Tell Me You Love Me

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She was a rescue dog.

My best friend Tamela found her twelve years ago in rural Lancaster County, South Carolina, running loose, just skin and bones, ravenous for food and affection. She had the spots of a Dalmatian, but the body and markings of a Pointer. We hypothesized that a southern hunter had let her go because she would not point.

About 6 months old, she was so skittish and hyper that Tamela christened her ‘Rowdy.’

I had been saying that I wanted a ‘big’ dog. I grew up with a German Shepherd, and although I loved our small miniature Schnauzer Sadie, I longed for a big, serious dog. My husband, Andrew, was not on board. With two active boys in middle school, and two jobs that required frequent travel, we did NOT need two dogs.

But she came to live with us anyway. Andrew did not speak to Tamela and me for about a month.

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In the first two months we had her, she had mites, worms and mange. Her beautiful white fur fell out in big clumps. She was not house-broken. The vet bills and maintenance care were substantial, definitely not helping to win Andrew over.

Although she was the larger dog, she was the Beta to Sadie’s Alpha. Little 15-pound Sadie was THE BOSS. Rowdy took a wide berth around her for several months.

We think that she had probably been beaten, because she hunkered down on all fours, cowering, if we so much as raised our voices at her.

After several months of applying special cream to her skin, her fur returned. She filled out, and, VOILA, she was beautiful. So beautiful that people stopped us in the street on neighborhood walks to tell us so.

We had a tough time training her. She never got the hang of heeling. We had to use a choke collar for years, and still, she yanked your arm so hard it ached for hours after a walk.

She loved to run. She ran loops around the backyard, wearing a path around the patio and into the trees.

She was so fast she caught rabbits and dropped them at the back door.

The squirrels, along with a certain chipmunk, tormented her daily.

If you left the screen porch door open, she would make a break for it. The boys would run down the street after her, screaming her name. Sometimes we were two miles into McAlpine Creek Park before we would finally catch her and lure her home.

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She had the softest ears. I could rub those ears for hours.

When I was sick, or just tired and strung out after a long week, there was nothing better than to lay on the couch with a good book and her at my feet. She was a big dog, and I’m a tall girl, but we fit. We would always fit.

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Like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, she had her own special spot on the couch. And WOE to you if you sat in it. She would whine and circle the coffee table annoyingly until you were smart enough to move.

She hated it when there were fights in the house. With two teenage boys, there were some number of fights. She would cower under the table or go into the bathroom to hide until the yelling stopped.

She was scared of thunderstorms. I guess they sounded a lot like fights.

One eye was rimmed with black eyelashes, the other with white.

She was always with the boys and their friends when they were home. In fact, I am fairly certain she got high from second-hand pot smoke while hanging on the porch or the patio with the gang that frequented our house in those wild and crazy years.

Andrew came to adore her, so much so, that when it rained, he would hold an umbrella over her while she did her business in the back yard. (Seriously, I am not making that up.)

Although a passive pussycat most of the time, one thing made her absolutely nuts. Bicyclers. Yep, people on bicycles. She hated them. She went nuts when they passed us on a walk, teeth showing, growling and all her hackles up. Who knows why, but she definitely had some unfinished business with a bicycler.

There is so much more to tell about her. About our life as a family together, in those very precious, swift, and formative years. But I will stop.

She passed away yesterday, and our hearts are heavy. Oh so heavy.

But it was her time.

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She had cancer, and we were put on death watch at the beginning of February. We took turns staying at home to be with her. About the same time, I signed up for a Lenten online writing and photography series through the Abbey of the Arts. I did not connect the two until now.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and is the desert season of waiting. Lent starts with the reminder that death is always with us. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” St. Francis of Assisi referred to death as “sister” in his famous poem Canticle of Creation. Instead of something to fear and dread at the end of our days, he teaches us that death may be seen as a companion along each step of our lives, heightening our awareness of life’s beauty and calling us to live more fully. Walk with “Sister Death” and you will learn to live with more gratitude, cherishing each breath, each day, and those of the ones you love.

We walked and sat with Sister Death for the last six weeks. Feeling her presence so close certainly does open your eyes to both the beauty and the grief that is this most marvelous life.

If there is a heaven, I know there are dogs in it. And Rowdy will be there, running free. I just hope the bicyclers keep a smart eye out.

We did not plan to have Rowdy in our lives, but she nosed her way in and we were changed forever.

She taught my sons – she taught us all – how to love better. And that is one great epitaph.

She puts her cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
she turns upside down, her four paws
in the air
and her eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” she says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
she gets to ask.
I get to tell.

– Mary Oliver

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7 thoughts on “Tell Me You Love Me

  1. I’m so sorry and sad for you. Losing a companion like Rowdy is the same as losing a human member of the family. Be at peace. You gave her a good life.

  2. Twelve years. Twelve. Who among us knows we will have twelve more years/months/weeks/days/hours? If each of us gave each other the kindness and solace that Rowdy gave her extended family, twelve years would no doubt be enough to change this world.

    A beautiful tribute, Jeri.

    Namaste.

  3. Your story and the words you used to tell it have the tears rolling down my cheeks. You wrote a beautiful tribute not just to Rowdy, but to the nature of love itself. I am so sorry that you had to let her go. I know the hole in your life feels immense. I hope that soon the Rowdy memories that bring tears will soon bring you remembered joys.

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