The Magic of Dogs
I kneel down at the crest of the meadow; the trail is winding up through the junipers; cutting through the grassland where cattle are roaming. I pause sitting back on the rocks that edge the trail leading towards the Pacific Crest. I’m tired, my shirt soaked with sweat clinging to my back. Joey my four-legged hiking partner is prancing at the edge of the leash, frenzied with the need to chase the cattle. He glances back at me, his sigh showing his displeasure at my not allowing him to herd. He licks at my hand, then glances back at them as though to remind me that he’s a cattle dog and that I’m interfering with the nature of things. I smile, kissing the top of his head, hugging him close I whisper a lullaby to calm his nerves. Joey my Joey, the best dingo dog there could be, Joey my Joey my heart belongs to thee.
He relaxes then, sinking onto his stomach in the cool grass of the meadow finally quieting but still watching the cattle, ready to pounce if I allow. We lay together, his head on my stomach listening to the wind rustle through the leaves, I bury my hands in his fur; his heartbeat steadying mine.
I can see my husband further up the ridge, he’s waiting in the shadows of the pine trees. From my vantage point, I can catch snippets of him chewing on the maple colored jerky that we bought on our road trip here. I watch as he sips his Dr. Pepper, and rests on the side of the trail. He’s lingering on purpose, giving Joey and me our space. He understands that this is our meditation, that the wild is where we come alive. He stays close in case he’s needed but doesn’t intrude. Respecting the bond, I have with my four-legged partner, he often teases me that I love Joey more than I do him and that if we were marooned on a sinking ship I’d grab Joey without hesitation. I shake my head when he says this, assuring him he’s wrong, yet later I wonder about his words.
Joey came into my life at the darkest point, he was a hail Mary that my husband thought of, prayed into existence by a mother’s love who was desperate to save her daughter. Chris would fly this puppy to Texas. My mother would drive to the airport late at night to find a crate at baggage claim, plastered with fragile and livestock stickers. I imagine her driving home and talking to this little blue dog, of telling him his mission here. Of the girl he had to love, to save.
That night, my mother texted and honked her horn from our driveway. Ignoring her, I sent Chris out, he returned moments later claiming my mother needed my help. I reluctantly rose from the couch, my hair greasy from days of not showering piled on top of my head. My oversized sweatshirt disguising the weight my antidepressants had caused. The night camouflaged my mother, and at first, I thought she held a blanket. Then the blanket moved, and a small face appeared. Smiling she placed the pup in my arms. I tightened my grip around his wriggling body, burying my face in his fur. He smelled like puppy shampoo and dirt, I kissed his head.
I named him Sawyer after one of my favorite characters from a book. That night he confidently snuggled his small body against my chest asleep ‘instantly. I, however, was panicking, this wasn’t the time in my life for a puppy, for a responsibility. I was mere months removed from a suicide attempt that had only failed because my husband broke down a door and cut me down. I was weeks past being in-patient, in a hospital that felt more like a jail. A place that would have been the perfect setting for the movie girl interrupted. I was barely eating, swallowing a myriad of pills just to survive. I was a hermit, self-imposed exile from the world. Now as I looked at the puppy I was certain I’d fail him too.
The next day I’d change his name, Sawyer didn’t fit though I was unsure why. I’d rotate through names like an old jukebox shuffling songs; none seemed to strike the right chord.
Within a day or two of no-name pup’s arrival his newness wore off, and depression once again took control. I withdrew into my room, leaving the pup in the capable hands of my husband. Yet this little ball of fur wouldn’t be ignored, he would paw at my door, barking for my attention. He had somehow decided I was his person, and he wasn’t going to let anyone tell him different.
I slowly did more with him, loving how he would focus on me above all else, even food. He had claimed his spot either nestled near my chest or laying at my feet. He didn’t have the normal puppy playfulness instead he seemed wise beyond his young life. He’d watch my every move, ensuring he was never more than an arm’s length away. One night almost a week after getting him late at night I crept into the bathroom. I reread the suicide letter and once again plans formed in my head. I felt no guilt for leaving behind my husband, kids or mother I was certain they all were better off without me. I sat on the cold tile, letting my tears flow silently down my cheeks. Holding that crumpled piece of paper, I tried to think of what I could add, what magic word would stem their pain.
As I sat there I heard the pitter-patter of paws, somehow the little blue dog had gotten the closed door open. He planted himself in my lap, gently licking at my tears. Try as I might I couldn’t get him to budge. Reluctantly I hid the paper under the counter again and cried into his fur. We spent the night on that floor him and I. I didn’t know it yet, but this little pup was saving me. Over the next week, he would disrupt a train of dark thoughts by licking me, when the PTSD stole my sleep, he’d lay across my chest using his weight to calm me.
My mother commented that he seemed to have a sixth sense about me, a claim that soon gained merit when during a walk the little blue dog begins to whine and bark. Usually happy to trot alongside me, he now refused to budge. Both my mother and I tried to cajole him with high voices and treats but he held firm.
Suddenly I felt the all too familiar tunnel vision that always preceded my seizures. I barely made it to the ground, before the convulsions started. Soon I’d wake up, Chris having rushed to the roadside had carried me back to our couch. As I opened my eyes I heard my mother relaying what happened to Chris. “that little pup wouldn’t leave her side, it’s like he knew”
Later I would talk to Chris, I wanted to know why he had chosen this time in my life to surprise me with a puppy. He hugged me tight, he said it was a feeling something he couldn’t describe. He said he knew I had stopped living for me, and even for him. But he hoped that a dog could give me the light I needed so badly.
The next night as I journaled, I talked to my dad, dead now 11 years I still would at times feel his presence. That night I just cried, through tears, I spoke into the night about my trauma, my fears, my pain. I let it all out, hoping against hope for some sort of sign that my dad, my protector in life could see me now.
Exhausted from crying, I curled into a ball. The anxiety was shooting through me like a live wire, and I was barely able to breathe. Chris rubbed my back, and then that little blue dog wormed his way into my arms. He pressed his face against mine, his body curling into my chest. I again thought of leaving, of no longer breathing, of no longer suffering. Only this time I looked at this blue dog, who only looked for me, who only seemed to care for me. I didn’t see how I could leave him, sure he wouldn’t understand.
That night I dreamt of my father, of him handing this little blue dog to me. The dream was so vivid that once awake I could smell his Salem cigarettes. I shook Chris awake, the little blue dog lying asleep between us, I knew now what his name was, it was Joey named for the man that sent him to me.
Now seven months later I laid in a meadow, the melody of the woods my soundtrack. My faithful blue dog at my side.