Kooter was not his real name. But it was the name friends gave him when they saw his backyard collection of rusty 10 speed bicycles and equally rusty 55-gallon drums. His boom box playing AC/DC’s Back in Black album on repeat often rested atop these drums while he sat indoors and let the neighbors enjoy it.
Lou and I had a mutual distaste for Kooter. Lou’s displeasure was expressed by furiously barking at him every time he and his ill-fitting tighty whiteys were on the front porch fishing through the mailbox or getting the day’s paper.
One summer morning I was out in the front yard before work. Lou was mid-pee when I knew Kooter and his underpants must be getting the day’s news.
I went to yell at Lou for the ruckus he was causing when I noticed he was peeing blood.
“Urinary tract infection,” I thought dragging him, still barking, into the house.
I called my sister to ask her to take him to the vet, so I would not be late for work.
It was a few hours later the vet would tell me of a grave disease with a name I cannot remember but with consequences that meant Lou was, in short, bleeding to death – internally.
No one ever quite knew what breed Lou was; the best guess was always – a lot of them. As a puppy, I found him at a citywide garage sale where the Grosse Point Humane Society had a booth.
With time he grew into a scruffy mutt with multi-colored hair going every which way, one of which was, directly in front of his eyes. Lou was the kind of dog with a fondness for turkey reubens and Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch; he was missing a tooth from a skirmish he had started confidently but ended poorly.
Lou and I were inseparable. My mom would always tell me, “That dog does everything but talk.” He was about two years old the day the vet told me he would likely be gone before the week was over.
The composure I maintained at the vet was replaced by hysterical sobs the moment I sat on my parent’s couch. From there, I remember three things:
- Crying myself to the point of hyperventilation
- My parents trying desperately to console me
- My dad, somehow working around the sobs, to tell me the story of his first time skiing
I do not where this skiing trip took place, but I remember his trip did not include instructions on turning, stopping or some of the important differences between the green, blue and black runs.
The initial few seconds of his intro to skiing went ok. A bit wobbly but upright, moving towards the bottom and no signs of imminent danger – until – the trails in front of him split.
A green run went one way and a black the other.
“Which to pick,” I remember him saying.
And then, of course, “and how the hell do I get to the one I do pick?”
Time did not allow for thoughtful consideration and gravity had its own ideas; my dad found himself on the black run.
His story from here involved a lot of skis, legs, arms and poles moving in directions they are not naturally meant to while nearby skiers screamed their thoughts at him regarding his trail selection and skiing abilities.
It was when he was flying past the chair lift at the bottom of the hill that he began to understand the implications of his next problem – he did not know how to stop.
He flew past the lift lines, the ticket counter and the ski shops. He was still going full speed when he approached the restaurants. He was doing the same when came upon the parking lot and the 1962 Buick parked directly in front of his path.
The Buick wasn’t going to move and well, neither was my dad.
It was his chest that slammed into the side of it first.
And when it did his ski poles and arms heaved upward and smacked down, right on top of, the Buick’s roof. His skis appeared to be daintily tucked under the car to anyone who had not witnessed all of this – which was no one.
My dad had come to his first official stop on skis.
My uncontainable laughter erupted between my equally uncontainable sobs.
And it was in this moment I realized this – happiness and pain do not exist in exclusivity. They are both available and very likely in existence at all times, in all moments, in all people and this understanding cannot only yield wisdom and comfort – but perhaps bring a bit of much needed joy.