44 Miles…A Last Ride…

Any distance rider can tell you…miles and minutes are the same thing. The relationship between the two–the conversion factor–may change depending on conditions and the vehicle used, but in the end, miles and minutes are both a valid measurement of either time or distance. Both clearly apply to the road. Both are the same thing.

They both apply to something else too.

I believe…I know…that life is a road.

Life is a road…

There are times it’s not an easy road to travel. There are times I resent having to pick the direction. There are times I desperately wish that I could abandon my responsibilities and just run.

What is it in me that I cannot?

44 miles to go…
He got in the car on his own. The pain clearly in his eyes and the effort outlined in his faltering steps easily offset by his enthusiasm for the experience. The shadow almost covered up by his enjoyment of the moment. His sheer determination to climb in without assistance brought a smile to my face despite the feelings roaring inside. Riding is a passion of his, too.

40 miles to go…
Sitting at a stoplight I glanced in the review mirror, and then briefly squeezed my eyes tightly shut. I had met his eyes again, looking at me intently from his place in the back seat. There is trust there, amid the pain. Trust and loyalty and love, present in quantities impossible to measure. They shine through the pain…almost wipe it out. I find myself fervently wishing I didn’t know the pain was there.

30 miles to go…
My eyes can’t help but find the mirror again. He’s watching out the window now. I know where we’re going. He doesn’t. Somehow it feels like a betrayal.

15 miles to go…
He’s asleep now. I find myself hoping that in his dreams at least, he has regained what was lost.

5 miles to go…
Any temptation I had to change direction…to extend the ride, the miles, the time…died when I hit a bump in the highway. The quiet sigh of pain from the back seat brought my eyes to the mirror again. He never complains. Throughout all this his attitude has never changed, his joy has hardly wavered. That quiet sigh is tantamount to a scream. I squeeze my eyes shut for an instant. No.

2 miles to go…
He knows where we’re going now, and he is excited. He loves to visit this place. The smells, the people, the others! The ears perk up, and the tail thumps steadily on the leather of the car seat. My throat tightens. He knows where, but not why. I know why, and right now I hate myself for it.

0 miles to go…
He practically drags me into the building. We call this, “tractor mode”. He’s amazingly strong, despite the totally useless cancer-ravaged hip and right-rear leg. Despite the nausea and dramatic weight loss. From behind I can see the swelling is even worse.

A visit with the vet, a compassionate and competent man, to confirm what we already knew. Even then hoping for some miracle. Even then knowing there wouldn’t be one.

No more miles. No more time.

How do you say goodbye?

I’ve never been able to…not even to people I was going to see again in a few short miles…a few short minutes.

As the vet takes the leash, I give Hershey a healthy scratch behind the ears as his tail thumps against my legs. ‘Goodbye’ wouldn’t come out at all. I mumble under my breath, “See you again.” It seems inadequate.

In “tractor mode” again, he eagerly pulls the vet down the hall. He’s been here before; he knows where he’s going. He looks back once, his tail still wagging as only a Lab’s can. I hope that was understanding and relief…and maybe just a little forgiveness…that I saw in his eyes.

I sit behind the wheel of the idling car, reflecting on the friends I’ve lost—human and otherwise. It’s far too high a number…and it never seems to get any easier. I wonder why this one’s so tough, but really I know. I didn’t lose this one. I sent him away.

I know it’s best. I know the right thing. But still it’s profoundly difficult. I wonder why for a moment, feeling the depths of the pain. Surely it should be easier after all this time. It’s not…but as I pull the car out of the parking lot I decide that that’s a good thing. It shows I’m still human. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t.

44 miles to go…
It’s going to be a long, lonely ride home. I keep glancing in the mirror.

Hershey…It’ll be a little while…but be patient for me, ya big brown dog. Oh, and say, “Hi,” to my other lost friends.

Someday…well…I’ve a long road yet to travel…but someday we’ll meet again.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Daniel Meyer

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