Inspired by a friend Moke
The front page of our newspaper here in Hawaii says: “Lucky you live in Paradise.” It’s a cliché, I know. But I do feel lucky to live here. Autumn in Hawaii doesn’t drum up remembrances of autumn leaves though, and despite tomorrow being Halloween, the day dawned crystal clear with cerulean skies, despite being hot. With Dylan, my golden retriever boy in tow, I headed off to Kapiolani Cancer Treatment Center to meet my therapy dog group for a holiday visit. He and I had spent some one-on-one time in the shower today with some suds, and after the beautiful blow dry my wife gave his blonde coat, the result was, “Oh la la,” especially since his costume today was a “Dr. Barker” blue smock with goldens printed on it. His crowning glory was his somewhat realistic looking stethoscope draped around his big neck. In fact, he was drop-dead gorgeous dressed as Dr. Barker.
As I was checking our group into the facility, Janice the head nurse, gave me a piece of paper with 315A written on it. “She’s the young cancer patient from Japan, Moke. She can’t speak English. Name’s Yasuko. She has a Golden at home and is hoping there’s one in your group today. I’ve been hoping you and Dylan would show.”
Dylan and I worked slowly from room to room, asking every room if they would want a doggie visit. It was slow going as it seemed like everybody wanted to visit with Dr. Barker today. Leaving 313, and looking for 315A, it was impossible not to notice the handmade sign taped to the wall above the plaque for 315A with scotch tape: “Golden Retriever, please stop here.”
She was sitting in a chair in the doorway when she spotted us. She was about twenty years old and completely bald, with a scarf tied round her head. Seeing Dylan, her face lit up and she threw her arms out as if reaching for a life preserver. Dylan saw her arms outstretched and made a beeline for her, stuffing his big golden head right in her lap. A solitary tear fell from her eye landing on his golden head. Being a retriever, his hair is a bit water-resistant, and that tear stayed right there, big as day, glistening. Being a guy and not doing “emotions” really well, my knees got weak, and I had the feeling I was about to lose it, so I smiled engagingly and tossed the leash to her and was outta there. I fled to the cafeteria – didn’t come back for thirty minutes to collect my boy (and hoping I had missed all the waterworks, if there had been any). Dillon wasn’t overjoyed to see me as he was busy cuddling with Yasuko. That looked like something that came naturally to them.
A few weeks later with “Mele Kalikimaka” (the Hawaiian Christmas song) playing on the car radio as I parked in the lot of the Cancer Center, I focused my attention on Dylan. “Was my boy handsome or what, dressed as Santa Paws?” Thinking of Yasuko, I had rehearsed some Japanese to use with her today. “O Genki desu ka?” was the phrase my Japanese wife had written on a recipe card for me and I had been faithfully practicing that phrase in the car, over and over again. trying to keep it straight in my brain until I could say it to her, hopefully correctly. Again, I found the handmade sign: “Golden Retriever, Please Stop Here” scotch-taped above the 315A sign. She saw me coming and smiled at me, no, she grinned at Dylan. When I said, “O Genki desu ka? (straight from my brain – hey, I was congratulating myself for remembering) she covered her mouth and giggled, then smiled brightly at me and returned, “Genki desu, arigato.”
After pleasantries, I handed her the leash and headed off to the nurse’s station. “Hey Janice, our young Japanese friend looks great today with that curly hair. I heard her boyfriend is staying here for Christmas and they sure look happy and content,” I said humming along with a Christmas carol playing on the piped-in music system. “Jani, I’ve been thinking about her these last few weeks and I’m so glad she is getting better.”
“Well, Moke,” she said, “Her hair is growing back since we stopped the chemo. We can’t help her anymore and she’s going downhill, fast. I sure hope she likes the curly look because it looks so cute on her, don’t you think? She has been looking forward to seeing your Dylan for days. So glad you are here for her today!”
Later, when I returned to get my boy, I found them on her bed with both of Yasuko’s arms around him. She was caressing his muzzle softly. I stood there for a minute two watching them bask in the glow of the small Christmas tree on her counter. Christmas was a time to be melancholy. Dylan sealed their friendship by licking her face. Could he sense how much she needed him right now? Could he tell how important his dogginess was at this very moment? Quietly watching their interaction, I thought to myself, yep, I think my Dylan does know.