It being Saturday night, and my having learned in Venice that to be alone is not to be abandoned, but a kind of silent privilege, it was with a peaceful heart that I stayed home, and turned on the TV. With luck (or Bershert I think it’s spelled, or Destiny it felt like in Venice) seeming strangely still operative, I tuned into a very bad print of the very bad movie, Xanadu, with my dancing teacher from Pittsburgh, Gene Kelly, in his fading role, unfortunate but fascinating, since his ego outweighed the wisdom of Cary Grant, who didn’t want his daughter to see him onscreen old, though old he still looked better than almost anyone else does young) and having had enough of the dark transmission and the sadly fading voice, I changed channels in time to catch the beginning of Marley and Me, which I had never seen, but doubtless unconsciously still resented, because I had better dogs with better stories than almost anyone, considering that Happy was on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Then even as the cast failed to capture me and I stopped feeling sorry for Jennifer Aniston’s being dumped by Brad because she truly has zip charisma, I got caught by what I knew was the inevitable ending, as everything ends for everyone but is somehow, like the loss of a child, particularly hard to face with the death of a dog. And as Marley packed it in, not only were my tear ducts but also my heart valves reengaged, and I remembered all my dogs.
The first was Bo. Spelt ‘Beau’ by the pretentious woman who owned him, a very rich lady who wanted to be in show business, so my husband went to have lunch with her at the Beverly Hills Hotel to raise money for a film project he had, where, instead, she sold him the dog. That will tell you a great deal about Don, my husband. “Say hello to Bo,” he said, coming home with this little Yorkie in his hand, and a sheepish expression, except it was more aptly puppyish, as he knew how pissed off I would be, as the last thing I needed or wanted at the time was a dog. Then, when I was at the height of my seeming success, on a book tour for The Pretenders, visiting the set of the Exorcist, Billy Friedkin sent me to the airport in his limo and when I got to LA my luggage was lost, and I freaked and was nasty, and the man at the counter said ‘It isn’t like it’s loss of life.’ When I got home they told me Bo was in the hospital, that Shani Wallis’ boxers had come down the hill, and in the words of my then little girl, Madeleine, “they made of Bo a trampoline.” I called the vets and they told me Bo would not live through the night, and I fell to my knees, honest to God I did, and prayed, and in the morning I went to the hospital, and he was alive. My friend Diane, my most spiritual buddy, called him ‘Bo, the Miracle Dog.’ He lived for many years, though with only one eye, so some were moved to refer to him as Sammy Davis, Jr.
When we were in-between homes, that is to say we were in escrow but couldn’t get our loan approved so went everywhere there was sanctuary, Diane’s home, and the farm Pat Paulsen had bought in Northern California where there were snakes, and which he had bought in a moment of not knowing where he would go either, to which he had absently invited us at a dinner party as he probably invited everyone and was stunned when we not only accepted but showed up, where Bo fell into a cattle crossing, and lost his sense of adventure. Then Marge Champion spoke to Mark Taper whom she was dating, and as he was on the board of the bank, our loan was approved and we lived there till and beyond the end of Bo’s life.
That sadly coincided with the untimely and agonizing last weeks of Don’s, when Norman Cousins sent us a healer, who first laid hands on Bo, who was failing, and Bo immediately became even more ill, so Robert, my son, said of the healer, “Don’t let that guy near Dad.” So I took him to the vets’ to be put down, and because I had a dying husband at home, did not have time to wait around or grieve. “Did the guy put a mask on before he brought down the blade?” Robert asked me, but I was in too much pain to realize how darkly funny and sad that was. And because I had Happy, the new puppy we had bought the kids for Christmas, the last Christmas we were to be a whole family, and there was so much on the unseen horizon that would tear us apart, I did not suffer over the death of Bo.
But when Happy died in Paris, at the Plaza Athenee, I fell apart, as Robert did when I called him to tell him I would have to put Happy to sleep, because Happy had had a heart attack running down the rue, and was suffering. I spoke very softly to Happy in the darkness, as he lay beside me on the bed, and soothed him, he was so frightened, and asked him to help me-- we had an appointment with a vet we didn’t know, to put him to sleep the next day. I stroked him in the darkness, and told him what a good boy he had been(the best, accompanying me everywhere in the world in the purse I smuggled him in until they started x-raying at airports, when he was busted.) When I turned on the lamp at four in the morning, he was gone, perfect and lovingly cooperative dog that he’d always been, so great he appeared on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Now all these histories and heart-searing moments came back to me last night as I watched with Mimi, my Bichon, so I guess I was off base in the beginning of this tale when I said I was alone. I wept into her soft, white, curly coat, and counted up her doggie years, and prayed she would have a very long life, as I pray for all of you, though I am embarrassed to pray. Camus, to drop an unloving name, said that people have invented God so they would not die, and it is hard to deal with being an ambivalent believer, struggling with Doubt, in this age of Sarah Palin, who has made religious feeling into an obscenity, or as Frank Rich put it so succinctly in his column this morning, “Oy.”
But whatever the absolute truth, if it turns out the truth can be absolute, there is no denying the spark of divinity that is in those little creatures, though Mimi showed signs of sibling rivalry this morning when I gave croissant crumbs to the birds in the park, so radiant with leaves that are even more colorful as they are dying, instead of her. But who says Divine Love can’t be jealous? Certainly not Oprah, who has given us two years to grieve not her passing, but her passing over, which some of us are hard put to do, since she didn’t show the book.