He looks old.
That was my first thought – and my second. It hit me in the gut. It hadn’t been what I’d expected. Not that I’d expected anything, really; I hadn’t thought about what he’d look like. I’d just really wanted to see him, and now, incredibly, I was.
The first time I met Maurice was thirteen years ago at my friend Daphne’s Atlanta home. He was about three months old and ridiculously cute – a pint-sized golden boy with a charcoal snout and ears that pointed skyward. He made me want one of my own – not an unusual reaction to playing with a puppy. What was unusual was what happened next.
I adopted one.
Gryffin was Maurice’s brother and he, with the rest of their litter, was at the DeKalb County Humane Society outside Atlanta. I could have chosen any one of the puppies, but something about Gryffin spoke to me. Like Maurice, Gryffin was golden with charcoal accents he’d later outgrow, but whereas Maurice’s ears stood tall, Gryffin’s flopped forward.
For two Southern boys, the dogs lived very little of their lives in the South. Gryffin came with me to Philadelphia, then to suburban New Jersey. Maurice went with Daphne to Israel. Now, thirteen years after meeting Maurice, I was seeing him again – this time, in Tel Aviv; this time, with Kevin and our daughters. We scoured Maurice’s face for some resemblance to Gryffin, who we’d had to put down three years earlier. A tumor we hadn’t known was tucked behind his ribcage burst and filled his belly with blood – one day he was playing ball in the backyard, the next he was gone. So we stared at Maurice, and we saw Gryffin in his snout and in his eyes, still not in his ears.
Kevin said he felt closure, that seeing Maurice in life somehow allowed him to let go of Gryffin in a way that had before been elusive. My feelings were messy. Maurice moved slowly. Stairs were a struggle. He looked weary. Part of me found comfort in knowing that Gryffin never slowed, never struggled with steps, never faced the frailties, the fears that accompany old age. But, I wondered – have been wondering – did I feel that comfort for him or for me? Seeing the toll that Father Time was taking on Maurice hit me unexpectedly, sending me on an emotional rollercoaster I wasn’t prepared for.
It’s been almost two months since I saw Maurice, and I’m still struggling to come to terms with my feelings – about what they mean and about what they might say about me and my ability to face old age be it in a dog, a family member, or myself.