As many of you know, we lost our dog Max on March 12th.
My only catharsis was to write about him.
And so I did.
Maximus Gary Kingsbury was born in Bangor Maine- Friday, May 16, 2008. We had to put him down on Saturday, March 12, 2022 just before noon. He was dying of kidney failure. He was almost 15 years old. He was in more pain than we could bear.
He was an enormous part of Liana and me. As much as Liana and I are parts of each other.
Coal and Buddy’s deaths were hard to endure and worse to come to terms with and write about. But over a month after Max’s death, I still can’t separate him from the minutia of my day-to-day life. I see and remember him everywhere. Max and I spent fifteen very close years together and I wrote about him all the time. I also wrote from his point of view. You’d think it would be easy for me to come to terms with his life with us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was clinically depressed after his death. Food tasted like lukewarm, wet insulation. Shaving my face and brushing my teeth were incomprehensible and unendurable acts. Why change my clothes or open the shades or play with the other dogs? There was no point to it. I couldn’t see the humor in anything. I closed the shop for two days. I drank a lot just so I wouldn’t think about him and I could get some sleep.
And that’s the hardest thing for me to do- to grieve enough. A human being has to grieve as much grief as they have. Even if that means selfishly snatching bits of it. Even if you have to go through the unbearable motions of an ordinary day in the midst of those who have no idea you are grieving.
We all have to grieve as much as it takes. Otherwise we’ll be permanently pissed off. Or weepy. Or jumpy. Or the worst- just some ordinary Biped tragedy, tiredly rattling through its tedious emotional wreck script for the rest of its short life.
Welcome to my grieving process. It’s not fun and I’m not a great writer, but I need to come to terms with my grief by writing. You can step off this crazy carousel whenever you want and I won’t think any worse about you. This is between Max and me.
It’s strange, but in all my familiarity with Max I could never picture myself saying goodbye to him. I thought in some weird way that he would outlast me. He was a truly singular dog and he meant everything to us. He was so much a part of Liana and me we couldn’t let him go until we had no choice.
And that was not fair to him.
Reluctance and Suspicion
Liana and I got Max when we moved to Dedham Maine from Seattle so I could work on a Civil Engineering PhD at The University of Maine at Orono. I quit the PhD only weeks into it and was looking for work. It wasn’t going great in Dedham with the job search and Liana and I weren’t going great either.
Bizarrely, we kept daring each other to get a dog. That went on for over a month. Then we handed over a bunch of money to a couple in Bangor we found through Uncle Henry’s and scooped up the terrified Max from his whelping box.
Max's First Day at Chez SaltyWelcome Home!
Puppy Max howled bloody murder the whole 30 minutes home. And when I put him down on our lawn, he ran a safe distance away and regarded us. I tried to scoop him up and get him inside but he’d just run another safe distance away. This went on for a huge chunk of the afternoon. Finally, Liana and I went inside and watched him through a living room window. I think he figured out fairly quickly that it was dangerous for a fat little 8-week old puppy all alone on the side of a mountain in the middle of The Lake Philips Wilderness.
So he waddled his big butt through the front door we left open.
He turned the corner and saw Liana and me sitting on the couch in the living room. He panicked and squeezed himself between the giant soapstone stove and fieldstone hearth so our evil clutches couldn’t possibly reach him. He continued to regard us suspiciously from the shadows.
We played this game for a couple days by letting him use the hearth as a crate and feeding him in front of it. Then it got tiring. Once he gained enough confidence to venture a ways out of his little fortress, Liana and I swooped in and blocked all its entrances.
Out of options, Max reluctantly joined the family.
His reluctance and suspicion continued for the next fifteen years.
Dedham was a terrible place to work on a PhD, but it was the perfect place to raise a puppy. There were no neighbors. There were small, mossy outcrops of boulders and access to snowmobile trails about right out our front door that hooked onto others and went 100’s of miles into Canada and western Maine. Dedham is close to Bangor and Acadia National Park. There were dozens of small local trails and beaches for Max to discover. Liana and I brought him to the Rockland Lobster Festival, Sand Beach in Acadia, Tunk Lake, Bald Mountain, the UMO campus, Schoodic Point, and a zillion other places to socialize that little brat. As a side note, he only ever had problems with Weimeraners. We have no idea why.
The Good Part of Unemployment
I didn’t really mind being unemployed in Dedham. Max and I traveled farther and farther on those snowmobile trails for our adventure fix. I would pack a lunch, water, and snacks for both of us. We’d eat in the middle of nowhere. As a rule, I always tossed Max the last tiny corner of my sandwich like the farmer in the movie “Babe.” That seemed to bond us together more than anything.
One day we were miles and miles in the woods and Max ran off. He came back with a squeaky football dog toy. He put it at my feet and looked up at me very proud of himself. I was astounded. How the hell did that dog find it in the middle of nowhere? The nearest house was literally a dozen miles away. I smiled back at him and put it in my backpack. He’d get excited whenever we brought it out of The Forbidden Closet, and fourteen years later we cremated him with it.
And that’s how Max and I got to know each other– on those beautiful unemployed walkies- those endless snowmobile trails to nowhere.
That’s the teaser. It goes on and on like this.
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