On this day exactly twelve years ago, one of the most important individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing in my lifetime was born. I met him eight weeks later, when he’d already become a bundle of exuberant joy. Thus came Cooper, not remotely first of his name, a worshiper of Ball, killer of quiche, terror of bunnies, and the best friend I’ve probably ever had.
Cooper got me through some really rough times. I don’t talk about the second of my three marriages much because it was a huge mistake. A rush to fill a void in my life with a woman who turned out to be an abusive binge drinker. When we separated, I made sure to take Cooper with me because I knew I would be sad and lonely. He kept me sane, gave me a focus. Got me out of the house for daily walks and ball throws. Sat snuggled with me on the couch watching television. He made zero comments about my poor judgement, and when Jennifer, my current wife, walked into our lives, he let me know she was worthy. Also, that she had very good treats.
Best friends are like that.
Not long after we arrived here in Maine, Cooper begin to exhibit signs of illness. Reflecting on the past few years, we realized he’d been slowing down for a while and, more recently, had really become much more easily fatigued and panted a lot more, but we had chalked that up to his aging. He developed a bit of a cough as well just before we left, and that was more troubling. Once in Maine, though, he stopped eating almost entirely. He didn’t really want to play fetch the ball, though he did muster enough energy to chase off one wayward duck floating in a puddle in our back yard. He seemed depressed. Which is weird, because Cooper had always loved long road trips. We brought him up to Maine two years prior for a vacation and he absolutely loved the journey and the time spent at our cabin on the coast.
We tried getting him into a local vet, but one of the things about rural Maine is the difficulty in getting medical care. No one could see him for months, and as he was not a current patient of any of them, we couldn’t make an emergency appointment. We tried switching up his food, which would work for a day, but then he’d go back to barely eating. Finally, we drove the hour and a half to the nearest emergency vet clinic on a Friday evening and waited while they scanned him and drew blood and checked him out thoroughly. We went and ate a late dinner and we hoped for the best. Ultimately, hope had no chance.
He had cancer.
Jennifer and I were both devastated. His lungs were riddled with it. It explained why he panted so hard and had become so easily fatigued. He used to want to play ball endlessly, and we’d have to stop him for fear he’d collapse of heat exhaustion. I took such pleasure in watching him run and chase and LEAP after the ball.
We made the call that evening. I didn’t want to, though, because it hurt too much. I wanted to bring him home and keep him close to me until the end. But his quality of life was dropping fast and there was little ahead for him but a lot of suffering, which I also couldn’t bear to watch. We held him close and loved him one last time as the doctor eased him from his life. Then we sat there with him for a while, stroking his fur. It seemed almost as though he were asleep, nothing more. We cried so hard we gave ourselves headaches, too.
God, I still miss him so much. It still hurts so much.
Then we had to pull it together and drive home in the dark of a Maine night with deer everywhere, after we had to get the car boosted because the battery had gone dead. A terrible, no good night from top to bottom.
A week later we received Cooper’s ashes in a lovely little box. We’ll take him down to Maryland with us when we next go to visit. We’ll spread them on the home he knew best, the one he loved most, the place where he chased and caught the most balls, and chased and failed to catch the most rabbits. We’ll say a few words in memory of my best friend and the way he loved us without reservation or judgement. We’ll keep the box. I don’t know what we’ll do with it yet, but we’ll find a use at some point.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell, god or the devil, rewards or punishment. Just a life lived as best as one could, imperfectly usually. Not Cooper, though. Cooper lived his perfectly, from the moment I met him to the very end. I can never replace him in my heart and memories. I only wish he’d had more time to enjoy his new Maine home and chase more balls here.
Miss you buddy. I wish you were here. Thank you for everything. Thank you for all the love and joy you gave me.
Cooper. First and Only of His Name. Worshiper of Ball. Killer of Quiche. Terror of Bunnies. My most precious and best of friends.