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rice and ink


To the artist HS Chang-Tsai -- please accept my appreciation and thanks for your art. I did not know of it until a package sent from you arrived at my home. It was a curious thing, to receive a package from a stranger. I opened it and, on seeing the print of a Shiba Inu looking skyward while the moon laid on the left corner, began to cry. My best friend had purchased the print and a pad of sticky notes. It was her way of showing sympathy for the loss of Ryu, my Shiba Inu and adventure partner.

Ryu lived for 15 years. 12 of those years was with me. He was a constant companion. I often joked that he was my soul mate. Sometimes, it was not a joke. Ryu passed away a month ago. It has been six weeks and I still cry when thinking about him.

Today, I placed your print into a frame. My boyfriend asked where I would put it. I immediately said that it would go onto the desk of my home office. I wanted to see it as much as possible. But after a moment, I reconsidered the decision as a selfish one. It would be better to place the print in our living room where every person who came into our home -- friends, family, neighbors -- could have the opportunity to see its beauty.

Ryu spent much of his life looking up: at me, at others, at the squirrels, at life. Thank you, so much, for making art of looking up. My best friend could not have a chosen a move lovely way of honoring the feelings that Shiba Inus provoke in those of us fortunate enough to be a part of their lives.

ryu inu

25 AUGUST 2020

I have the profoundly unhappy responsibility to write the news that Ryu Inu passed away on August 24th. He was in my arms when he trotted over the Rainbow Bridge.

Some of you knew of Ryu's recent diagnosis of kidney failure made earlier this year, just shy of his 15th birthday. His prognosis was quite good, although our veterinarian made clear to me at the time that his at-home treatments would only manage the situation rather than cure it. At the same time, his cognitive abilities worsened over the summer. His eyesight was going dark and his ears were falling quiet, making the recognition of his surroundings very difficult. It was funny the first few times that I found him stuck behind a toilet or closet door. It quickly stopped being funny as the plainness of his growing helplessness became clear. Overall, his body was telling anyone who could see it that it was saying goodbye. I had no idea it would happen so quickly, as his condition worsened precipitously two weeks ago.

Ryu was my constant companion for the last 11 years. I adopted him in 2009, only a few months after buying my house in Holland. The time was right for a dog to join my family, a role that he fit into quite well for a then four year old who had grown up in a country house. He has since been a part of my life in three states, clocking in tens of thousands of miles from the passenger seat as we crisscrossed the country on many road trips. Like most life partners, he was there during life's happiest moments as well as the worst ones. I still laugh at the photos of his 10th birthday as he wore a birthday hat and ate his birthday cake (a slice of peanut butter toast with the number 10 spelled out in carrots) while dozens of friends milled around the house for the event. I also remember clearly leaving downtown Holland on Election Night 2015, distraught at having lost the race, passing up as kindly as possible the entreaties of my priest to do anything that she could. What I wanted... and needed... most in the world in those dark moments was neither people nor God. What I wanted was my dog. To hold Ryu in my arms. And I did. SO HARD.

He was also the companion to the people in my life. He was there during the many friendships made. He was there last year when Patrick became my son and also when James became my partner. He had dog companion experience as well starting with his best bro Linus. People would stop cold on seeing Linus and Ryu walking together in Holland, rightly charmed by such a handsome pair of gentlemen not seen on those streets before or likely again after. He fell into another pack here in Chicago, going on walks with fellow neighbor canines Kygo, Max, Buehrle, Ada and Linus (there were two! how lucky!) around the University campus.

Ryu's passive acceptance of affection was a constant source of joy. He didn't seem to particularly like getting the pets and pick-ups, but he did not complain either as people poured out their kindness onto him. A favorite picture of Ryu is of his being held aloft by a colleague. We had been walking around a picnic on campus, when she hoisted Ryu up and smiled from ear to ear as Ryu went limp and made the apathetic expression that seemed his trademark. It was a nearly perfect example of the lovely relationships, no matter how brief, he allowed people to have with him.

For 11 years, Ryu was with me when I woke up in the morning and there still when I went to sleep. Knowing that he will not be with me when I wake tomorrow makes everything hurt so badly that I freeze up. It took me 5 minutes to even write those two sentences. Ryu did not deserve the sufferings that had crept into his life. I'm relieved tonight that he is free of them. While I know that I made the right decision, I cannot escape the terrible thought that one day -- perhaps in the next life -- that I will be held accountable for leading Ryu to his end. I hope that the judgement is bearable because right now the grief is barely so.

Thanks for being part of Ryu's long and glorious life. I hope that you'll give an extra hug to your pets and people.


22 JUNE 2020

Patrick graduated from high school last week. I had been jazzed for the ceremony for a while. He stayed cloistered in his bedroom the morning of, getting his clothes and face just right. Senn High School put on a fun, outdoor, and socially distant event for everyone involved. Cars also moved slowly around the school grounds for those families who preferred to keep up their caution. I buzzed around the grounds just thrilled to chat with teachers, staff, and some other parents; in contrast, Patrick's demeanor was on par with any other Friday. Teenage cool is as alien to me as lunchables. Maybe he perked up after I returned home, free to socialize with his friends while far from the reach of his dad's camera.

That morning, while getting ready to get Patrick to his school he asked for my help with tying a necktie. I tied the one he wanted to wear around my own neck, intending to loosen it and then slip it around his own -- when it happened: I had a flashback. I remembered getting ready for an event and running full force into the embarrassing reality that nobody had ever taught me this seemingly obvious skill. There I was at 17, a poor kid in a Michigan trailer park trying to will myself into becoming an adult without the ability to do what seemed as obvious as tying one's own shoelaces. It was humiliating for life to remind me again of what I didn't have. A neighbor, well in his sixties, walked me through the steps of making a basic knot. I felt as hopeless in getting it right as appreciative for his having helped me. He eventually took the tie, tied it around his own neck and then passed it back for me to slip on over my head. Back in Chicago that morning, Patrick slipped on the necktie that coincidentally matched the bowtie I had chosen. I hope that he didn't feel embarrassed at having to ask.

Patrick's participation at the graduation event was not guaranteed a mere six months ago. Hell, it wasn't even probable. Patrick had taken the study-at-home order as a "do nothing while at home" gift. His grades plummeted so quickly that it panicked those around him. Some of you will remember my struggle to comprehend what seemed at the time like his impending failure to graduate. Patrick hadn't cared much about school to begin with; in March, he slipped right into apathy. How could he quit so close to the finish line and while under such better circumstances? I fell into the terrible trap of believing that Patrick's failure was because of my own... that he was experiencing the results of my failure as a parent. Too many days went by in which I wondered why the family that we had become wouldn't be enough to save him. Those feelings were fucking awful to experience. We were fortunate though to be in the company of good people who in their own ways encouraged Patrick to see opportunity in the least likely circumstances while also helping me change up my parenting strategies when the effectiveness of one didn't work.

Patrick pulled both his attitude and his work ethic around enough to get across the stage -- which this year everyone will have to cross in their imaginations (to hell with the coronavirus). It turned out that we were never alone, nor were we ever failures. But it did turn out that life's lessons have a way of re-appearing. To everyone who lent us their ears and empathy in the last six months: please take this news of Patrick's success as my way of thanking you.