Like any close-knit community, Point Grey is home to a few friendly cliques. You’ve got your super warrior cyclist crowd who push themselves to their limits every weekend and then gather outside the local Starbucks to leak sweat; the morning coffee ladies who sit and sip at Bean Around the World’s window counter while exchanging strongly held opinions about the state of the village and the state of the universe; and then there are the parents from a mixture of school PACs who somehow beat the odds, became friends, and meet each morning at MIX to compare kids.
Not so long ago I belonged to the dog owners’ group. We were a lot more informal than those other guys, and tended to spend time together by happenstance rather than design. If we crossed paths while walking our pups we’d join up for a stretch while the dogs played around. If not, no one thought twice about it.
After Diesel died I used to imagine this haphazard group of sort-of-friends of mine carrying on with their daily walks without us, and I wondered if anyone ever noticed our absence. And that’s what led to thoughts on Lana and John, members of our ragtag dog owner group that I hadn’t seen for a while. Lana wasn’t passing by my house with Blokie anymore, and John hadn’t been around since forever. I started to worry about the both of them, and began keeping a conscientious eye out, just because.
Lana, who I’d guessed was in her mid-to-late 60s, was a popular woman who walked her dog along the same route every morning. A year-and-a-half ago Lana fell on her hip and ended up in surgery – something I found out around the same time Diesel began slowing down. I’d taken Diesel to Trimble park one afternoon to sit under his favourite tree and I happened to notice Lana and Blokie over by the chainlink fence. She was moving unusually slowly along the sidewalk, trying to coax her one leg, then cloaked in a heavy plastic cast, forward. Diesel and I caught up with her and that’s when she told me about her fall.
I’d only seen Lana and Blokie a couple more times since then, and that was still a long, long time ago, so I worried that things might have taken a terrible turn. It only takes that one fall when you’re older and poof! Things can drastically change. Yesterday though, my concerns were put to rest when I saw Lana on 10th Avenue. Her cast had been removed, but she was walking with a cane.
Lana had seen me too, and she waved me over. Before I could ask about how she was making out she told me she’d read the article I’d written about Diesel. She said she thought it was a beautiful tribute, and whether or not she noticed the typo that will forever plague me, she didn’t bring it up. We talked about her dog Blokie, and about her other dog Sammy who’d passed away several years ago. She said that had Blokie not been there to help comfort her while she tried to cope with her beloved Sammy’s passing, she wasn’t sure how she would have fared. “I would have felt exactly like you’re feeling now,” she said. “It’s ok to be sad, Karin. Take the time you need to grieve.”
After a brief chat we went our separate ways. Lana was doing just fine and I was so relieved to be able to check my concerns about her health off of a list I’d never mentioned to anyone.
John, on the other hand, is still nowhere to be seen.
Like Lana, John and his dog Lacey had always been that adorable neighbourhood duo that never failed to put smiles on people’s faces. John was retired and divorced, and although he and his ex-wife remained friends, John would always joke that Lacey was his soulmate. “We do everything together,” he’d say, “we even sleep together.”
I slept with Diesel, too. This is probably why we hit it off so well. John loved Lacey the way I loved Diesel.
Last October, a couple of weeks after Diesel had recovered from his surgery and we were out for a short walk, John materialized in the weirdest way. The weather was typical for that time of year: dark and grey and rainy and depressing. I’d taken Diesel over to the golf course so he could wander off-leash at his own pace. A thick layer of fog had covered the golf course and that’s why I hadn’t seen John sooner. I only noticed him when I’d turned around to make sure Diesel was keeping up, and caught sight of a slim figure emerging from the mist. At first I didn’t know it was him. But then, I did. And my stomach dropped.
“Hi John, where’s Lacey?” I asked stupidly.
John, whose complexion was unusually pallid, just about broke down when he told me that Lacey had passed away in July. She’d been diagnosed with cancer, just like Diesel, and then, one day, she just collapsed, the same way Diesel would in one month’s time.
“She’d fallen onto the sidewalk and couldn’t get up, so I bundled her into the car, and took her to the vet. Cried the whole way there. Cried the whole way back.”
I let John know that Diesel just recently had a cancerous kidney removed, and that he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive blood cancer but seemed to be doing pretty good in spite of everything. John looked like he wanted to say something about that, but he didn’t. Instead we began walking together, and he told me a story I’ll never forget:
“About a week after Lacey died I became very ill,” he said. “At first I thought I was in the throes of grief, but one day when I was walking into my apartment building the concierge took one look at me and said ‘John, I’m taking you to the hospital’. I didn’t even fight him on that. I felt awful.”
Turned out that John had developed colon cancer, and because of internal swelling that had blocked his bladder, the bile that should have been eliminated had begun to stockpile and circulate throughout his system. By the time he arrived at the hospital he was fully septic, and was rushed into surgery. “I learned they took about a foot of my colon out,” he said. Then, looking up to the sky he sighed heavily, and added “I also learned my ex-wife had been admitted to the same hospital the day after me. She’d had a heart attack but I was so out of it no one could communicate with me. When I came ’round, the doctors told me my ex-wife had passed.”
We stood there looking at each other, Diesel sitting by John’s side while John scratched his ears almost automatically. In the span of a few months John had lost what felt to him like everything, and you could see the effect it was having on his entire body. It was only last Spring when we were walking our dogs together, along with Alvin and his dog, John regaling us both with stories about his trips to exotic places, and the stunts he and his friends would sometimes pull while at the mercy of “liquid courage.” I never for a moment thought that only a few months later John would lose Lacey, and I would lose Diesel, and we’d end up losing contact with each other completely. It never crossed my mind. Why should it?
Diesel was growing weary so I apologized to John, explaining that I needed to head back home. John and I said our good-byes and I told him just how very sorry I was for the enormous loss he’d suffered, stopping short of giving him my phone number in case he ever needed anything. I wasn’t sure if our friendship had come far enough for me to say such a thing, so, regrettably, I erred on the side of not being seen as foolish.
John continued along the path down the golf course while Diesel and I headed in the opposite direction. I turned around just as John, hunched and broken-looking, disappeared back into the fog. “That’s going to be me one day,” I thought to myself. That’s going to be everyone, one day.