of it makes any sense to them.

When you break up with a dog, all you can do is love them, and keep on loving them, and wish them a good life. So that’s what I do.

I have a feeling that if I saw Baxter again, he wouldn’t snarl and fuss and belittle me for leaving him and try to make me feel bad. He’d welcome me – and then he’d go get the tennis ball.

That’s how you love somebody.

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