It started with one of my patented public arguments with a woman and it ended in my car, me weeping a heaving weep that became hyperventilation. I pulled up in front of Friendship Hospital. A car was pulling from its parking spot in front of the building, surrounded by rush hour congestion, and I clicked on my blinker, threw the car into reverse, and waited for the space to be open. A Volvo rushed in behind me and grabbed the spot. I backed up, rolled down the passenger window, and calmly said, “You’re not going to park there unless you want to come out and find your car destroyed, are you?”
“My dog has a gash in his leg!” she fired back. Her voice had a familiar shake in it.
“I’m picking up my dead dog!” The second those words blurted from my mouth, I felt cheap, fucked, petty, ashamed.
“Okay, I’ll move.” Her eyes softened and she started to get back into her car.
“No. No. Go help your dog. I’m sorry.” I rolled up the window and pulled into a nearby spot. And sat there. I didn’t want to go in. I had no idea what to expect, what I was going to be given. I wanted my Bob, our Bob. My head danced with child like, simple, impossible thoughts.
All day long, I tiptoed around the office, attempting to glide through the day, and adopt an oh-yeah-by-the-way attitude. I had to pick up Bob after work. I’d been avoiding the task for a week. Going back to that hospital, visited two weeks ago in the middle of the night in cruel knots of pain and disbelief, was the final grim reminder of what had happened. Bob. Gone. Fucking gone.
I stuttered out the information, ridiculously giving the girl behind the desk Bob’s name, first and last, instead of my own. She pulled up the file on her computer and started to rise out of her chair.
“Wait.” I said. I looked at her for the first time, trying to keep my composure. “What am I going to receive? I mean, what will it look like?”
“It’s a nice mahogany box.” She had no discernable expression, turned on her heel, walked through the Employees Only door. Five minutes later, she emerged with a box smaller than I had anticipated with gentle, white lace tied around it in a bow. She handed it to me. I stood for a second feeling a pull backward. My head down, I started to cry although the only sign anyone could see were my shaking shoulders.
I left the building not taking my eyes off the box, got into the car, and beat my fists against the steering wheel until they were sore and bruised. Looking over at the box, Bob, I turned the key in the ignition, lit a cigarette, and pulled back onto Wisconsin Avenue, past the cathedral, down Massachusetts Avenue, on our way home. Bob and me.
I stood outside the elevator doors with the box in my hand, going over and over and over in my mind how Bob, virtually seconds ago, would eagerly anticipate which elevator would come first, and how, even if he was wrong, I'd let him know he was correct in his guess.
Thankfully, no one was in the elevator when I pressed the button to our floor.
Once inside, I knelt with the box clutched in my arms, and I cried and cried until it hurt. I looked over at the cabinet, one I had bought Billy as a gift years ago, the one in which he kept his socks, underwear, tank-tops, belts; the drawers still contain all of those things exactly how he left them, and on top of the cabinet is Billy’s flag framed in its triangle-shaped box with Bob’s leather collar and its baubles that clinked around the house for eight years draped around the pointed top of the flag frame, a piece of the Petrified Forest Billy took on our cross-country trip, Billy’s framed dog tag, and the globe. I lifted the little gold frame that holds the dog tag and put Bob underneath. Daddy and Bob.
I’ve said a prayer and lit a candle every night in front of that flag. I lean down and kiss the side of its frame just as I used to kiss the side of Billy’s nose. I thank God for all the gifts I’ve gotten from this life. I thank him for my friends, for the love that surrounds me, for the opportunities I’ve been given. I thank him for Bob. I thank him for Billy.
I look at the cabinet now and it’s crowded, jam packed with everything that mattered in my life, chocked full of the remnants that once was my family. I look at it and it doesn’t make sense. I know it’s there, I’m not denying it, but it doesn’t make any fucking sense. This isn’t the life I wanted; the one cheery-picked by me.
I chose Billy. I wanted him in my life because he was good and kind and happy and filled with joy for all of the simple things that had sped by me all my life. I chose him because his love for me was pure, not tainted by greed or position. The first time I wrapped my arms around him, felt his dimensions, how he fit into my arms, I knew.
When Billy and I walked into that pet store in 1995, the first time we saw Bob, we knew.
I’ll go home tonight, eat some left-over Chinese, watch Big Brother, and at the end of the evening, when it’s time to go to bed, I’ll say my prayers, thank God for keeping Billy safely wrapped in his arms, and look at the dresser top. When I walk into the bedroom, I’ll say, “Come on, Beez,” out of habit, light a candle by Billy’s picture, and say “Good night, honey bunny.” When my head hits the pillow, I’ll hop on the hamster wheel of all my mistakes, all the things I could have done right, and how the vast majority of my future I treasured with all my heart and soul will never, ever happen.