One of the things I love most about Barry is his running dialogue with the yellow dog.
He was more prone to these conversations when disability socked him with a pressure sore, a digestive indignity, or some other assault on his mobility or independence. Although duly informed–“You’re my dog, not my shrink”–the yellow dog tended to ignore this distinction, bringing uncanny clarity to the human condition during times of stress.
A warm and furry Buddhist, the yellow dog cares little for drama or attempts to change what is. Writes Barry: “If I find myself raging aloud at the universe, as humans sometimes do, he’ll stare me straight in the eye and grin like a drunk full moon. ‘Ain’t this the life?’ he’ll seem to say.”
In my favorite story, Barry calls upon the yellow dog’s wisdom during a seemingly tedious three-week stint in bed. “The yellow dog–with his goofy grin and his stuffed-bear tongue–teaches me that life is just as intense and juicy and thick with gratification as it ever was. Not everyone believes me, but it’s perfectly clear to me and the dog.”
The setting for this particular story is Barry’s bedroom, where he is trying to heal some stubborn skin. On his left, a transfer lift and other disability equipment gathers dust; on his right, a picture window displays the magnificence of the Continental Divide:
“This place has muscular architecture and matching moods–winter winds that roar like colliding trains, summer lightning that bites the tops off the ponderosas. The sunsets are splashy, chrome yellow and indigo fading to night, to moonset, to silence of snowfall. I hear coyotes, owls, the cheerful panting of my yellow dog.”
This was also the setting for my last visit with Barry, and for my own humble yellow dog story.
* * *
The yellow dog settles on his fleece, yawning or snorting as he sees fit. He might have jumped onto the bed with Barry, if not for the hip dysplasia that keeps him grounded. On Barry’s right is the window, through which the ponderosas stretch their limbs, as if planning an early evening run around the Rockies; on his left sits the unused gimp gear, still as furniture.
Family photos–a rogue’s gallery of redheads–line the walls, angled every which way but straight. Our mutual friend Sam, the guy who brought our paths together in the first place, is trying to coax stories out of Barry, something about a legacy. But Barry’s having none of it. Be here now, you know? The yellow dog begins to snore.
Then I notice the handwritten note taped above the bed: Do Not Resuscitate, no CPR, just call the hospice. It hits me that this thing is really going to happen, that Barry will probably draw his last breath of mountain air in this very room, very soon.
Tears sting my eyes and my mind rages against the universe, but I don’t want Barry to see. I begin pestering the yellow dog, and he obliges. He stands with some effort, gives me the goofy grin and kindly draws attention away from me with his exuberant tail.
I’m sure I’ve escaped notice.
But when my eyes return to Barry’s face, I see that he has been watching me. I hold his gaze as long as I can, which feels like the mother of all pregnant pauses … and he offers no words to ease my discomfort. So I hang in there, as present as I can be.
Finally, he nods, almost imperceptively, with a Mona Lisa smile … and though I know we just said goodbye, I feel a little less like raging against the universe.
It really is something to share a moment with the yellow dog.