Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Hospital Dream

Something a little more personal tonight. Some thoughts about what went into writing Will's Red Coat and how we got where we are today.

In my sleep, I often return to a night from last April.

The dream comes for me now and then, and I am transported.

In my dream, I am sleeping. Sleeping so deeply it feels like I am floating in a pool of death, black and still. Everything is calm. Then something changes and I'm propelled out of the depths, and I wake up not knowing where I am.

Again, this all takes place in my dream. And while I am still sleeping, I feel like I am opening my eyes.

Where am I?

There is something on my face. I feel like I cannot breathe. I panic and try to pull it off. A nurse appears and takes hold of my hands.

"Tom, it's okay."

Her voice is kindness itself. It is understanding.

I search her face. I have never seen her before. She can tell I am confused.

"You are okay. You have been under for hours."

I try to talk, but there is something over my mouth. I want to breathe.

Again, she holds my hands. "You have to leave it on. You cannot breathe without it."

"Where am I?" Although it doesn't come out like that. It comes out like a moan. The angel nurse understands, though.

"You were moved to ICU."

"I thought I was dead."

After three tries by me, she understands.

"We won't let that happen, but for a little while, we thought you were, too. Something tells me you won't let that happen either, Tom."

That's when I wake up. Always at the same point.

I often find myself back in that dream, in that bright room.

I remember a little more of it each time.

I was fighting for breath and rushed from dialysis when I passed, I'm told. I was out for a very long time, some of it induced by the doctors.

I don't know why I go back there. When I do, I travel across fields of emotions. There are tears and smiles. There is acceptance.

When I learned I had a monstrous breathing machine on to help me; I asked the nurse for my phone.

"You can't call anyone right now, Tom. You need to keep the mask on. It is how you are breathing."

"I don't want to call anyone."

I had to repeat it so she could understand me.

"Then why do you want your phone?"

"I want you to take my picture so I can send it to my friends, so they can see I am okay... and handsome as ever. They worry about me."

She laughed, and I smiled and gave her the thumbs up, but you can't tell from the photo she took.

I don't know why my dreams take me back to this night, but it happens about once a month. They don't frighten me. It's just the opposite. I find a curious comfort when I return. The quiet. The starkness with all that flooding light as I emerge from the depths. There is an understanding that I am alive when maybe I shouldn't be.

I think perhaps I return to that place when asleep because there is no way to comprehend it all when I am awake. In slumber, I can float through it all and pick up a lost piece here and there.

I know there are no answers, although some pretend to know what they cannot possibly. It is all part of a mystery.

The other night, after I finished reading the opening of Will's Red Coat, I pointed out that I wrote it as two different people. The first draft before my extended hospital stay; the second draft much later, when I could finally think straight again.

When considering that strange night when I woke up, and they were emptying my lungs of fluid that was drowning me with a needle longer than any I had ever seen, it felt like I owned all I had ever known but was also starting from an entirely new place.

I would leave the hospital a month after that night and Atticus would leave me twelve days after my return. That's when the dream, or memory, came most often.

When I think of everything that has changed since that May Day when Will arrived, all that living, all that work, the struggle, the growth and joy and surrender, and then the parting, and my almost leaving, followed by Atti's leaving, I realize I'm changed from who I was before it all.

There is much that went into writing Will's Red Coat. There was the old me and the renewed me.

In the moments before we go on stage or in front of a crowded bookstore during each event of our upcoming tour, I will revisit all of this. I'll carry it with me when I stand before everyone. I will think of dear Will, resolute Atticus, and that night I go back to.

I am a charmed man to have experienced so much. I feel wealthy to be able to carry it with me.

In the next few days, our tour will be announced, and it will become even more real. After each event, after all that excitement, when we get back to our hotel room, and I turn out the light, I get the feeling I will say my prayers, and when they are sent off, I'll whisper to Atticus and Will, we did well tonight, my friends. We did well.

I look forward to seeing many of you out on tour during the few weeks we are on the road.

Onward, by all means.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

A Letter About Will's Red Coat

In the next week or so, advance reader’s copies of “Will’s Red Coat” will be making their way across the country to media outlets and bookstores to give them a preview of what is to come. (A.R.C.s are a paperback version of the book that is 98% done. It is used as a marketing tool.) 

In the past a member of our publishing team would write a letter to accompany the A.R.C.  However, this time I was asked to write it.  I thought I’d share it here with all of you this morning.

Dear Reader,
Just outside, a soft December snow falls. Evergreens, birches, and maples are coated in white. Even the lone old black ash tree that has been dying for years is made to look young again. Such is the magic of transformation through Nature.  
I no longer look at our backyard the way I used to before Will came along. He changed the way I see the simplest things, reminding me that they are often miraculous themselves. 
You see, Atticus and I always had the grandeur of the mountaintops, climbing close to three thousand of them in a decade. But Will helped me to recognize the extraordinary in what we often take for granted. The optimistic yellow of dandelions in the spring, the nostalgic smell of summer shade, the crunch of fallen leaves during autumn in New England, and the purity of icicles in the winter. They were all gifts that helped a fifteen-year-old deaf dog who struggled to walk and see—who had lost everything, including his home, trust, and hope—to regain himself. 
I brought Will here to give him a place to die with dignity. Those early days were rough for all of us, but on his way to dying, he did something no one expected. He chose to live again.
What was to be a brief two- or three-month stay grew into two and a half years of wonder. When the time finally came to say goodbye to Will, I was surprised by how right it all felt. Instead of grief I had nothing but reverence for a friend, who in the end, got it right.  

Will left behind a legacy where hundreds of thousands of his fans were touched by one bright soul. None of those more than me. Each day when I look up above my desk and see his red coat hanging there, I smile and think that Will, who was once an afterthought discarded in a kill shelter, was transformed into something extraordinary by Nature, and by love, faith, and friendship.
On the night before he died in my arms, I knelt next to Will and told him I would tell his story. I’m honored to have kept that promise. 
Onward, by all means,
Tom Ryan

You can pre-order Will's Red Coat any number of ways. It will be available wherever fine books are sold. But you can also pre-order a personalized copy of it from my local bookstore, White Birch Books.