Left Behind

Left Behind
Empty

From where I sit in my small-town newspaper office, if I crane my neck just right, lean forward, and cock my head a bit sideways, I can see through a series of windows to the house across the street, and sometimes, their Jack Russell plays in their yard.

It's not nearly enough to compensate for no longer having Esther and Rose wandering by for visits. I guess that's what I get for leaving Modern Dog for a summer at home, working for the local paper in the middle of the prairies in a town that consists of tumble weeds, cows, and grain elevators.

I asked about the Vegetarian Option at this year's rodeo, and I got a bunch of smirks and a "We're serving Beef on a Bun-- the vegetarian option would be Bun."

I guess I should talk about some things that are different here, without Elmo. Maybe it was for the best that I wasn't here when he died, because it gave me two months to adjust to not having him in my life, and I didn't have to adjust to not having him in my home, too. I don't know how I would have managed to remember to breathe if I'd have had to walk through the rooms he had walked through, or looked into the backyard he didn't play in anymore.

So now I'm back, and it seems so empty. I don't trip over him, he doesn't try to coax me to play, I don't have to go and find him after he wanders down the back alley, and when I turn on the hose to fill my nephew's swimming pool, he isn't there to jump at the water.

I found his pink collar under some old winter muck and dead leaves, and remembered last summer, just before I left him for the city, when he was filthy and I had bathed him in a baby bath tub in the backyard. His collar was neon pink, and when I'd bought it, he'd been in the store with me, and probably out of protest, he'd peed on a shelf when I was distracted.

I'd panicked when I saw the mess and we dashed from the store before anyone else noticed.

I left the collar lying there in the much because I didn't know what else to do with it.

In the end, he hadn't had much use for toys. He'd spent his puppyhood playing soccer and fetch and chase, chewing up squeak toys and stealing golf balls. When he tore the ligaments in his back legs and couldn't run anymore, when walking became awkward and difficult, he stopped playing. Sometimes, I could coax him into tug-of-war with a sock, but he grew tired.

Sometimes I don't know what to do at all without him. I sit on the floor and he doesn't come over to lean against my side. I curl up on the swing in the backyard and he doesn't sit in the nearest sunspot.

He was my dog, so there isn't really anyone who understands that level of grief in my family. I know they have their own memories and their own methods of dealing, but none of them feel like they're missing a part of themselves.

The other night I was sitting alone on the couch when I noticed my mother's dog, Rowdy, the silly little Shih Tzu cross with the vicious overbite, curled up alone on a pillow on the floor. She's gone silent since Elmo left. She used to sing along sometimes, when I was too off-key, or bark when Elmo started barking because he'd noticed someone at the door. Her one trick is to say "Please", but she doesn't say that anymore. She is a year younger than Elmo was, and they grew up together. She's never quite been the brightest dog, and Elmo was always too smart for his own good. Now, without him, she doesn't know where to sleep, because she isn't sleeping next to him (and he isn't huffing in exasperation and trying to get away). She doesn't know when to bark at the door because he isn't doing it first (so she never makes a sound). She doesn't know when to beg for food, because he isn't there to follow, so she doesn't. She's gone mostly deaf and mostly blind and can't find her way to the door, or the table, or her food dish because Elmo isn't there to follow.

Rowdy was never my dog. My mom's dog, through-and-through, we never had much in common, but I guess, now we do. We both know what it's like to be deaf and blind and missing limbs without Elmo there to lean against us and show us how to get to the door or anywhere else we need to go.

Rowdy doesn't smell like Elmo or feel like Elmo or even cuddle like him, but she knows what it's like to miss all that about him as badly as I do.

The morning after that, I took her into the backyard to play. She wouldn't play, but she sat in a sunspot and smiled for the first time since I'd been home.

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