His eyes were still closed though he was semi-awake. He was so relaxed, so comfortable, so peaceful, there was almost no need to open them. It had been a long time since a nap felt so restful. Lately they had been short bursts of sleep. He couldn’t get comfortable. Couldn’t stay comfortable. Felt sick when he rolled on his side. What’s going on? Kaydon wondered. None of those things were happening to him now.
As semi-awake ebbed, giving way to fully awake, he remembered. He wasn’t back there anymore. He opened his eyes, and there, right there, as he knew he would be, was Hugo.
“Well good morning, sunshine!” Hugo said lightheartedly. “We were all wondering when you’d wake up.”
We? Who was we? And how long had he slept? And Hugo’s voice. So strange to hear him talk, though the tone – that joking, teasing way is just how he was back there. It’s just that now he had a voice and words that let him do it in more ways. And how did he understand it all? It must be the way Kevin and Simon and all the humans spoke back there but he didn’t understand it then. So many questions. And so much happiness to see his friend again. He didn’t know what to do first.
“Lots of questions, eh?” Hugo asked Kaydon.
“Well, yes, as a matter of fact. First, what is it we’re doing talking to each other? How do we understand each other and why? We never did that before. Your voice sounds so different to your bark. And so does mine!”
Hugo chuckled to himself. This Kaydon, his voice, didn’t surprise him at all. Kaydon was so adventurous, so curious back there – something he always envied – so it made perfect sense that he’d start off using his newfound language here to ask questions.
“I’m afraid you started with the one question that none of us has the answer to, Kaydon. The only thing I know is that we each arrived with the ability to speak. It certainly makes things easier than figuring out which bark to use, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what to think yet. It sounds so strange when I talk but I understand so much more than when we just barked at or sniffed each other. So much is clearer I guess, when we can talk to each other. It’s going to take a while to get used to this, this talking. Now I wish I knew how to do this when we were back there.”
“Yeah, I wished that too for a while,” admitted Hugo. “Now I’m sort of grateful. Who knows how many times they were saying things about us that we didn’t want to hear? Like getting a bath. Or going to the vet. Or getting our nails clipped. Remember how much you hated that?”
Remembering very well, Kaydon smiled. Then there was a silence.
“You left me Hugo. You left, and I didn’t get to tell you goodbye. You were so grouchy and tired the last little while, and I left you alone. I didn’t know you would be coming here. I thought we lived back there forever until you showed up in that dream. But back then, I missed you so much after you left.”
“I didn’t know what was happening to me either, Kaydon. I just knew I was more tired than I’d ever been before. I just wanted to sleep more deeply than I’d ever done before. I know you, and Kevin, and Simon, you were around me, loving me. Knowing what we know now, I understand why you were confused. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to say goodbye. I just didn’t know I was going anywhere. With you it was different, wasn’t it? You had that nice lady. You didn’t know where you were going but you knew you were leaving, and the she was going to help you leave.”
“Yeah, that true I guess. What you missed was the sadness. You left kind of suddenly. Even though you were sick, none of us expected you to go. They knew I was dying – that’s the word isn’t it? They knew it for a while. They took me to a doctor who wasn’t our regular doctor. It was a place where all the pets were sick. We went there a few times and every time we came back, Kevin cried the whole way home. And I knew I was sick for a long time – or it seemed like a long time. Every day was a little worse. I guess you were lucky, in a weird way, not knowing what was coming next, and not seeing Kevin and Simon so sad for such a long time.”
“I suppose that’s true. But don’t you feel it now? Their sadness is so strong. I haven’t been back there with you but I have been feeling their sadness for a while. Remember, that’s how I knew you were getting ready to join us. I didn’t know when but the sadness was the thing. It grew. It became longer. It became colder. I can’t imagine what the house was like while you were sick. They loved you so much. They loved both of us I know but I can’t think what it must have been like to be sad about you while you were still there, for that long.”
As Hugo stopped talking, Kaydon realized he did feel something from back there. What was it? He had all these words he could use now. Grief. Pain. Loss. He’d never felt those emotions before much less know what they were called. He was so very sad for Kevin and Simon. He wanted to go back there right now and lick their faces or make them chase him with his nasty old stuffed animal.
“It gets better Kaydon,” Hugo said, sensing and remembering what it felt like when he arrived, whenever that was. “This is apparently quite normal for humans, as unsettling as it is for us. We always want our humans to be happy and yet, they have so many more emotions that come out. It diminishes for a while, then something happens back there to make it more intense, and then it goes away again for a time. You get used to it.” Hugo thought it best to wait to let Kaydon see for himself how the reunions help. How they help the dogs understand that it’s not forever, the pain, the grief, the sense of loss. That one day they’ll be together again and share nothing but happiness and joy.
“Oh, I hope so, because this sucks.”
So Kaydon, thought Hugo. He imagined him being a little pouty and using slang, and he was thrilled with every bit of it.
“OK, now my obvious next question is: where in the heck are we anyway? And why don’t I feel bad. And I get the whole talking thing, sort of, well not really but as long as you don’t get it either, I’m good. But there are other things I want to know, and I bet you’ve got the answers.”
How he’d missed this. The Kaydon who always needed to know. Who dared to ring their doorbell? Who insulted them by walking their dog in front of HIS house? What were these invading machines driving down the alley at the end of the day? He was so inquisitive. So strong. So brave. He didn’t have the words for it back there. And if he was honest with himself, he would have to admit that sometimes these things annoyed him. But here, now, he was overjoyed that his buddy, his best friend, was with him, even if they weren’t going to be waiting on the same person. He’d have to add that to the growing list of things that he needed to tell him. Then he caught himself. That Driver needed to tell him.
With that thought, he said to Kaydon, “Since you wonder what the heck this place is, don’t you want a look around and meet the others?”
“Sure!” Kaydon couldn’t wait to explore, and Hugo knew it. Just like back there.
“OK, buddy, let’s go.” And just like back there, without knowing where he was going, a fearless Kaydon took the lead, in front of an admiring and overjoyed Hugo.