For most of my work-from-home career, we’ve shared an office and a routine. As soon as the door closes behind the rest of the family, we go to work.
I have a tendency to fuss and fidget, jumping up from my computer to answer the phone or scan a document or make another cup of tea. He is more quiet. More content. He makes himself comfortable nearby, watching me move around, paying attention to what I’m doing, especially when I wander into the kitchen. He’s always willing to join me in a snack. Occasionally he gets restless and asks to go outside, but for the most part, he’s happy to simply share the space with me
Actually, that’s the way we used to spend our days. Things are changing now. At 14, he’s an old dog. He no longer sits and watches me work. Now, as soon as we’re alone for the day, he is instantly asleep. He sleeps deeply and quietly, seldom “chasing rabbits” in his dreams the way he used to. I can step over him, open the refrigerator and even crunch into a carrot, his favorite treat, without waking him.
And when he is awake, he doesn’t move a lot. Moving hurts, I can tell. He rarely climbs the stairs to my daughter’s room and even the two short steps leading from the kitchen to the back yard are sometimes difficult. Sometimes, as he sleeps, he groans softly, forgetting to hide the aches and pains.
The other day, on deadline and stuck for the right word, I pushed away from the computer and my restless eyes wandered away from my keyboard and chased ideas around the room, gazing out the window, over the newspaper on the floor beside my chair, before settling on him.
For a while I watched him as he lay there, remembering the day I brought him home. At just over a year old, he was a big, strong, sensitive puppy with a tendency to worry. But he had the soul of a rambler, which is exactly how he came to be with us; a stray who’d been picked up and taken to the Humane Society. And for the last 13 years I’ve had to keep my eye on him because he still likes nothing better than a solitary walkabout. Even now, on a bad day as stiff and slow as a mechanical toy, when I let him out the back door I have to watch him or he’ll slip away and stroll down to the park on his own.
The saddest thing is that he can no longer drop and have a good roll in the snow. That was always his favorite thing to do on a winter day, to roll back and forth, scrubbing his coat in the fresh powder. I used to laugh at him when occasionally he would stop rolling and, relaxed and content, his feet still in the air, he would lie there for a few minutes gazing up at the sky like a child. Now he just stands and looks down at the snow for a moment and then moves on.
I thought about all of this as I watched him and my throat tightened. I just don’t know how much more time we have together.
Pushing my computer aside, I dropped down onto the floor beside him. He didn’t move. Stretching out, I lay beside my old dog and draped my arm over him, pressing my face into the rough fur of his back. He woke up enough to lift his head and look back over his shoulder at me as his tail thumped the floor a few times, but if he was surprised to find me lying on the floor next to him, he didn’t give any sign. He just stretched a bit, sighed deeply and went back to sleep.
I lay there a few more minutes, taking and giving comfort, thinking about time and how it always slips away from us in the end, and then got up and went back to my desk. Back to my computer. Back to work in the company of my tired and true companion.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org