Merry Christmas to my dear, sweet boy. My handsome, stalwart one. My little New Yorker. My hunk-a-chunk-a-love. The rock of our family. The glue that keeps it together. The little prana running around our home. My great joy. All these phrases I used over and over again with you to describe the sparkling spirit that came to me wrapped up in a dog suit (those adorable “floating cloud” eyebrows). It’s no wonder I have so may songs about you, all those silly little lyrics I set to various (admittedly, mostly lifted) melodies.
I started singing to you, about you, practically the day I met you (Hello Otis, Well hello Otis, it’s so nice to have you right where you belong…) and kept writing those little tunes throughout our more than ten years together. One of the more recent ones, that snappy little ditty I started up that night last winter while we were bracing ourselves against the cold, whipping wind and the snow (Let me love ya, Otis… I’ll keep you safe, I’ll keep you warm, I’ll rub your belly for all of that charm…Let me love ya, Otis), was a particularly good addition to our song catalog, I think. And one of the very first songs I wrote that included you, I’ve been singing every day since you had to go because it has given me such an incredible amount of comfort during this grieving process:
Pushkin and Otis, brothers and friends,
Pushkin and Otis, friends to the end.
Whether they’re playing or sleeping tonight
Pushkin and Otis are doing just fine.
It comforts me and brings me a modicum of happiness in the midst of the sadness to think that, after nearly six years of flying solo, Pushkin is no longer alone on the other side; you are both young and spry again, scampering around together and loving every minute of it. Now you’re alongside your big brother for our morning meditation together, and again each evening for our Om Shanti, Goodnight. We created this routine when our family was grieving over the loss of Pushkin, and the routine’s not going anywhere. You know that each morning we’re going to start the day with “Good morning, Pushkin! Good morning, Otis!” You can count on it.
You also know I’m still singing to you each day, just like I kept on singing to Pushkin after he went with the angels. I made sure before you left us that you knew, beyond all the “Otis” songs, the one special song that, whenever you hear me singing it, you know I’m singing it just for you:
I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places, that this heart of mine embraces…
Yes, each day “in the park across the way” as I’m still walking your brother Galileo, I’m seeing you right there with us. I’m grateful for every minute I ever had with you, but in these recent days I’m especially thankful for the glorious year and half we had here together in New York. For all my initial concerns about how you — a Tucson dog, and a dog with some later-in-life aggressive behavior challenges — would fare in the city, you couldn’t have surprised and delighted me more. Within two days, you made New York yours: you adapted more quickly than any of us, even me. With the help of our marvelous trainer Inna, you immediately figured out how not only to tolerate neighborhood walks on a leash (no more backyard and dog door), but also how to savor those long walks in the park. You figured out how to not go berserk at the sight of another canine in the distance so we could have that time together. Awesome job, Otis! I told you over an over again how proud I was of you, and it’s so true. You were a rockstar.
You didn’t just adjust, either; you thrived. There seemed to be a new bounce in your step here in NYC. We arrived in springtime and, by the fall, it was clear you were loving the slightly cooler weather; and the way you trotted around the neighborhood, it was clear you thought you were such hot stuff anytime you were sporting one of your sweaters or jackets. So, while the rest of the family fumbled around a bit while trying to get the new groove on, you showed us all that, indeed, you can teach an old dog new tricks. More than that, the old dog is perfectly capable and happy to figure out some new things himself, as long as the day offers him a belly rub or two. One of my favorite images of you from here in New York: you, sound asleep on your back on the living room carpet, one arm outstretched — we tagged it the “Superman Pose.” You spent many an afternoon like that. A picture of utter contentment.
You were with me for a little more than a decade of your fourteen and a half years. You came to me through your Dad, who adopted you a couple of years before we all got together. He calls you his wingman because for a while it was just you and him. It was with an invitation for me to meet you that your Dad got his “in” to spend some time with me: that first night I went back to his apartment to meet you, and he and I ended up just talking until dawn. Do you remember that? He asked you to do some tricks for me because you were such a performer. Rolling around, twirling in the air… a couple of years later, you learned to jump up on the piano bench and press the keys when he asked you to play. Even back then, all you ever wanted in return was to be shown a little appreciation, a little love: a “good boy,” a belly rub, a treat.
There are a few very specific things I need to thank you for. While it’s true that most animals (at least to some extent) aim to please, one of the qualities that made you so special was your knack for making a person — any person, whether a family member or someone you just met — feel like he/she was your favorite. If a friend came to visit, you would in the quietest most un-pushy way, inch onto his/her lap for some lovin.’ Above all, let’s just say it here: you were a Grandma’s boy, and it wasn’t just for her Sunday meatballs. The attention and affection you gave Grandma let her know just how special she was to you and the rest of our family. That was a great gift you gave to her Otis, because she does a lot of thoughtful things for all of us, and sometimes the rest of us may not do as good a job as we should letting her know how much all the little things mean to us. So it was a gift to her, and something beautiful you also did for the whole family. Thank you for that.
Another thing I want to thank you for: Going back to that first night I met you… your Dad and I always joked afterwards that you gave him a strong talking to after I left that night, saying “SHE is my mama! You found her! So you better not f*#%k this up!” Yes, Otis, there is no doubt that, although your dad met you first and took on the role of your guardian, I was your mama long before I met you that night. The universe was working to bring us together from the moment you arrived on the planet. And when we did all get together in Tucson, I already had Pushkin. But what you — and later, Galileo — taught me was this miraculous thing about the human heart’s capacity: all three of you boys became my #1 at the same time. While it’s true that Pushkin got a lot of attention in his last years because he was ill, and Galileo has always required a great deal of attention — first, because he’s such a bundle of high energy and, second, because of his epilepsy — you were never taken for granted, not for a second, and no less important. Always know that. Then, now, and always, all three of my boys are my collective heartbeat.
And so, along this same line, I need to thank you for all the little moments you gave me throughout our years together, to make sure I didn’t feel like #2 either. It would have been easy enough for you to favor your Dad — your wingman. But you gave me all those times you jumped up onto the sofa to sleep beside me while I was reading; the times when I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night and got up to get some work done, when you followed me into the office and curled up at my feet until I was ready for us to return to bed (often as the sun was rising); when it was just you and me, while Galileo spent the day at Spot to get in some playtime, and we’d go for long walks in the park and, in good weather, we’d just find a bench where we could sit together quietly. And the snuggling moments: most nights, you preferred to sleep on your dog bed in the bedroom; but sometimes, when you chose to come up onto the bed with us, in the morning you’d move from your spot near the foot of the bed to snuggle up to my side. You’d let me hug you like a teddy bear and we’d both stay in bed a little longer than usual.
Finally, I want to thank you for the last few mornings we had together. You were restless and wanting to go out for walks in the very early pre-dawn hours, around 4am. The first week of November, the weather was just starting to turn, but it was still a lot milder than it could have been for the time of year. On those last mornings, you specifically came to my side of the bed, for me to take you outside.
And so I would dress quickly and take you downstairs into the streets — pretty much empty, save some early-morning delivery trucks, or the bakers and bagel makers in the neighborhood. In that quiet, we walked and I sang. I sang your song to you, and I sang Christmas carols because I knew you wouldn’t make it to the holiday season. After walking in the grassy trails on Riverside Drive, you’d pull at the corner to go the one block up to Broadway. So we would go. And then you’d get tired, and I’d pick you up and keep singing as I walked us back home and back to bed. In my arms, you were my baby and, at the same time, you were an old man.
In everything that’s light and gay, I’ll always think of you that way…
There was as much fun and playfulness about you as there was tenderness, Otis. As far as playing went, you weren’t into toys as much as you were into clothes, but there are a couple of favorite memories I will carry with me that really highlight your playful nature. First, when you and Pushkin first bonded and he was still young and healthy, I remember the two of you running around the apartment with Billy Pilgrim, the pilgrim stuffed pet toy that was gifted to Pushkin back in his own New York days. It was the one toy you ever played with and, after Pushkin died, every once in a while you fished it out of Galileo’s toy bucket and just lay with it between your paws with your chin resting on top. I wondered then whether you were missing your older brother and whether holding Billy gave you comfort.
My second Playful Otis memory is one of you teaching a puppy Galileo how to play. You would roll with him and stay there on your back while the little tyke wrestled with you — all in ultra-slow motion. It was fascinating to watch because it seemed you knew just how gentle you needed to be, and also that you were aware you were teaching him. This was not unlike the time in the middle of the night when I was standing out in the backyard in the moonlight with your brother, who couldn’t have been more than ten-weeks old at the time. I was urging Galileo to do his business after he’d gotten me out of bed with his barking to be let outside. But once we went into the yard, he just looked up at me with his little freckled face, completely puzzled. He didn’t know what to do or where to do it yet. And then you entered the scene, walking in your lion-esque way, slowly and deliberately. First you came towards me and looked up; then you walked over to Galileo and looked at him. You took a few steps over to a shrub, lifted your leg, and proceeded in a very dignified fashion to demonstrate. Once finished, you looked back at G, then me, then just as slowly — majestically — went back to bed. The fact was — I told you this all the time while you were still on the planet, too — you were an excellent little brother to Pushkin and an excellent big brother to Galileo. Playful and protective with both.
I’ll find you in the morning sun…
Above all my dear one, I always will remember how jubilant you were. Yes, that’s the perfect word for you, from your wordsmith mother. Jubilant. Often, all it took was my walking through the door. You’d run up to me and start bounding off your front legs, like a little pogo stick. And your smile. Your smile was the sunshine and the moonlight and all the lights of all the other planets and stars bunched up together.
Yesterday was your DAY 49 — the final day, according to the Tibetan Buddhists, that your spirit might possibly still be navigating The Between. So after a long journey — for you, and for us as a family as we’ve been riding the waves of grief and praying for you each day — today, we CELEBRATE your great spirit. We started the day with a special meditation and brought a bunch of stuffed pet toys, a box of treats, and one of your dog beds to Animal Care & Control on 110th Street (which, in a nice twist, was the place responsible years ago for sending me to Bideawee, where I met Pushkin). In your honor, a few homeless pups still waiting for a forever home will have a little brighter Christmas. For the rest of the day and evening, we’ll be playing happy big band music and Christmas songs (likely, there will be some dancing around the living room), we’ll light a candle in church at tonight’s mass, and we’ll raise our glasses in a toast to you at the start of our holiday meal. Hey Otis! Hey noble spirit we call Otis! Fly with Pushkin and the angels, and have fun! We love you!
Earlier this week, your Dad, Uncle Dan, and I went to Cleopatra’s Needle to catch some jazz. Very talented musicians on stage. Piano. Drums. Upright bass. So what an opportunity it was to sit in with them. I got behind the mic for the sole purpose of singing just one song — your song. And I made sure to sing your name (that I add to the lyrics) loud and clear. I can’t know for sure whether you hear my words, or just feel the vibrations of my voice traveling to you from across the universe. Or maybe you were right there at the foot of the stage, though my human eyes can’t see you. But I know you’re here. I know you’re listening. And I know my love reaches you because the connection we have is forever.
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon, Otis
But I’ll be seeing you.