Memories are odd: that which we think we can never forget fades, while an inconsequential, rote event of daily life buries within you, ushering you back to the past.
I took my dog Shiloh to the park thousands of times, but I remember the events of a cold winter's day as if they happened yesterday.
As we approached the park's gate, Shiloh sat down and looked up at me. His chocolate-flavored eyes gazed up into mine, infusing me with that special breed of love known only to dog-lovers. I patted him on his forehead, feeling that familiar, comforting indentation just between his eyebrows.
As I opened the gate, my well-behaved German Shepherd Dog became possessed by evil playtime spirits and he darted forward - almost tearing my arm off. I dropped the leash to save my arm, and watched as all six feet of leather unfurled like a live wire behind him; whipping back and forth, picking up mud and who knew what else.
I called Shiloh back, pulling a tattered pink and green disk out of my pocket and waving it up in the air: the Frisbee, his most favorite toy in the whole entire world. More than Mr. Lion, more than the wood bed frame and more even than the newly-adopted kitten, Shiloh loved his Frisbee. I could get him to do anything for a simple throw.
Like running back to me, which he did as soon as he caught sight of his much-loved disk. From across the field and coming towards me at a full run, Shiloh's eyes never left the Frisbee. They positively bored into it: I half-believed its growing hole was a result of a laser-like ocular operation and not just a consequence of his sharp teeth.
Shiloh skidded to a stop about two feet in front of me, his tongue languishing to one side as his telltale sign of joy - drool - formed on his lower lip.
Shiloh sometimes suffered from selective hearing when his Frisbee was in play. As he stood there, not sitting, his drool gathered mass and then slowly, slowly stretched out into a long thin string of gelatinous disgustingness that finally - plop! - fell to the ground and woke him from his reverie.
"Good," I said, quickly giving the Frisbee a warm-up throw.
Shiloh, using his powerful back legs to push off, easily reaching top speed in three or four strides. I watched him run, run, run and then - pounce! From my distance I couldn't see it happen, but I knew instinct was kicking in: holding the Frisbee tight in his powerful jaws, Shiloh was shaking it vigorously. Killing it, really.
As he trotted back to me, his ears up and alert, his chest swinging with pride, Shiloh gave the Frisbee a few more shakes of his head - added insurance towards its imminent demise.
I grabbed the Frisbee from his jaws, noticing with regret that the hole in its center was larger than before. It would soon go to the hospital; all killed toys spent their final days on top of the refrigerator. It was purgatory for plushies.
"You ready for another, Puppy?"
I let it rip: throwing out my arm, flicking my wrist and then artfully spinning the Frisbee off my fingers at the last possible second...
It was a thing of beauty.
His shoulders reached forward and back, pumping with effort as he gained speed and power and then, just as he approached the Frisbee's apex, engaged his back legs to push himself up and off into the air. The loud snap as his jaws closed on the Frisbee was like a thunderclap, followed by a dull thud when his 98lb body hit the ground.
Shiloh loped back to me for a repeat performance. I indulged him. Then again and again, far into the night, until he was so tired that he dropped at my feet panting but happy, the Frisbee loose between his jaws.
Life with Shiloh went on in this way: chasing, catching, chasing, catching. Over the years parks changed; pristine suburban fields gave way to dusty urban corrals, which finally became a few acres of canine heaven in the hills of Los Angeles. Frisbees were eventually replaced with tennis balls, but the core of his playtime regimen remained basically unchanged.
Until a hike left him limping for days. Stairs became difficult, and then impossible. Soon exercise consisted of boring walks at the park: Shiloh placated his playtime spirit by carrying the balls he could no longer chase. Before long we stopped going to the park altogether. Walks around the block, to the café - that was his limit.
My puppy had gotten old.
I woke one beautiful July morning to find Shiloh motionless in the office, a strand of old, hardened drool extending from his mouth to the floor - he had been there for a while, unable to move. His breathing was labored, his eyes unfocused. I asked him if he wanted to go to the park, wanted to go for a walk, anything to make him get up. I begged him, I offered him treats, people food, I even used my angry voice. Finally I asked him if he wanted to go play Frisbee. Nothing. He wouldn't - he couldn't - get up.
And he never did. But there was a moment during his brief illness in which he seemed aware of me. He was on the floor of the vet's operating room, surrounded by his dog bed and an old squeaky toy I had brought from home. As I sat down on that cold, hard floor, his ears perked up ever so slightly, and his eyes, unglazed for the first time in days, found mine. I laid down next to him so I could whisper in his ear. I just kept telling him what a good dog he was and that he was going to go play Frisbee really soon. He was a good dog, I told him. He was the best dog.