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Interviews | September 2, 2014 1 comment
David Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
The Darkest Evening of the Year: My Ever-Smiling Muse and Guardian Spiritby Dean Koontz
She was a golden retriever named Trixie, and she came to live with us when she was three years old. We had worked for years with Canine Companions for Independence, a wonderful organization that breeds and trains dogs to assist paraplegics, quadriplegics, and people with numerous other disabilities. CCI had often offered us a cashiered dog, but being aware that having a dog is a major commitment, we pleaded that we were too busy to accept. Then we realized that we would be 90 some day and still too busy to have a dog, and that it was now or never. They brought Trixie to us.
Over the next nine years, she profoundly changed our lives and made us better people than we would have been if we had never known her. She was a friend to everyone she met, and flew to the front door each time the bell rang, certain that whoever was paying a visit must be either already a good buddy of hers or someone who would prove to be a fabulous new pal. She rarely barked and then only for a good reason; she would often go four, five, six weeks and longer without a single woof.
She exhibited an uncanny respect for our property, and while she would pee on our lawns, she would never poop on them. How she knew where our land ended and where a neighbor's began, or what was community land and not ours, at three different houses, I am not able to say. Because we always blue-bagged her poop regardless of where she left it, she would have been doing us a favor by leaving it as close to home as possible, but she had her standards and would not bend.
The most amazing example of this sense of propriety occurred near the end of a six-week ordeal related to a mysterious food allergy. Trixie, who had never been sickly, began throwing up a lot, usually between midnight and dawn. Eventually her veterinarian discovered that she was allergic to beef and wheat, but until then she would wake me with urgent panting when her stomach went into revolt. Because our bedroom had wall-to-wall carpet, she did not want to throw up there, and insisted that I take her out of the master suite and downstairs where the floors were limestone with area rugs. Considerately, she threw up on the stone, where I had an easy clean-up job.
One night, she woke me shortly before 4:00 a.m., and this time she raced down four flights of stairs to the very bottom floor where, among other things, the garage was located. She threw up in the limestone hallway and then lay down, exhausted. After I had cleaned up the mess and triple-bagged it for the trash can, I brought a moving blanket into the hall and spread it out so she and I would have something comfortable to lie on while we waited to see whether she would suffer another episode.
It was our custom, during that unnerving period of illness, to lie together after she was sick, so I could pet her and help her to calm down. We always lay staring into each other's eyes. Trixie was very unusual in that she would make eye contact during a cuddle for half an hour, forty minutes, as long as you would lie with her, and she would never be the first to break away. She had mysterious eyes, and I always felt that she yearned to communicate more than she ever could without a voice.
That night, we had been lying on the moving blanket for twenty minutes when suddenly Trixie exploded to her feet and ran out of the hallway, through the door to the garage, which I had left open, and across the garage to the rack on which hung her collection of collars and leashes. When I caught up with her, she looked from the leashes to me, to the leashes, to me, and I at once realized that her "problem," which had thus far been expressed from the front end, was about to be expressed from the back end. She desperately wanted to get out of the house and do Number Two.
I put on her collar and leash, and she led me at a dead run out of the garage. She raced past the enormous east lawn, where she could have easily done her business if she hadn't had her special sense of propriety, up a very long driveway, across a motor court, down a set of stairs to the walk-in entry gate, through the gate, and up a 140-foot-long wheelchair ramp (our house is entirely wheelchair accessible because of our interest in organizations that serve the disabled), past another lawn, into our neighbor's front yard, where she had I shall at last be discreet! an explosive venting.
I said to her, "Sweetie, you are without a doubt the best dog who ever lived, but I really like our neighbors, so I'm going to have to get a hose and deal with this anyway."
Soon thereafter, her food allergy was identified, and for the remaining years of her life, she made not a single mess of any kind, as if the mortification of those six weeks had been more than enough, thank you very much.
In June 2007, our Trixie was stricken by a fast-moving cancer, and on the darkest afternoon of our lives, we had to give her the grace that all innocent animals deserve. Her vet came to her side, and while she lay on her favorite lounger on her favorite patio, overlooking the rose garden, while her Mom held her body and told her she was beautiful, while I held her face and told her I loved her no less than I could have loved a child, she was put to sleep before her second tumor could burst and cast her into an agonizing death.
Golden retrievers feature prominently in The Darkest Evening of the Year, which is about an exceptional woman named Amy Redwing, who has a shattering secret in her past, and who has tried to redeem herself by founding an organization that rescues abused and abandoned goldens. I was halfway through it when our Trixie died, and in my grief I thought I might not finish it. But after a month of writer's block, I discovered that my sweet dog had become my muse, the guardian of my book, and that my fine memories of her in fact inspired me. I finished the novel, which is the story of a frightening yet magical journey from darkness to light. I hope you find it to be an edge-of-the-seat story but also funny, moving, and uplifting, for I truly do believe that dogs are here to show us the joys of innocence and trust and loyalty and courage, and that we would be better human beings if we learned to be more like dogs.
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Dean Koontz, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives with his wife, Gerda, and the enduring spirit of their golden retriever, Trixie, in southern California.