I grew up in the country and we always had a dog, oftentimes two of them. When I left home for the city in the fall of 1975, I felt it was not fair to have a dog while I was living in an apartment, working a full-time job. I could not really have afforded one anyway, looking back on it now. In 1980, I got a cat, Gussie Fink-Nottle, who was later followed by Gabby Glittermoon, and now, Lillie Rose Magnolia. I’d had a cat since I was 4 years old and I was lonely for animal company. That worked very well for the next 29 years. Until finally, in 2009, I was free of regular employment and could no longer stand being without a dog.
I began searching online for a rescue dog and found one that really appealed to me from a tiny little group specializing in terriers in Virginia’s Northern Neck. I filled out the application and just after I sent it in was informed that the dog had already been adopted. But, would I like to look at this other dog? She and the first one had been picked up as strays together in southwest Virginia. In all honestly, her photo did not set my heartstrings fluttering, but I agreed to meet her anyway. So we drove about 40 minutes out of town and met a very shy little girl, who looked kind of like of a honey-colored Benji. She was a terrier mix, pretty cute, and though I did not feel a clap of thunder go off or some other sign of instantaneous love, I found myself agreeing to adopt her. Her rescue name was “Ella.” I thought it didn’t fit.
I named her Emma P Buttercup. “Emma” for, of course, Jane Austen’s heroine – and it was sort of close to “Ella.” “Buttercup” because it is one of the most cheerful of flowers and it reminded me of warm childhood days spent with my grandmother, holding buttercups under my chin and relentlessly asking the question of her, “do I like butter?” The “P” was always intended to be non-specific – you could make it whatever you wanted it to be. And, though this little girl certainly had a rough start and was very leery of people, after a time she began to bloom into a dog who was filled with joy. Long before then, I was in deep myself; I loved her with every part of my being.
I may have rescued her but she got me through countless dark moments and gave me so much more than I ever gave her. She loved us both but, at heart, she was really my dog.
I’ve shared many pictures and little stories about Emma over the past almost 12 years. Dog of my heart.
Last Sunday night, a week ago, I had to let my Emma go. The decision was easy, given the circumstances; but nothing about the “after” is. I miss every little thing about her happy presence. The clickety-click of her toenails on the floor, tapping out her excitement; her sweet brown eyes that pierced your heart when she looked at you; her astonishing exuberance when I walked in the back door, whether I’d been gone 5 minutes or 5 days. She was so gentle with her beloved toys that she still had the ones I had originally given her back in 2009 – they are perfectly intact. She would eat anything that even marginally appeared to be edible and some things that were not. She celebrated our homecomings by racing in circles around the back yard as fast as her legs could carry her. She did not ever like riding in the car, shaking like a leaf until she was sure we were homebound. I think she was afraid I might leave her somewhere. She would feverishly turn around 47 and a half times before she would finally plop down in her bed, her head on the edge, her eyes looking right at me until she dropped off to sleep. Lately, I have missed seeing her nose peeking through the fence when I pulled into the driveway or going on our walks together every morning. It’s a visceral feeling of loneliness, deep in your gut. You’ve all had that, I am sure.
I spent last week feeling hollow to my core. What do you do when you lose not only your heart but also your shadow? I know from experience that my heart has resilience and that with time it will heal. But you can’t really sew your shadow back on, despite what Peter Pan thought. And I miss it terribly.
Last Friday afternoon, we went and picked up her ashes. When we got home, I gave Patrick the house keys and told him I wanted to walk around the garden with Emma. We walked to the corner where there is a holly tree and I started talking to her: “here’s where you used to do so and so; and this is where we filled the bird feeders together and you ate all the seed that fell on the ground; and this is where the Possum family lives, remember how you loved sniffing around there?” The tears finally came. We sat on the bench together, just she and I, in Vinnie’s garden and I cried and cried; there was a multitude of birds at the feeder just a few feet away. It was very cold and clear, the sun warmed my face, a beautiful day.
The morning after she died, Patrick told me that he had lain awake during the night, feeling sad and thinking about Emma. And then he pictured her in a field full of buttercups, standing under a big shade tree. She saw me walking towards her and then she saw him, too. And she took off, racing towards us, through the buttercups. In heaven.