Bear has been gone three years now.
It is at once a lifetime and a blink of an eye. In some ways it doesn’t feel real at all, as though she could walk into the room at any moment.
I see her in Chestnut’s need to sit on my lap, drape himself across my arm while I type, how quickly he becomes an immovable furry lump purring his earth shattering purr. “You would be curled up with Bear right now wouldn’t you?” I ask. He used to be her shadow, now he is mine.
Everything we do we grade on a scale of what Bear would think.
“Bear would have loved this!” we say of the beautiful sandy beach and private campsite we found last summer on an out-of-the-way lake, imagining her running along the shore splashing in the water, sand between her toes.
“Bear would not be impressed,” we say to Murdoch and Molly as they troll through the kitchen with their hungry noses and miss half of the good stuff dropped on the floor. We shake our heads. “Bear never missed anything.”
“Bear would be outraged,” we say on day five of still not having replenished the peanut butter in the house. “She would pack up her kong and her bed, sling it over her shoulder and hit the road.” And we imagine her like the Littlest Hobo wandering the land, except instead of looking for wrongs needing righted, she would be on the lookout for the next vat of peanut butter.
“Bear would be mortified,” we say about the prospect of having to put her in a kennel with Murdoch and Molly if we were going out of town. “It wouldn’t happen,” we add. “She would just come with us.” Of course she would, she always did.
“I would not be chasing after Bear like this,” I say to the trees one grey evening with the light seeping away into the landscape, the woods becoming one dark mass, as I sink into the softening snow and stumble my way along a disused trail after Molly.
From a window I had watched Molly skip off through the trees while Morgan called her at the front door. I scrambled in to my boots and coat and called her name, trudging along the trail trying to follow her tracks. I found her at the house on the hill behind our woods. I saw her ears before I saw the rest of her, trotting down the driveway behind a snowbank.
Bear used to disappear up to the house on the hill too, but she always returned in good time, we didn’t worry about her wandering off. There would be stern looks and serious voices, “Bear, where have you been?” followed by hugs and kisses and belly rubs. We didn’t worry about her getting in trouble somewhere, disturbing the peace or chasing cars.
She has been gone three years and yet her nicknames still want to tumble from my mouth as I walk the woods and talk to the dogs. Petunia, I want to say, Peanut Bearalina, Baby Beary, Pumpernickel Peanut, Ruby Tuesday. I have to stop myself and the words pile up at the back of my throat.
“Bear was perfect,” we tell people the way everyone does, the way everyone imagines their dog to be. But in this case, it’s true.