Tag Archive for gus

Epilogue: Gussy’s Gone

This is Gus getting to know his new spot.

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.

Look at that view.

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.


The first of Gus’s Earth

It will be a beautiful place.

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.

He slept while I worked.

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.

Shoshana took our last family portrait, with Gussy’s last stick.

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.

Ginger with Gus at rest.

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.

I will keep you with me always.

Watching an Elegy: My Love of Gus Seinberg, Gay, Jewish Dog

First day home. 1998.

Perhaps the cutest puppy in the history of all puppies ever, I scooped Gus Seinberg and his ears into my life in the summer of 1998. He and his brothers and sisters were found in a box in Albany, California and brought to Berkeley where they became eligible for adoption on July 3rd. I was 27 at the time, my heart smashed along the streets of San Francisco, as 27 year old lesbian hearts lend themselves to a kind of reckless romantic smashability, iconic in scope. I had a few things going for me in the healing department, though. Two musical Elliotts accompanied my rise and fall, Mr. Smith for the wallowing, and then Ms. Missy for the phoenix from the flames kind of jam. And also a kind and gorgeous Sagittarian butch who liked to fix things found me to work on. Marina would run baths for me late at night and pour me good bourbon while I soaked. She read out loud to me from Raymond Chandler novels, left flirty personal ads for me in the Missed Connections print ads in the 90s SF Weekly, and picked me up to bomb around town in her matte black Plymouth Belvedere, green hotrod flames stretched over the side like a tattooed lady’s curvy hip.

But still, the kind of ache I nursed was nothing I’d ever encountered, endless and self-obssessed, irritating to all around me and no fun at all. Marina was a damn saint, her patience as legendary as her flawless style. So when I woke up one day wanting a puppy, she took me to get Gus.

Turns out, Gus has been the love of my life, really. No one else since my parents has been with me day in and day out for almost 17 years. And we were both such pains in the ass. He spent his teenage years shredding down comforters I couldn’t afford, getting me evicted from a few apartments with his howling separation anxiety the neighbors could not abide, and snarling at every baby who came within a block from him. And I toted him around from city to city, a HERDING dog with no one to herd but me, no land, no place to run. Gus has always had high anxiety, he hates change and still, I just did my thing, introducing him constantly to one of each of the 11 different tiny places we’ve lived. He’s had a whole host of women parade through his spot on the bed next to me (not to brag) and never once complained about moving over. By the time I got him here into the country and a stable family life, where he can run for acres and acres, well, he can barely run at all.

When he was small, Marina taught him all the useful things in life, how to sit and stay. How to get in the back seat. A little bit of recall. How to take a treat gently without fingertips involved. The only thing I ever taught Gus was how to spoon. I started the day we got home. I mushed his back into my chest over and over, sometimes against his will, forming him into a tiny fur comma against me, his puppy head right under my nose. Does anything smell as good as the crown of a puppy’s head? No. No it does not. As he got older, I could lie down on my side and pat the bed next to me and Gus would wag wag wag, then leap onto the bed and nestle himself perfectly into the crook on my body, his handsome head sharing the pillow. If I was sad, he’d come unfurl the fist of my sobbing body with his snout, put all his needs aside and lie down facing me, surely on the verge of saying the perfect thing to say, but never needing to.

Gus at the office. Portrait by Shay Alderman, little pink tongue hanging out by God. 2015.

I can hear him right now, as I type this, dragging the nails of his back paws over the old farmhouse planks. I’d call him in here to find me, but he can’t really hear anything anymore besides sirens and gunshots, so I just wait until he lumbers in and pulls himself onto the geriattric space foam bed he has over there in the corner. He circles around and around, considering the lying down option, sometimes thinking better of it before he does the slow laps through the house, clicking and dragging on the floorboards as I click and drag on the keyboard. I think it hurts him, the lying down, and once he’s down, it’s an investment. He’s not going to go anywhere for hours. I look over from time to time to see if his body is rising and falling, or if Forever Slumber has come for him, and I’ve been slowly, and then suddenly, sentenced to a new life without him. And also rescued, mercifully, from having to give the order myself, his best friend hanging the finish line of his wonderful life with my own trembling fingers. I can’t imagine it, really, but then I do. I imagine it over and over and over. Holding his face in my hands while he dies.

Gus Seinberg has done every impossibly horrible thing a dog is not supposed to do. He ate a whole raw chicken off the counter. Twice. He’s gorged himself on two pounds of stolen grapes, and ate an entire one pound block of bittersweet chocolate out of my brand new messenger bag. And, being thorough, he also tore the bag apart. He blew his knee out like a point guard in a bad pivot and then got attacked in the dog park right at his beautiful regal neck. He’s ODed on pain meds flavored like treats and gotten his stomach pumped on New Year’s Eve like an idiot at a frat party. Plus embarrassing things like when he peed on these nice shoes a crush of mine wore over to the house (although he was right about her) or when he pooped in his dog sitter’s purse just last year.

Here he is.

After knee surgery, with his turtle. 2010.

I think Gussy is going to make it to his 17th birthday, and maybe he’ll make it to my 45th. But I don’t know. He is slowing down at a rate that I find both shocking and reasonable, heart shattering, and gorgeous. I think it makes sense for us to do this thing together. He has been by me every step of the way and through every nasty and beautiful transition life has tossed at me. It will be an honor to go through this transition with him.

He seems light as a feather now when I lift him up into the car to lug him around with me everywhere. I don’t leave him with anyone else anymore, so I only go where Gussy can go. I cook for him, chicken and white rice. It’s gift for both of us really, because when I am too busy or depressed, lit up with the grief attending some of the things life has been offering me lately, I can just add some spinach for myself and eat the damn dog food with him. Even as he declines, he finds ways to care for me. It’s incredible.

I’m saying all of this here because I’ve come to understand it’s important to say All Of It while the Beloved is still here. And Gussy, as much as I’ve imagined him talking, and often talk for him, he doesn’t really do it. But he listens to me endlessly. He doesn’t mind the horror that is my singing voice or the shortsightedness of my ego when it digs in. He likes all my outfits, thinks I’m  the most beautiful sight in the world besides steak and he is happy to see me no matter how much I snapped at him when he didn’t deserve it. Gus Seinberg taught me everything I know about loyalty. He shows me every day that most things I think are urgent, aren’t truly important, and the deeply imperative things in life are rarely urgent after all. He has been my greatest constant teacher and companion. I still sniff the crown of his head every day. It remains a perfect pleasure.

I don’t know how to say goodbye to him, but I imagine he will teach me that as well when it is time. He is the most perfect thing that has ever happened to me. Later I will take him out and we will walk a short way together,

Paws and feet,
Paws and feet.

When you are gone, I will never stop missing you.


*For Laura, who loved Gus and took care of him too.