Yesterday I said goodbye to my sister. I drove her through lifting fog to LAX, a place which is growing on me even as I groan at its structure and bemoan its lack of fast-food options. But then I remember it as a conduit for the people I love. There are only so many ways to cross the country. Not everything has to be beautiful and well organized. I should eat less burgers, etc.
My sister’s name is Isabelle and I think you’d like to know her. She is funny and smart and kind in ways I haven’t yet learned to be. She’s someone who says “have a good day”, and someone who writes beautiful notes to new friends, and also someone who genuinely believes all it takes to be happy is to just be happy. She’s a someone’s someone. I’ve always enjoyed knowing her and one of my most recent and truest joys has been witnessing her gracefully navigate paths I tripped through. Girl’s got poise.
These and a few thousand reasons are why it was difficult to push her and her overloaded suitcase through the Terminal 5 doors at ten thirty, just as the fog seemed to lift. I drove away regretting the decision to take her to the airport at all, wondered why I hadn’t spent more time convincing her to quit school and move indefinitely. That way I’d have someone local who’d known me and knew me and did it well and proper. But then I remembered I have parents who would disown me for that kind of bewitching. Parents hate witchcraft.
That was the first goodbye, the one for my sister. I left the airport to find the 405, watching the directions on my phone shift and shudder as an “app” (read: authoritarian pusher, pushed) adjusted to the fact that I don’t know how to make a left turn. This distraction led to further distractions, as distractions move in spirals, twists, and turns. So I jumped in pirouette to other goodbyes I had considered and then rescheduled. This all, of course, was some deep navel-gazing, which is typical of car-thoughts and me-thoughts in general. Though instructors suggest keeping your eyes on the road, driving through LA is a time best suited for navel-gazing. It’s my belief that LA inhabits a time zone entirely dedicated to the bellybutton-stare. Some of us hope it’s more of a collective bellybutton, but we’ll see. Mine’s an innie.
Anyway, my dog died on January 19th, just after midnight. Her name was Christmas Eve, mostly because she wasn’t born on the Fourth of July. My parents (the ones who disapprove of witchcraft) thought it best that we not know about it for a few days. My birthday is January 18th, the same as my two brothers (who I will talk about another time). Isabelle (you know her) is the on 20th. This to say: Christmas was a thoughtful dog. She waited to die. She saved us in all the ways a dog saves you — even in the way she left us.
I’m going to tell you about Christmas now, both because she is a dog and thus literary candy, and also because I wasn’t there to say goodbye and this seems like a nice, public way to do that. Biographers, take note.
Christmas was my first dog and also my first pet. We were a sanitary household. We didn’t entertain rodents as starter-pets. Fish were not welcome; I assumed because my mom was allergic, but probably because it’s in the nature of fish to die easily and often and my parents knew ample death would have taken a toll on my bellybutton-staring, sensitive-little-boy soul in such a way that instead of sitting in a posh coffee shop and typing on an expensive collection of minerals right now, I’d be licking the plush insides of a room walled with mattresses. I’d still be cute though.
I have a very clear memory of getting Christmas. We were sitting in the parking lot of a “strip mall”, which at that time I believed to be a shady place where miscreants went to play naughty-poker. I sat in the backseat of our big, special family van. The van was special because in the ceiling was mounted a full and tiny tube-television meant to keep us not-rowdy, as well as a twinkling line of movie-theater lights that definitely made us rowdy. Suddenly, the right door slide open and my dad passed a small and whining puppy over Isabelle’s car seat and toward our brother Trevor, who was afraid of dogs at the time. He made Trevor hold Christmas in the parking lot of the naked-people mall. I think psychologists would describe this as conversion therapy. Trevor described it in a scream.
Christmas was a major player in many of my early movements toward the now. The first writing I ever published was about Christmas. It was a small book made of blue paper and titled My Dog, Christmas Eve. The book was about all of the trouble Christmas would get into in my house. How she made accidents and ate the walls and sometimes would get stuck in the sleeve of my favorite jacket. There was a running gag detailing the fun in “No, Christmas!”, which tickled my mom and I think convinced her I could make a career of this writing thing. The book was longer than my teacher had told us to write, but then again I had a lot to say. I was in the first grade and had just begun to learn the pleasure in pushing letters together to create words, and then even more exciting — sentences. I wasn’t yet aware of the magic in paragraphs, so each page of my book contained only a single line. I was also the illustrator and I have not attempted to draw since. I rendered Christmas as a dog with immeasurable length; a decision adults in my life told me was “creative.” They always said it in an upturned voice; a pitch that I soon recognized to mean, “a mistake has been made”, and one I’ve coopted when attempting to deal gently with teens.
Just as I saw her as impossibly long, Christmas I also saw her as an impossibly happy creature. If you entered the door, she’d come barreling down the hall, paws pattering and running in place like a cartoon. She’d lick your ankles with an endless tongue, treat them like sugar cubes, and on so many occasions that it became redundant, she would excite herself to urination.
My piss-happy little beast, I never thought she would die. I even professed as much on my last Christmastime visit home, and the last time I saw her. I convinced Isabelle that due to her great attitude and age, our dog Christmas Eve was a magical being. Christmas was 16, had stopped walking twice only to start again, and would still dance when you tapped along with her. She was probably blind, but beamed. I admitted to anyone in any room that I believed she’d outlive me and I was happy to say it and it was true. But that’s how we deal with the inevitable — we delay.
On January 22nd, my parents passed me the news. They had held her as she went away. They said she went smiling. Some think we see things in our dogs — behaviors, actions — as a reflection of our own wishes. But I believe them. Christmas smiled perpetually. She’s probably smiling and pissing herself now. I am happier to have known her.
My goodbye to Christmas brought me through the lifting of the fog and up the 405. I took the exit ramp towards Venice Beach and to thoughts of one more goodbye I had left weary and dangling from my schedule.
As I pulled up to meet friends at an upscale urban-farm bakery with an unpronounceable name, I vowed, finally, to depart my flirtation with an unfaithful consort — the fried egg. Miss Sunny-Side Up, Mister Scam of Brunch. It was a goodbye I’d been approaching at gaining speed for some time. The fried egg is a pest we endure like a gold-cased cockroach. The yolk runs everywhere no matter how daintily you eat. The taste varies wildly and without much defined reason. If you’re even 1% fork-clumsy, you’re inevitably led to a meal made solely of flappy whites and a yellow-soaked, inedible plate. I don’t care how contrasty and interesting they look in photos, fried eggs are trendy scum and I am saying adieu. I’ll walk myself out.