Forty-five pounds, pit mix. No rare breed around these parts. A scrapper, a scrounger. Queen of the side-eye. Default expression when photographed: scorn. Aura: glowering. Short legs. Post-litter paunch. Smooth black coat; some white in her face added a few more years than she’d lived. White chest mottled with black. Comically expressive ears, like those of George Rodrigue’s “Blue Dog,” with one usually pointed straight up, and the other bent off in some contrary direction. With a hearing impairment we could never completely figure out. She had a distinctive trot—both back legs would kick out in the same direction, kinda sideways in mid-stride, when running ahead a little ways while we were on a walk. Defiant and never deferring to any mink- or mastodon-sized alpha repeatedly announcing its domain as we passed . . . especially if it was on the other side of a fence.
I don’t know why you should care about my dog. We had to put her down last Saturday. And I am writing this now. Pearl brought much joy to our household; I hope we did same for her. She found sanctuary here in our empty nest, just plain glad to have somewhere comfortable to sleep, and to be. And sleep she did, with great enthusiasm and a broad catalog of snoring sounds to broadcast. Though she was here for a much shorter time than our previous dog Apollo (4 1/2 years instead of 13), the grief around this house feels just as deep, sunny day and cool breeze be damned.
The loss in the silence. All I can hear is what’s missing, stark lack of familiar sounds: from our bed, early morning, we’d hear her up in the front room on the sofa, first a shake and stretch, tag jangling against the rings on her pink collar, a rapid drum-roll flap of the ears, then a pause, followed by the jump down to the hardwood floor, a two-beat landing: ta-da! The quick declarative walk, paws clicking towards the water bowl in the kitchen. She’d drink like she’d been lost for days in the Mojave, then return to the hallway, where she would wait outside the bedroom, knowing we were now awake to serve her, to let her outside then back in for breakfast. After eating she’d jump up on our bed, briefly acknowledge our presence (if she felt like it) then turn to look out the windows before falling back asleep.
A local rescue group had found her wandering before she came to us. A couple of tumors under the skin on her side. We took her in as a foster, then decided to keep her. Possibly she’d suffered abuse or trauma sometime in her past. A couple of kinks: she maintained a vigorous hatred for the two dogs next door to the east; she’d often ask to be let out so she could bark incessantly at their house, whether the dogs were in there or not. The lab who lived on the other side? Fine, no complaints. She’d sleep between us most nights til she got too hot; she would usually lie with her back pressed up against my legs. When I woke up last Saturday morning, that’s right where she was. But she would immediately jump off the bed and return to the sofa if, in the course of normal human movement, turning over, etc., something touched her backside. Hypersensitive. Lately though, I’d learned that if I patted her gently on the leg before I tossed or turned, she’d stay calm. Like most of us, she was no fan of posterior surprises.
She had a way with hiding. I’d be in the backyard working on something, knowing that she had come outside with me, yet when I would look up from cleaning the grill or cutting vines off the fence, I couldn’t see her. I’d stop what I was doing and walk around the yard, often not finding her for several minutes. And it’s not a large yard . . . .
When I was sick this summer, I really fell for her. During the seven weeks of treatment, she’d come close to my face and smell my breath for several seconds, knowing something was going on in there. A brief, begrudging lick to my nose would end her inquiry. There was one day when she’d tired out during a walk—out of breath, gone too far in the heat. I said then, not so seriously: Pearly, don’t fall out on us yet. I can’t deal with that. Let me get through this crap first. Thinking back on that now, well, I don’t know what to say. That’s what happened.
Permanence. Impermanence. Her death, of the former; the willy-nilly arbitrariness of this world being of the latter. Nothing stays, and once it goes, it’s gone. After Apollo passed, I told my therapist more than once that “I want my damned dog back.” Knowing that could never be, but needing to say it just the same. Like hearing my own words out loud would help me to “buck up” and accept the impossibility of the way-back-in-there wish that those words, or anything, could reverse reality.
I write this because Pearl lived, because we loved her, because telling you about her and our time together is what I must do now, to remember a life gone on. Maybe there’s a place around here, some metaphysical fence line the night-trippers know, where space and time have worn-thin edges, and co-mingle more randomly; somewhere some magic might happen, a trade could be made: Give up a little of this Now Without, for some Back Then, with her here again? I haven’t found that place yet; maybe she will.
You can come up, Pearly. You can come up.