The next morning, I told Dusty, as usual, to stay home and guard the castle. I was driving to the University of Texas at San Antonio at 5:30 a.m. to lecture about subjectivity and causality when I was hit from behind by what I think was a drunken driver. The collision launched my truck, at 70 miles per hour, into a cement barrier, where it was ripped to pieces. The force of the impact peeled two of my bumper stickers from the tailgate.
If it weren’t for the airbag, I would be dead. As the paramedics cut me from the truck, all I said was: “Take care of my dog, take care of my dog, take care of my dog.” In that moment, coughing from airbag dust, I thought none of this was worth anything unless I had something more to live for.
So I designed an elaborate, weeklong wedding proposal that included a writing class, rock climbing and a party at an urban winery. After Ilse said yes, she moved into what is now our condo, bringing her cat, Dori, who became fast friends with Dusty, napping together and sharing food.
My goal was to marry in June so Ilse could reclaim that month with a fond memory. I asked Dusty to be in my wedding party. “Maybe he can tie my tie,” I thought. Ilse and I registered for small appliances and dishes. Everything changed.
Two weeks before our wedding, Dusty caught his paw on the rug as he tried to get up from his nap with Dori. He hit the floor hard and whimpered. I held him and gave him peanut butter with painkillers. He looked at Ilse as she stacked wedding gifts in our office, and then he looked at me.
His eyes said, “It’s time.”
I took Dusty for one last walk so he could feel the sun on his nose. We had treats and watched a comic-book movie together. The vet gave him drugs. Dusty died at home, in my arms, his nose on my knee, only days before Ilse and I got married. As he closed his eyes, I whispered, “I’ll guard the castle.” We wrapped him in blankets, placed him in a basket and a white van took him away.