3 min

Goodbye to Rocky

Goodbye to an old friend

Credit: Xtra West files

It’s been a bad week at our house and I think maybe it’s my fault. A few years ago, I told my boss that I wasn’t feeling well just to get out of working overtime. A few weeks later my belly button, which had been an extreme inny all my life, decided that it was time to try life as an outy. For days, I walked around with a big stone taped to my abdomen hoping to force my body back to normal. But nothing I did could repair the damage.

I had told a lie and, like Pinocchio’s nose, my belly had changed shape. Months later the doctor’s guessed that my exploding belly button had been a symptom of my liver swelling with cancer and that had explained why I didn’t feel like working a 12-hour day, but I still thought it was the universe’s way of marking me as a liar.

Strangely, things like that have been happening all my life. Back when I was an acid-hound sleeping with a small dicked Frenchman, I remember bragging about having huge genitals to a group of hippy women. Days later my testicles began to grow and grow and grow. When each of my testicles had swollen to about the size of a sugar bowl, I got worried and went to a doctor, who rushed me into a specialist. A week later I was being prepped for surgery to repair what turned out to be a massive hernia.

It turns out that some lies have a heavy karmic fee. That’s why I avoid playing the sick card unless I really am. If at the last minute I decide to bail out of some commitment, I figure it’s just better to not show up (and look like an asshole) than risk endangering my health.

I used to say that Rocky, the dog I’ve lived with for the past seven years, has more friends than I do. Whenever we’d walk up Main Street he’d sneak off and I would find him behind the Pho restaurant visiting with the old Vietnamese woman who runs the kitchen there. He has his own bowl behind a fish house on Cambie Street.

Even as he aged he managed to make new friends and network all over town like no one I have ever known. People could sense his independence and they loved him for it.

But a couple of weeks ago (after getting a big credit card bill) I decided to skip a tennis tournament in Portland for which I had already paid the entry fee. I justified it to myself by saying that I hadn’t played enough tennis this summer to really compete and with the Canadian dollar being so low, the whole trip was going to cost me a fortune.

Since no good comes from throwing away money you don’t have, I decided that as long as it didn’t involve my health, I could risk a little lie. I wrote an e-mail from Bryan’s account. “There has been a death in the family. John can’t make it to the tournament this year. Please apply his entry fee to next year’s entry.” It was easy.

Ten minutes later I got a nice reply wishing me all the best and the problem was a thing of the past. But the next day, just like a scene out of an after-school special, Madeline-Rocky’s official owner-came in and said, “Rock has stopped eating.”

He was 14, diabetic and so arthritic he could barely stand up, so it wasn’t a total shock. But like the belly button, or my hernia, I knew the everyday explanations were just a cover. I had lied and as a result of some warped cosmic logic Rocky was paying for it.

A few days into his self-imposed fast Rocky started staggering and whenever we looked away he would try to escape like an Inuit grandmother making her way to an ice flow. Then on Saturday night, when I should have been at a banquet in Portland, he dropped off into a little doggy coma.

“Okay everyone, it’s time to say good-bye to Rocky,” announced Madeline

For the rest of the night, we sat around watching as our friend’s breathing slowed and his twitches became less frequent. We told all of our favourite Rocky stories. We cried, took turns sitting close to him and telling him how much we loved him. Then, just when I should have been going to bed to get ready for my morning match, Rocky shook a few times, and he was dead.

Afterwards while we tried to figure out what to do with a 50-pound corpse in the middle of the night during a long weekend, Madeline said, “You were right, John. You said he’d have one last summer of love and that would be it.”

“I said that?”

“Yeah, and I think he had a great summer.”

I realized that I was dealing with forces way too complicated for my tiny brain to understand. I decided that I should stop inventing reasons to feel guilty. All I really needed to do was say goodbye.