Hey, boo. Hey Arch. Arch-dog. Sweetheart. Hey, bud. Booley. Booie. Archer. Hey, my Archerboo. Archie.
I saw him for the first time at the pound – in my memory, he’s pressing his face into the bars of his cage and sticking a paw through, a big, floppy paw that was the first thing to draw me to him. I want a big dog, and a puppy that’s gunna turn into a big dog’s gunna have big paws. After a few days of deliberation, we brought him home, and when I finally freed his squirming body from the confines of my arms after the car ride, I noticed that he had left a small wet spot on my pant leg – a problem that would often plague his early years. But no matter – the pants went into the wash, and I had fallen in love well before he peed into my lap.
At first he fought bitterly with Valentine, the dog who would become his constant companion, the subordinate to his alpha, because as frail and pathetic as, in many ways, he was, he was still the alpha in the house. The problems started early with the surfacing of his hip dysplasia and the ensuing hip surgery, but they did nothing to dampen his spirit. I often wondered if he actually felt pain when he limped, or if his drive to play simply overrode it; games of fetch would continue far past the point when he stopped moving agilely. The prescribed recovery process after his surgery even revealed another of his favorite things – fetch in the water. We would go out to Bobbit Hole, a big swimming hole at a bend in the Eno River, and throw sticks for him until we actually worried about his ability to walk the mile and a half back to the car. He would often bring the stick back, drop it in the water, and bark for us to throw it, of course not realizing that while it was within his reach, it was well out of ours.
The exhaustion would hit when we got home, when he would practically fall down in front of his water bowl and then put his whole face into it, splattering more water around himself than he drank. In more energetic moments, he would eat in courses, grabbing as much food as possible into his mouth, toting it to the next room, and then eating it bit by bit in there. Valentine, ever the graceful girl, never picked up any of these habits – they belonged to Archie, and Archie alone. She never fought for his toys, ran after a stick, followed him when he jumped up on our sleeping heads during nighttime thunderstorms.
What was it about him? I suppose that if you’ve ever owned a dog, it needs no explanation. The silky smoothness of the fur on the top of his head, the warm, earthy smell of his ears and paws, the black fur like eyeliner right around his eyes. He had such a personality, that dog did. His emotions were always written clearly on his face, in his eyes. Desperation when he wanted his toy thrown, insolence when he deliberately ignored being called, fear during storms, happiness when I would come home late and he would pad up to me ploddingly, his head down, his tail making big, sweeping wags behind him.
I remember a moment with him from when I was only 17 and he was still a puppy, far away from the 95-pound dog he would grow into. I had stayed up late to watch a movie, so I was the last one to take him outside. It was a cold, clear winter night, the sort of night when the stars twinkle more than usual and even the air seems to shimmer with the promise of frost. After wandering around the yard for a while he sat down on the grassy part in the center of the yard and I knelt down with him, as close to his warm puppy body as possible. It’s all mixed together for me now, the chill of the air, his warmth, the stars, with his little face right in the middle of it. Brown and black, floppy ears, soft fur, really, he never changed. However many more memories I have of him now, somehow I’m left with that one standing out in my mind, a moment of peace, a moment at the beginning of a life that had already and would continue to add nothing but joy to mine during the all too brief time that they overlapped.
Thanks, Archie. Love you, boo.