Francis Albert Crosbie, a twenty pound Jack Russell Terrier, died this September, the fifteenth, at 7:45 PM, after struggling with a variety of debilitating illnesses, old age being the worst of them.
No newspaper would take my money to eulogize him, so what follows is a tribute to my dearest friend, the great killer of squeaky toys; the outrageous barker, high jumper, crazy-kisser, player of intricate games, snack-lover, loyal companion and absolute love of my life.
Frank had severe arthritis and could not walk more than a couple of steps near the end. He had also become, at his great age, deeply gentle and warm. So much so that at the beginning of this summer, I brought him outside by the big Maple tree (that overlooked him on the bed in his den of many blankets and toys) and let my mind wander long enough for a skunk to slip into the yard and a foot away from him. Panicking, as he had been so badly hosed before, I went to seize him just as the skunk waddled over and pressed his nose to Frank’s in a kiss.
A raccoon would follow suit in the following weeks, even the masses of wasps that arrived with the rot of the crabapples let him be. Leaves and flowers fell out of nowhere and latched on to him. “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be, close to you,” I often sang, embarrassing him, I think.
In the time of his dying, Francis became inexpressibly dear. I carried him everywhere and bathed him; he was blind and still in love with the sun I would hold him up to and watch him as he took it into his eyes, like a little god, taking milk.
A rugged and scrappy dog, he had never liked being picked up or babied: even his toys were for demolishing (taped in his memory book are two snake tongues and a pair of plastic pig lips) or hurling games.
How then to express his sweet weight on the stairs as I sang the only song he seemed to like anymore, the Now Jesus was a sailor section (and only that section) of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
His wasting legs still in the bathwater, wearing bubble-pantaloons; his exhausted paw on my face, once; once, his head on my shoulder.
His very first stumble on the streetcar which caused me to cry out, “My baby,” which caused a girl to cry out too (whomever she is, I thank her.) Which caused me to carry him home and venture out only one more time and become vexed when he wouldn’t walk, because I was losing him, a fact I quickly erased for its dreadful pain.
I lost him in bits, and so I could never see the whole picture. His mammoth dignity and strength forbade me from pitying him. He was the same, I reasoned. He just needs more help.
Two nights before he died, he coughed up blood I still keep on the pillow beside me, more valuable than John Keats’s tubercular relic, though if my dog could read, and of course, I believed that he could, at least a bit, he would have liked the young poet’s artistic stubbornness, and kindness. And this, “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they/ Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—” from “Ode to Autumn.”
He followed me into two springs after a death sentence (squamous cell carcinoma,) and through the degeneration of his limbs, his laboured breath and ribs showing through, his near-deafness and, I think, total blindness. His growing inability to be happy or restful or wag his tail: cropped into a handle when he was a puppy, his tail, like Byron’s sword, outwore its sheath revealing a nub of cartilage.
There is more, but it is personal, and my dog was nothing if not modest, never even grooming himself in front of me, never committing the riotous indignities of Louis, our adored family dog (a gorgeous yellow cur who ate charcoal briquettes and unmentionables.)
My father is very ill. He is blind and has dementia; he lives in a nursing home in Montreal. One day he asked me why he was there, and I told him the terrible story of his late night fall, the ensuing stroke and brain bleed, and the extent of his injuries.
“Christ, I’m a wreck!” my father said, and as I write about Frankie, it seems so clear that he was in distress however carefully I administered medication and care.
I could not see the forest for this mighty tree.
Francis and I lived together for seventeen years, and were never apart, in total, for longer than two months during this time.
I moved with him to Parkdale after my relationship, with a man who also loved, and who named, Francis, failed. I was a spoiled sort of cat person before Frank, and was thrown into the fire of rough and tumble ball playing (I moved here for the size of the yard,), and several walks a day past and through often violent addicts and their unleashed, Cerberus-spirited dogs.
Of emergency visits to the vet and scare upon scare; of learning to cook for an elderly man with necessarily picky taste; of finding the impossible, good sitters, and ultimately, scarcely moving as time went on, in case he needed me.
I became tough for him straight away, because he was a loudmouth who got tough for me.
I talked to him incessantly, inside and out, and we liked adventuring in our way: no upscale cottage-weeks and kayaking for us!
But he did swim at Pebble Beach, with a pack of German Shepherds he ran with one summer, and rode in a psychedelic van with them. Best of all, my maniac, who only went off-leash at fourteen and after a very nerve-wracking training course devised by me and one of the million books I read over the years, ran with the big dogs in an abandoned football field, an enormous grassy bowl he tore through wildly, running back up to me now and then to see if I was OK, and if I was sure it was OK for him to go this mental.
He rode on my lap in a 1956 Cadillac convertible and on an airplane; in a canoe on Lake Ontario in a jaunty scarf; on a subway, bus and streetcar, and many cars, including one driven by me when I was getting my license: he rode shotgun and he, a detester of car trips, seemed chuffed for both of us.
He came to one of my poetry readings and lay across Anansi publisher Sarah MacLaughlin and poet Karen Solie’s legs; he came to St. Michael’s College and watched me lecture, then posed with my class. His face filled a giant screen, during one of Nick Mount’s lectures about my book Missing Children, and he had several poems published, including one in the Globe and Mail, a newspaper that also featured him, and his packed suitcase (Sex Pistols hoodie, Blue Magic the blanket, and such toys as Sergeant Gomez, Mr. Pinky, and his ridiculous, beloved Gitmo) in a story about pet-sitters.
His last long walk was in the summer of 2015, after we went to the painter Margaux Williamson’s place and watched Casablanca with several of her friends, one of whom was Molly Ringwald, who scratched his neck throughout.
We did everything together. He came with me to have my hair trimmed, to vote, get a flu shot and visit art galleries.
We had picnics and went on walks so long we had to take taxis home; one New Year’s day, we got up at six and walked to Lake Ontario: there was no one around, just the blue ice and roiling water, the sky we loved. Moon chasers, we saw supermoons and harvest and blue and strawberry moons and, his last, what some First Nations tribes call the Moon When the Plums Turn Scarlet.
Francis leaves behind his best friends: my brother, sister, mother and father, and my uncle, David McGimpsey: the two of them called each other “Hoss.”
He leaves a legacy of love, and beauty and his teachings: what it is, to love someone more than yourself; what it is to be truly decent and kind; what genuine loyalty feels like, how truly fleeting is true beauty.
I do not know where he is now; where he went when the light vanished from and deep into his eyes.
But I pray he is running in a huge field with his long-departed Shepherd friends, napping on the clouds I saw him understand through the plane window and listening to me, occasionally, when I sing just for him, all broken up,
Like the drowning men who see him,
Forsaken, jagged, but grateful to God for giving me my only, the shining superstar I intend to find one fine night,
I will find you, I told my dying dog. And for the first time, went home without him, and slept where I sleep, curved around the negative space he has left behind, the echoes and devastating silence yet still,
There is life in the legend he left me and be good he tells me, as he, and all of his soft, fragrant beauty, escape me with every breath I take.
Goodbye Francis. You are the very best of friends, and you touched innumerable people and creatures with your charm, wit, bravery, and gentleness.
Until we meet again,