My Charlie Brown has always been a different story. From the moment I first laid eyes on him at the pound, Charlie was stoic. Pell-mell puppies, crying babies, thunderstorms - nothing got to him. Like any dog, of course, he wasn't fond of 4th of July fireworks, but he took them in stride. Charlie didn't play fetch or play with pull toys or even like dog treats. He was a roll-around-on-the-ground dog who favored helping himself to the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie (we knew it was him and not Max because Charlie had pumpkin pie on his nose). Whereas Max would pick his pill out of its cheese hiding place, if Charlie needed medicine, cheese was a treat rather than a necessity. More important was to get my fingers out of his teeth's happy way. And Charlie didn't give kisses; he snuggled and nuzzled. At one point he was an almost-70-pound baby who would wiggle his butt with happiness (his tail was docked when the animal warden first found him) and who in his last days would melt his head into my hands while I rubbed his ears.
Because I held Max while he died, I've always had a sense that I saw his soul move on to a safe place, a heaven or a haven. But my Charlie, ever the capable one, took himself away.
In the past he's opened our gate, taken himself for little jaunts around the neighborhood, and come back home (causing me to walk the neighborhood with a plastic bag in case he'd left anything along the way).
But in Tuesday night's storm, he didn't come home to us. We searched and searchd. Late into the night my husband drove the streets, and walked where he coudn't drive. Animal control searched. First thing Wednesday morning I biked to search, and walked where the ground was too rain-soaked for my bike. I looked in the field, among the trees, and along the beach. I walked down the stairs he was afraid to descend with me. Every piece of driftwood and every fallen leaf was the color of my Charlie, but I couldn't find Charlie.
In the afternoon, two neighbors came to share the sad news that Charlie's body was where the water meets the sand, just away from those stairs.
I don't know when Charlie died. Did he die in the storm during the night? Did he die in the sunrise? Was he still alive while I searched the beach -- did he try to find me but I didn't see him? Did he die when I walked to look somewhere else?
Why did he walk so far from home in a storm when his hips were failing and he was weak? Did his canine instinct tell him it was time? Was he exploring? Was he afraid and confused?
The last time I saw Charlie was as his body was lifted from the trunk of our van. He was wrapped in a blanket (in life, this big scary-looking dog loved to cuddle stuffed animals, shoes, blankets), paws forward, glazed eyes open. I gave his sand-covered paws a final squeeze (he used to play bossy paw with us) and stroked his neck.
I feel tremendous guilt that Charlie died alone on the beach. The thought of my gentle beast dying alone on the shore convulses me. I pray that the beautiful souls whose memorials overlook that spot came to guide him. I pray that Max came back for his friend. I pray that while I slept, a piece of my soul knelt by Charlie. All I can do is pray for Charlie. His collar will stay by Max's in a special place in our home.
Yesterday my arms felt empty without a big warm Charlie to hug, a Charlie to comfort as he aged and weakened. But I remind myself that I've still got a houseful of loved ones to comfort and keep safe. In the coming days, we'll grieve: and out of habit we'll make sure the gate is closed and will listen for the scratch at the back door; we'll remember and we'll look at pictures; we'll cry for our beloved dead; we'll heal and eventually smile at memories.
But for now I hurt. I hurt and I feel guilty and I want to hold my Charlie.
This will be the first Thanksgiving that our family doesn't have a dog. Our pumpkin pies are safe. This year, there's little chance that presents under the tree will be peed on. In the new year, we'll search the animal shelters for the next members of our family. And for the rest of my life, every time I walk the beach I'll think of Charlie Brown.
photo: Karin Ostroske