Regarding the Dog at my Funeral
It’s not that I don’t want a dog at my funeral. Concerning canine graveside presence, I am ambivalent; the grief displayed by dogs is, at least, untrammeled by the tedious self-awareness that accompanies the grief of humans. And most of the dogs I have known have surpassed most of the humans, in matters of compassion if nothing else.
The dog might sit in hushed reverence, thus lending benevolence to the proceedings: comforting, to know that even an animal can sense the sacred and will pay adequate attention to it. The dog might make some type of noise, a happy whine elicited by the presence of a squirrel circling a nearby mausoleum. The misbehavior of a dog could be sweet at a funeral. The comprehensive gloom enforced by such an event can breed resentment in the hearts of those who struggle to swallow down laughter, the loved one’s image appearing in their mind at inopportune moments: tilting back a beer, slapsticking down a waterslide. (Moments of joy, by the way, that I was more than capable of, although I wouldn’t blame you for doubting me. You have borne witness merely to my latent misery; you have slotted me breezily into the mental file marked “his bitter exes,” a file you’d never dream of ending up in yourself.) An instance of bad behavior by a mourner’s dog might be just the anomaly necessary to recalibrate the moment, to allow for a slight jolt of uncomplicated happiness, to remind those present that sorrow is not an infinite sentence.
But I can definitively say, with certainty lacquered in a rage whose strength surprises even me, that I am not fine with a dog at my funeral wearing pink sweatpants.
First: dogs do not like wearing clothes. If given the option, they would choose to be naked. Dogs were blessed with the perfect armor with which to endure the storms and perils of this world. The fur they leave, sleep-warm on blankets or strewn across faded jeans, is the only clothing dogs require. I understand that in some northern cities, where the sidewalks glaze over with ice over which the city sprinkles rock salt to hasten melting, dogs wear boots when they go for walks. This footwear is acceptable: not all civilized dogs are built for the tundra, and none of them have had the genetic preparation necessary for suddenly developing the ability to walk across fields of salt. Too, I will begrudgingly accept the necessity for certain short-haired breeds to be cloaked in coats, scarves and hats. When an animal bred for lounging on tennis courts in St. Barths or slanting down a racetrack in the balmy winters of Perth is transported to Chicago or Boston, she cannot be expected to cheat the slow and deliberate progress of genetics and magically attain the same type of glacial bulwark as, say, an Alaskan malamute. There are legitimate reasons for dogs to wear clothing in the face of a bitter winter onslaught.
Burbank has never been the site of a bitter winter onslaught. Even in those weird, historic moments when a thin sheet of snow covers the chaparral up in the hills, that’s rare enough an occasion that it goes viral; snow would never consider the possibility of breaching the mountain-city barrier and entering the finicky, smog-settled hills of North Hollywood. So I do not want to hear that your strange, expensive, unsettling dog is cold enough to require sweatpants. Pink sweatpants, made of either velour or velvet, a distinction which I’m sure greater sartorial minds than mine could make but which I have never had much of a reason to discern. Need I even mention the fact that rhinestones should not be spelling out anything across the back of your pet’s butt?
Of course, I won’t be able to hear it—will I?—the false justification for your dog’s mourning garb. (And what a fascinating interpretation of sackcloth and ashes it is: salmon-colored, studded in tacky sparkles, the absolute picture of tasteful respect.) The dog and, secondarily, you would not be at a funeral at all on this insufferably beautiful Saturday morning were it not for this inability I have suddenly developed to hear anything at all. I won’t flatter myself into thinking this is convenient for you, into questioning whether a strange relief has crept across the emotional wasteland of your psyche. I was gone long before today, and whatever words I could have said would have landed on ears just as deaf as mine have finally become.
It smarts, though. The temerity you display by attending this event at all—let alone with that inbred, maladapted, heavy-breathing excuse for a dog you obtained from an unorthodox online source several years ago because of her little wrinkly face, never mind the fact that she’s in constant, uncommunicable pain every moment of her dramatically shortened life—I won’t mount my high horse to pretend it doesn’t hurt me. It does. Or it would, had I retained the capacity for pain past the moment my spine folded, quick as a binder clip closing, in that loud, blunt moment that, to everyone else on the 10 West, was just a traffic jam on their way home from happy hour.
To clarify: I feel no animosity toward your dog herself, your toothy, brindle-coated Pumpernickel Princess, upon whom you’ve bestowed the elegant moniker “Lil Pump,” a creature whose wardrobe overflows with gemstones and ironic baseball caps worth more than the rent on the apartment Frank and I shared through law school; whose bird-boned frame is petite enough to fit inside all of your limited-edition Hermes handbags.
Have I ever congratulated you, Laura, on your commitment to these works of art, some of which you’ve demonstrated true dedication toward by wearing them three or even four times before consigning them to the back of your walk-in closet under a heap of last season’s raw denim? I imagine this dedication is only tested more by the presence of a living, drooling, peeing creature spending hours at a time inside said handbags, accompanying you from white-floored store to white-floored salon, by your side through every fresh haircut calamity and botched lip job your hectic life must throw your way.
No, I feel nothing for Lil Pump but pity and sorrow, not only for the fact that she must spend every second cloaked in the insufferable fog of your curious perfume, but because, if not for the interminable attempts of humans to wriggle canine genetics into more and more convoluted patterns in search of cuteness, cruelty to animals be damned, she and I would share the same plane of blissful nonexistence.
Before I forget: thank you for the tireless dedication you have shown to documenting every moment of her foreshortened life on Instagram. I have appreciated being witness to the many exotic vacations you have taken together: Lil Pump trying to breathe through bracycephalic airways in St. Lucia, Lil Pump trying to breathe through bracycephalic airways in Prague. I commend you for the obviously exhaustive research you did before deciding to purchase a dog; it’s rare for the potential owner to scour the web so diligently past the normal, boring sites recommending that you align the dog’s exercise and feeding schedule with your own, or perhaps that you consider adopting a dog days away from the needle rather than spending six grand on a deformed cupcake from Taiwan, and digging out the really important tips, such as how best to pose your dog atop a windowsill as the Arc de Triomphe gleams in the distance, or the particular type of jersey lounge outfit most appropriate for the apres-ski pug in a Jackson Hole lodge.
It is, I suppose, an inevitably Parthian shot to say anything at this point about Frank. I have been incontrovertibly prevented from having the last word, and at this point it would merely sound petty to share with you some pertinent information regarding the last few emails I exchanged with him. Emails in which he refers to you as a “miscast ingenue devoid of empathy,” emails in which he asks me whether I still have season tickets to the L.A. Philharmonic, and what I might be up to on one Saturday night or another, and whether I still have that gold-buttoned blazer that he once claimed made me look like aristocracy.
Even if, as you claimed in your last “accidental” text to me that was supposedly meant for your lackey Bianca, Frank did look at Lil Pump when she arrived, overheated and angry from her twelve-hour flight, and merrily compared her wrinkles to those developing on my own forehead; even if, during Brett’s college graduation last May, you were correct in gloating over the stunner sitting dead and shiny and expensive on your ring finger and angled your body slightly away from Frank so I couldn’t possibly miss his hand possessively grasping your Pilates ass (a move which the Frank I knew would have found breathlessly tacky and juvenile); even in the event that your pre-divorce letter to me, on that garishly scented, unbearably prim stationery you had made up for you at the FedEx before you gained access to his bank accounts and began to pretend to be a master of calligraphy, contained the correct chronology of your affair, coinciding as it did with the shuttling off to school of my second and last child; I would never stoop low enough to tell you what he thinks of your dog.
I could never find it in my heart to relay to you those words he shared, in confidence, with Brett, on one of their father-son bonding trips to Monaco, those words he used to describe Lil Pump as a “malingering circus freak absent a circus,” a “failure of genetics,” a “trashy accessory” that would, I’m afraid he opined, “be better off dead.” After all, I know you would never speak ill of the dead; I owe to you that same courtesy, especially regarding Lil Pump herself, whose own termination, if her rasping graveside coughs and whole-body shivers (despite the sweatpants) are any indication, may not be so far off itself. I would never dream of muddying the pot with such frankly pointless information, not when, as you would so charmingly put it, he picked you. Therefore, anything I could ever say to you would be easily brushed off as the sickly wine of sour grapes, fermenting in my throat for three long years.
Besides, by your own determinations of worth you have nothing to worry about: your skin is still stretched swim-cap tight over the bones of your face, your breasts still buoyed bravely in smocked summer tops. The specter of aging is not something to develop anxiety about; anxiety merely accelerates the process. I see you there, that black satin adhering to your curves as though sprayed on; the cowl neck swept a little low for mourning, the split-hem hiked a little high. The pearl-sprayed veil covering your hair only accentuates your fresh highlights, but you knew that, didn’t you? Never mind the wine-pouch beginning to accumulate along your abdomen, the residue of all those guilty nights spent sipping in the guesthouse in front of reality reruns, as Frank slept a house away, his mind untroubled by your little sadnesses. Never mind the tiny divot separating your eyebrows, smoothed away by spider venom every three months.
When age comes for you, it will be different. He’s told you that, hasn’t he? He loves you for you, not for your body. And even if it turns out he was lying, take heart in your one certainty: you’ll have your best friend by your side for as long as she lives. I do recommend not looking up life expectancy for designer dogs, though. It’s not the most heartening statistic. Still, maybe this one will be different.
Stephanie Pushaw is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, CA. She has published fiction in Narrative and Joyland (and upcoming in The Masters Review anthology), essays in DIAGRAM, The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Mississippi Review, and poetry in Slippery Elm and Sonora Review. Among other awards, she has received a Truman Capote Fellowship to pursue an MFA in Fiction at the University of Montana, several Pushcart Prize nominations, and a Gene and Etta Silverman Family Poetry Scholarship. She has lived in eight cities on three continents and is a current PhD student in fiction at the University of Houston.