Epitaph to a Dog by Sir William Watson (with thanks to Laird Barron for sharing it with me)
His friends he loved. His fellest earthly foes –
Cats — I believe he did but feign to hate.
My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
Mine eyes that tail that wagged contempt at Fate.
Sam passed away this evening. If you’ve read my books, then you know him as Sanchez from Scratch, Samhain from Clickers vs. Zombies, as himself in various Hail Saten volumes and the meta-fictional The Girl on the Glider, and of course, his starring role in Dark Hollow as Big Steve.
Sam was my best friend. And that’s coming from a guy who’s lucky enough to have several of those. I wrote a bit about friendship a few weeks back, and I’d take a bullet for any of those guys, as well as some of my friends from my military days. But Sam was a different kind of best friend. You don’t necessarily have to be a dog person or a cat person to understand that, but you do have to be a human being. People who say things like, “It’s just a dog” are miscreants who deserve to be locked in a cage with Michael Vick.
Sam was a lot more than “just a dog”. As I said, he was my best friend. We’ve shared many adventures together — exploring beaches and stirring up deer far out in the woods, hunting snakes and splashing in streams, road trips and long walks, and many, many afternoon naps. My tears fell on his muzzle countless times and deepest were the secrets and confessions I mumbled into his furry, floppy ears. He knew my fears, my joys, my failings, and my foibles. Most importantly, he knew my love.
And I knew his.
Sam was a shelter dog. My ex-wife has always said that he chose us, rather than us choosing him, and I believe this to be true. A few years after we brought him home, another castaway showed up — Max (my cat). And although Sam occupied the spot in my office beneath my desk on a daily basis, he was more than willing to share that space with Max. That’s just the kind of dog he was. Obviously, given the time he spent at my feet while writing, and the amount of times he’s shown up in my work, Sam was my muse. But he was also our family’s protector. If Sam didn’t like you, chances were good I didn’t like you, either. Not that he was a mean dog. Far from it. He was kind and gentle — except to snakes, which he loathed as much as I do, and on one occasion, a pit bull that tried to charge me. He was a dutiful and happy playmate to Turtle, taking on the role of Doctor Doom to Turtle’s Iron Man, and more recently (as Turtle has now discovered Star Wars) he’d been filling the role of Chewbacca.
Sam’s decline was quick and sudden. In a matter of weeks, he went from his old (if older) self to a shadow of that former self. The culprit was a hemorrhagic tumor on his spleen. Luckily, he didn’t suffer. We got to say our goodbyes to him, and he got to say his to us. He’s buried in a special place next to another special friend, and I’m sitting here typing this with the mud from his grave still damp on my clothes, and I know what I want to say, but I fear I’m not saying it well, because last night was a long night, and today was the longest day, and I don’t see tonight being any shorter. I’m grieving and I miss my friend, and I don’t have the words to express it properly — which is a frustrating, heart-wrenching thing for a writer to admit.
Here are two excerpts from Dark Hollow that I hope will serve instead. Goodbye, Sam-dog. You were a good boy, and I love you.
* * *
During those rough months, I’d have gone insane if not for Big Steve. Tara brought him home from the pound to keep me company during the day. Big Steve was a mixed breed mutt — part Beagle, part Rottweiler, part Black Lab, and one hundred percent pussy. Despite his formidable size and bark, Big Steve was scared of his own shadow. He ran from butterflies and squirrels, fled from birds and wind-tossed leaves, and cowered when the mailwoman came to the door. When Tara first brought him home, he hid in the corner of the kitchen for half a day, shaking, with his tail between his legs. He warmed up to us fairly quick, but he was still frightened by anything else. Not that he let it show. When something—it didn’t matter what, a groundhog or Seth Ferguson, the kid from across the street—stepped onto our property, the Rottweiler inside him came out. He was all bark and no bite, but a robber would have had a hard time believing that.
Big Steve became my best friend. He listened while I read manuscript pages out loud to him. He’d lie on the couch and watch television with me when I took a break from writing. We liked the same beer, and the same food (because dog food just didn’t do it for Big Steve; he preferred a nice, juicy steak or some cheese-dripping pizza). Most importantly, Big Steve knew when it was time to drag my ass away from the computer. That was how we started our daily walks, and now they were a scheduled routine. Two per day—one at dawn, shortly after Tara left for work, and the second at sundown, before I started making dinner, when she was on her way home. Tara commutes to Baltimore everyday, and it was at those times—when she first left and when she was due home—that the house seemed especially lonely. Big Steve had impeccable timing. He’d get me outside and that always cheered me up.
And then, before we could move, Big Steve finally found his courage. Tara pranced by again, writhing in time to the music. Big Steve watched her pass. Then he slipped his collar and leaped from the undergrowth, landing in the midst of the circle, interrupting the orgy. The women screamed and scattered. Big Steve barked. The music stopped.
I clutched the dog’s empty leash in my hand.
Roaring, Hylinus charged.
Snarling, Big Steve sprang to meet him.