Sunday With Tutu
Note: No, I am not intentionally turning this into a blog about dog encounters. Though maybe I should. My goal this year is simply to write. And starting with the daily occurrences that stick with me seems like a very good place to start. I can’t promise there won’t be more of them about dogs, if they keep up at this pace. I hope you like dogs. If you don’t, you should meet mine.
My kids and I went on a neighborhood walk with Luna yesterday afternoon.
My daughter was testing out the new skateboard her brother got for Christmas (looks like she is a natural like her dad) and my son and I were walking the dog alongside her, semi-conscious of the time because we had to go visit my parents and wanted to tire out the dog quickly before we left. We took our usual route, down to the end of our cul de sac, along the path that lines the playground, through the small tree-filled area where Luna likes to chase the bunnies. And we made our way to the coveted “green space,” a wide open grassy area where we occasionally break the HOA rules and let the dog run free to chase a ball back and forth a few times…until someone on the HOA sees us.
We made it up there and I saw an older man leaning up against a tree on the side of the green space, tossing a small, bright orange ball with his dachshund, back and forth, back and forth. He was doing it aimlessly, little movement in his arm or his body, no emotion in his face or his voice. The little dog scurried to and fro chasing his throws, on auto-pilot in the afternoon sun. Luna, of course, pulled us his way, curious to meet a new friend. And my rambunctious kids followed suit, full of weekend energy and friendly smiles. They asked if they could pet his dog. He said yes, his voice quiet, his eyes looking down at the ground.
Still leaning against that tree.
“This is Tutu,” he said quietly, referring to the dachshund. And his voice began to crack. “We lost his brother yesterday.”
And that man started to cry. He leaned against that tree in the Sunday afternoon sun with three complete strangers in front of him (two of them kids, no less) and he cried. He let the tears fall down his face behind his sunglasses and he let his voice give into the cracking and he cried. He was so uninhibited in his sorrow. So unabashedly real in that moment, regardless of me and my little family standing there and our dog frolicking at his feet, nudging him for attention.
I offered my condolences. I asked about his dog, how old he was, how he passed. And he answered my questions, tears still falling in a quiet stream, voice still unsteady. He had had the dog for 16 years. It was also a dachshund. He had died of cancer. He lived with the disease for seven years, survived two surgeries and fought it until the day he couldn’t fight it anymore. The man said he was trying to keep Tutu busy so he wouldn’t be sad and lonely in the house. He kept leaning against the tree and I began to suspect it was holding him up, physically and emotionally. He tossed the bright orange ball until Luna claimed it as her own and my kids took over with Tutu, basking the little guy in attention and the love of strangers. We played with Tutu and let that man stand there quietly, leaning against his tree. Tears streaming down his cheeks. Voice now gone silent.
After several minutes, we had to make our way home. The kids gave Tutu lots of extra love and Luna finally gave him back his bright orange ball and we began to gather our things to head back down that path.
“I’m so sorry about your dog,” I said to the man. “I’m so sorry for your sadness.”
“It’s ok,” he said, finally stepping away from the tree, finding balance and strength in his own two feet.
“Come on, Tutu,” he motioned to the small dog. “Let’s go home.”
And they wandered down the path. Past the tree-filled area where the bunnies live and down one of the nondescript streets filled with nondescript houses, many of them filled with dogs and orange balls and tears of their own.
And my son came by my side. “He was so sad about his dog, wasn’t he mommy?” he said, the ever-observant six-year-old that he is.
I nodded. We both looked at Luna, safely back on her leash, puppy eyes furiously searching her surroundings for scrambling bunnies.
“I hope I never have to be sad like that,” he said.
“Me too,” I replied, taking his little hand and leading him down the path towards home.
But the truth is, I hope he is sad like that some day. I hope that one day he knows a love just like that. A love that is so important to him, he will cry about it in public. To strangers. In the afternoon sun.
And when he does, I hope there is a tree there to hold him up and a six-year-old there to put a smile on his face.