Dear Goddamned Beagle,
If I’ve learned anything in my roughly six decades, it’s that I never know what I’m going to say next. Even so, “I miss my beagle” echoed back to me in a boomerang of truth and disbelief. I blamed the Aperol Spritz.
Work took me to the UK for a week or so, and as Thing 2 and She Thing 2 had the weekend before graduated from university, I thought it’d be nice to make a trip to Europe their graduation gift. Thing 1 and She Thing 1 were also free, and so we met, the four Things and I, for a trip to Italy, somewhere I’d never been even with all my traveling.
First, I planned a weekend in London once my work was done. Harrod’s and the House of Commons, scones and tea, people-watching in Leicester Square, and even dinner with cousins near the Broad Street cholera pump. A complete getaway of nothing but shopping, cocktails, museums and ambling along the Thames with a few good friends.
So obviously, I got sick. Europe, gripped in a heat wave, thought it’d be funny to gift me with a case of bronchitis reminiscent of what Wikipedia explains best: “In Medieval Hungary, the Inquisition recorded the trials of pagans. A document from the 12th century recorded an explanation of the cause of illness. The pagans said that tuberculosis was produced when a dog-shaped demon occupied the person’s body and started to eat his lungs. When the possessed person coughed, then the demon was barking, and getting close to his objective, which was to kill the victim.”
Pretty much. Most of my London trip was spent longing for a nap and slogging at a snail’s pace. I barely overspent at Harrods at all.
Once in Italy, I shuffled through the Vatican only briefly, turning to a rigid guard in the shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder-crammed halls of gaudy splendor and barked, “I need to leave.”
“Of course madame. Just through the Sistine Chapel and…”
“No. I need to leave now.”
I guess the dog-shaped demon’s gritty determination, juxtaposed with all those beatific cherubs, made an impression, because he nodded once and said, “This way.” He led me past the velvet ropes, through the cool back halls and uncelebrated ornamentation, around corners, down stairs and ramps and two elevators (one with benches and an elevator operator whose last gig was clearly head bartender at the Overlook), up a few short flights, and then pointed at the “uscita” signs, saying, “Follow those.”
Turns out hell is real. It’s a large building called the Vatican, which is really just a massive, unescapable Ikea where you can’t sit on any of the furniture and nothing’s marked down. It took me nearly an hour to find my way to a cab and my hotel bed.
The next day’s private tour of the Colosseum was much better. Not for breathing, but far less crowded, much more interesting, with gasping climbs up to the Palatine. Each raise in altitude offered greater views and perspective, the look down on history expansive, and as hard to grasp as the handrails keeping me upright.
A train ride, then more hills, ramps and long flights of stairs followed at the spectacular Villa d’Este in Tivoli, where the fountains beckoned, cooling the environment with romantic, dysenteric mist, the “Not Safe To Drink” signs adorned with moss centuries old. I thought of you there, realizing how under-adorned our city yard is. “We need to build one of these for the beagle,” I mentioned to the Thing. “She’d really like it.”
All through the winding streets of Rome, from the sticky tourist mob at Trevi Fountain, to the lovely, gentle winds atop the Spanish steps, to each gelato shop found (Mom, I may have eaten four of these today, plus finishing yours, so we should probably only stop at one more place), and in each restaurant, the lack of you was apparent.
“Pizza bones,” I’d remark, holding a crust. “And no beagle to throw it to.”
“The beagle would never leave that discarded cone lying there. I don’t care how close those cars were,” I’d say, as countless, help me-eyed Chihuahuas ignored the bounty while being dragged sideways through traffic.
“That Lab’s so fat the beagle would totally get to the plates first,” I’d think, watching the lumbering dullard wander through cafe tables in piazzas filled with distracted diners.
“The tomatoes are amazing on this bruschetta, but I still don’t think the Beagz would eat them.”
And then on to Venice, where, I’ll admit, I was very glad you were not. The number of winding, labyrinthian alleys, dark doorways with beagle-width gaps in gates, twists and turns and bridges and boats and cafes and tourist groups and apses and alcoves meant I’d have lost you immediately. The number of glass stores, doors open, displays piled high, meant I’d have found you eventually and owed somebody a lot of money.
But it was there, sitting in a hidden restaurant, cold drink in hand and surrounded by my Things and friends, that I most clearly felt your absence.
“I miss my beagle. And if any of you ever tell anyone I said that, I’ll deny it.”
Yet from Venice to Munich to Boston and all the miles in between, through three movies, a podcast, and several discussions with my seat-mate about international standards of education in tech, STEM, veterinary medicine and caliber of learning benchmarks, I thought of returning to you.
When I arrived home our reunion was all I’d expected it would be. You wailed and whined and made small, yipping, sobbing noises, covering my face with your dumpster breath kisses. I cuddled your chunked-out, sitter-fed body as you wriggled and flipped from back to front in paroxysms of joy.
You began the job of sniffing my suitcase, pocketbook and backpack, meticulously inspecting each inch of the pile, and I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I chatted with the renters, took out some cheese and crackers, and when I stepped carefully toward the counter, realized that you were nowhere to be found underfoot, your usual placement cued by the open fridge door.
I looked up and saw you sitting in self-imposed exile just outside the kitchen doorway. A first, and a clear indication that your joy was now replaced by betrayal. I had been gone, first for the graduation, then for weeks more, and the work gear, conference bags, pens and swag I’d carried as I left had justified our time apart. What, then, was this scone and chocolate, ruins and canal, cobblestone and hillside dust your nose had found on the luggage I’d returned with? it was one thing to be required to travel, quite another to have been potentially enjoying it.
And I didn’t even bring you back a gift.
My apologies, Beagle. If it’s any consolation, there were a lot of really grumpy Shelties everywhere we went. You’d have only found them annoying.