About eighteen or nineteen years ago, the director of Rory’s preschool caught me on the day they distributed school pictures, and as I opened the envelope, said, sort of apologetically, a little anxiously, “I hope you don’t mind his picture, it’s sort of… well, it’s not really… we usually try… but…”

And I interrupted her with my mouth dropping open, clutching the photos to my chest, and saying, “Oh, it’s so him! I love it!” He looked both disheveled and mildly exasperated, with his hand against his head, like he was just about to roll his eyes and tell the photographer what he thought about the whole business.

Oh, I bet I have the picture on my computer. Yep, it was this one:

It was so him. And the director knew it, too, so she gave me a big smile and we admired it together and discussed what a fantastic photo it was and also probably a little of what a fantastic kid he was, because that was one of our favorite topics of discussion. Well, one of my favorite topics of discussion, and she was usually willing to join in.

I was reminded of this story today, because I picked up B’s ashes, and… well, some background first.

When B showed up in my backyard, I called him Mystery Dog. For a while, it looked like that would become his name but it never felt quite right. My nephew suggested Bartlebee, after a character in a book he was reading, which in turn reminded me of a Melville short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.”

I didn’t remember the story all that well, but I knew the character came and stayed. And that he had a line, his response to all requests, which I thought was, “I would rather not.” (It’s actually “I would prefer not to” but I’ve had it wrong all along.) Mystery Dog promptly became Bartleby. It fit so well. When B was dying, the vet asked about his name and I told her that story. And, of course, she also heard everything else I said to him as he was going. So I hope she knew how much I would love this:

photo of box of ashes with engraved plate that says "I would rather not"

“I would rather not”

When I saw it, I burst into tears. But they weren’t bad tears, and I will treasure it. Not the ashes, which I will scatter somewhere appropriate, because carrying ashes around indefinitely feels unhealthily obsessive to me, but definitely the box and always the reminder.

Life without B… well, I’m getting used to it. Slowly. It’s strange to discover how much he dictated our schedule and routine. More than once, I’ve forgotten to feed Z her dinner until quite late, because she doesn’t remind me. B usually spent the half hour from 5 to 5:30 staring at me intently, trying to psychically convey how nice it would be if I got up and got him his dinner right away. He was a very precise timekeeper in general. At 11, it was time to be outside. At 3:30, time for a chicken strip. And he needed to be lifted on and off the bed, so was often my motivation for getting up and moving. Without him… well, my life is easier, I suppose, but so much emptier. He was a very big presence for such a little dog.

In other news, I’m still hanging out in Florida. I’m caught in what a friend described as a medical escalator, where one thing leads to another thing leads to another thing. At this point, I am very much hoping that the last step on the escalator will be a doctor’s appointment in early March. Google actually managed to reassure me today, when I finally gave in to the impulse to do some research, so that was nice. Doesn’t usually work that way!

And I am definitely counting my blessings. Yesterday I sat in a waiting room with my dad for an almost absurdly long time — I think he probably wound up in there for about four hours. And the television was playing infomercials! Hell. Except a young couple in the waiting room had time pressures. And also, they were young, which, in context, probably meant they were not there for routine care. And, of course, when a doctor is running hours behind schedule for a minor procedure, it’s probably because someone else’s minor procedure has turned major. All in all, it reminded me of how very lucky I am, to be reasonably healthy, to have such a flexible life, to have people who love me taking care of me.