The journey I made this past weekend was one I had been putting off for some time. Delaying because, when we were there, Chester’s times were the happiest of his life. He was known and loved by all who came in contact with him, and there were more than a few. Once in Pioneertown someone asked me, “Are you Chester’s mom?” That was one of the great gifts his special dog soul had given me: along with learning (not always successfully) patience, tolerance, and being able to receive the neverending love of such a huge force of nature. Literally: he was 97 pounds.
That lonesome road
I had avoided our favorite place in the last few years because Chester’s arthritis had gotten progressively worse and he wasn’t supposed to run or play like he used to. In the desert, trying to stop him from doing that would have been near-impossible, and I made excuses to myself as to why we couldn’t go anymore. But it was really about seeing Chester aging, knowing his days were limited.
It’s not that I didn’t know. Every day I told him that I loved him every second and the seconds in between, that he saved my life and was the best thing that ever happened to me. None of that was a lie. Still, it did nothing to cushion the blow of his loss. Thirteen years with a ninety-seven pound dog by your side has a profound effect. I didn’t feel like my heart broke, not in the conventional sense. Instead, I felt crushed. The grief was heavy, thick, choking, massive. My entire life in Los Angeles had been with him. I felt at the edge of some shore, except I didn’t know if I was looking out onto a new life or had just landed and wasn’t sure where I was going. The silence was deafening and I went back to Massachusetts for a time. Before I left I scattered some of his ashes on Mr. Frederick and Fatty Arbuckle’s stars, as we had strolled down Hollywood Boulevard daily, and without fail, Chester would try to go into Frederick’s of Hollywood. Sometimes, men would cheer him on.
A fitting tribute from one ladies’ man to another. Chester liked very few men, and if you were one of the lucky ones, then he loved you.
Nearly three months later (he died on December 13th), I brought his ashes back to the high desert to scatter. I had Daisy Mae with me, a ridgeback that landed, serendipitously, on my doorstep when I returned from Boston in January. I had been angered by people’s helpful suggestions that I foster a dog or go to the shelter; it took me a month to open my mail, fearful that there were sympathy cards (there were), and I avoided most e- and voicemails. Daisy Mae arrived in what would be called “fair” condition, but that is a story for another time. A meek and gentle soul, I could not rehome her yet again.
And so Daisy Mae accompanied me to the desert, to the place Chester and I went to nearly every weekend when we could, keeping a spare set of everything in the back of my long-gone SUV in case I wanted to hit the road. Why didn’t I live that way anymore?
I left early, like I usually do, trying to outrun a wild storm that had descended on Southern California. That night, in the desert, we had high winds and flash floods, but we were cozy in the cabin that I usually shared with Chester. I put his ashes on the table in the tacky patterned box they came in.
Then the cabin flooded through the air conditioner, and we moved to another one. I had never slept anywhere else there, but in a way I was relieved. The next morning, I awoke early and went to get his ashes. As I was in the kitchen, the door flew open. I knew he was there.
I scattered him on the first ridge of our usual hike, one that he loved and ran free on. Daisy Mae, bounding like the puppy she never was able to be, led the way. Never once did she run off.
The rest of the day I was drained and listless. I thought I saw him out of the corner of my eye. But I knew he was home, where he belonged, not in a box on a shelf.
Godspeed my friend, my companion, my partner through thick and thin, through moves, boyfriends, jobs, crises, scared men who never took me on a second date after meeting him, the thing I loved most in the world, who gave me what I never had and showed me that hope and joy and love are possible, without being jaded and that pure happiness is there, if you want it. He was my greatest teacher so far, and I look forward to always remaining teachable.
Our friend Didier Chevalier wrote yesterday: “Chester loved the desert. I
remember when you guys came to the house. He went around telling
everyone: horny toads, rabbits, rattlers, lizards, deer, coyotes, bears
and mountain lions… THIS LAND IS MY LAND! I felt like I had a protector.”