Gus Seinberg knew how to do a million things. He was even good at dying. I’ve never seen anyone die before. I am deeply grateful that this first time was a true thing of beauty. Gus didn’t die in violence or in a state of resistance or duress. He died while being truly loved, reassured, his soft face in my palms, and Ginger petting his fluffy orange head.
The day before, I took him to where he would rest. We sat there together in the sun, his head in my lap while I told him about death. How I was sorry I’d missed his entry to the world, but I would not miss this journey out of it for anything. I sunk my nails into the ground and gave him a handful of soil to smell so he knew his home. I propped him up to look at the view. I talked to him a lot in a windfall of faith that even without his hearing, the words would arrive.
Every time I carried him, his body tensed up, his paws in a stalwart point like a gymnast. Aside from whatever discomfort comes to a big dog being carried, it messed with his sense of dignity. He hated it, the carrying. So once we reached a patch of open grass, I let him walk around until he fell over. I knew he couldn’t get hurt and he loved being the beast of protection. I wanted him to have as much agency as was safe this day. I’d meet him where he landed and pet him until his breathing evened out.
I broke the ground open at dawn. On my knees, I put my face right into the divot of earth where the shovel had been. The smell pummeled me. I dug until my lower back whinnied. I took breaks and I took photographs. I spent time alone and with the people in the house. I visited Gussy and I let him sleep. He spent his last day agitated, and living looked difficult. We ate steak on the floor together. He played with his last stick. My friend Shoshana came to see us and he liked that. They met the first day I got him in my apartment on 14th Street in San Francisco. Something about having her there for his first and last day with me let me see all that time between so clearly. We went from the west coast the the east and then back. And then back again. He loved the car. Ginger always says the happiest she ever saw Gus was when we drove home from Palm Springs after my 40th birthday with Lucy. I sat in the back and Lucy drove and Gus got to be in a snug space with me all to himself. Ginger would turn around and look at us over and over and say, “He’s so happy”, like every time she turned around, she found herself shocked to be in the presence of a real unicorn. He was that beautiful when he was happy. And maybe I was, too.
I want to tell you that digging Gus’s grave was one of the finest things I’ve ever done with this life. He came and watched me for a bit. I brought this hippie rug out and laid him on it facing me. He watched as I worked, then got to his feet and wandered over to smell the bed of soil. I began to sing him a little song while I dug. Something I made up. Something about his upcoming travels. There comes a time to leave.
I laid on the floor with him when the doctor came, like I had for the last three nights. Ginger sat behind me while I told Gussy all the important things. And as I cried, his labored breathing stopped and he licked at my tears, my loyal guardian until his last. He got the first shot for calming and we had about 15 more minutes together. Or a lifetime. And in that eternal swoon of my belly, his final calm, I told him
This is an important journey. It is an incredible thing to be able to die. We will all take this walk, including me. I don’t know what happens next, but if I can, I will come find you and we will walk together again. Paws and feet, Paws and feet. You have done the best job being my friend and my family and my protector. I am ok now and I have so much love in my life. People will care for me and I will be ok. I will thrive and you can go now. You have done better than I deserved and shown me how love and devotion work. I’ll be right here with you. Go ahead Gussy. I love you now and I’ll love you every day in this life. My gratitude is truly boundless. And you are the best dog I could have ever been with. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
A buzz of shaving, a cup of hair, an injection, and the doctor put on his stethoscope, moved it around, and with great care said, “He’s gone.” And a pain rose up in me and howled through like a storm wind, ripped right across my ribs and I let it come. These sounds became the room and the walls and timber of the floorboards and the next in a line of sacred things that must have happened in this home since 1734. This first in the texture of my life alone without Gussy.
And I lived.
I sat with him and brushed his beautiful hair, his warm, limp body such a great comfort. I never could have known such a thing, the sweetness that came to his absence of struggle. I buried my face in his fur and took longs gulps of his scent, then gathered him up, all the way into my arms. This holding, the final walk of our bodies together, a path of exquisite tenderness I’ve never known. The most ever. So soft, still warm. He gave it all up and lay right over me, his whole body ripe with departure.
We wrapped him in white, a cotton shroud folded around his form. I put his paws together like the mid-stride of a sprint for a ball or a wave, his head bowed in singular focus, forever in flight. He nestled gently in the ground and we covered his body in lemon and bee balm stalks. The three of us said our thanks to him, took turns shoveling the soil, packing it down, then more. Then the rocks, quartz and mica, then earth, and like that, until his plaque on top and then my body across his grave, round, spent, and triumphant. We did a good job. All four of us, Gussy leading our pack. Everything excruciating and beautiful as the day faded.
It’s the stillness at dawn that digs me up most. I sleep mostly through the night, and then around 4:30 I wake up in my bed upstairs with Ginger. And for the tiniest sliver of time, I don’t know yet that anything is wrong, that we have crossed a bridge from being a family to being a couple. I didn’t know that while I was sure I was ready to let him go, I was not ready yet for him to be gone. I miss his body so bad. Tufts of his hair kick up in a summer farm house breeze and I’ll spot them out of the corner of my eye and in the alchemy of death, what was a nuisance just three days ago has become a treasure.
So many people helped me raise that dog. Scores of people stayed with him and walked him and swam with him and threw the ball. You pet him and you brought him treats and you steadied him in his final days when the right side of his body began to give out. You took photographs of him and made me a painting of him. You visited him after surgery and you researched CBD pot tincture to help his seizures. You mentioned him in cards and letters and you brought him dog friends to play with, too. He was a dog of The Village and and I thank you. You are my close friends, and you are strangers who have reached out in tremendous acts of kindness. You are acquaintances from around Providence or San Francisco or New York or Boston or Greenfield.
People often say to walk bravely into the long night or some such thing when creatures die, but I know Gus is walking into the sun. That Gus is a frolicking daylight beast. I imagine him, finally, with a flock to tend. Maybe some goats or a couple of llamas named Omar and Stringer Bell.
Long Live Honor.
Long Live Love.
Long Live Gus Seinberg,
Gay, Jewish Dog.