Thursday, September 04, 2008

Good Girl - Postscript

Poppy’s story is one I’ve needed to tell for years, and it was not easy. Still, having finally completed it, and based on some of the reactions, I feel confident that I did succeed in sharing some of what made her special. Still, I’m a storyteller, and in telling Poppy’s story I had to leave out certain elements because they are, strictly speaking, not part of Poppy’s story. Some of those elements are important. One of them is Fennel.

Fennel was abandoned, found by my brother on the side of the road in early October of ’98, two months before Poppy and I moved down to NC. Brian sent me two Polaroids (back when people still did such things) of his wife, Bliss, sitting on the couch with this adorable, pudgy, black and white pup. In the first, looking about 8 weeks old and slightly bewildered, he sits in that awkward, tilting, puppy way, next to but not touching Bliss. In the second, clearly startled by the flash of the first, his eyes are huge, his look terrified, and he is pressing himself into Bliss in an effort to hide. Needless to say, I was smitten.

Fennel is a sweet dog, with a bull terrier chest and head, lab tail and paws, and pointer markings. He has enough love for the whole world twice over, and not an aggressive bone in his body. He and Poppy got along beautifully. Still, there was little doubt that Poppy was number one, Fennel was always fighting for attention, and that neediness tended to make him a little annoying.

As a puppy, he was a chewer (which Poppy had never really been) and he went through remotes, shoes, table and chair legs, and the like, before he finally grew out of it. That was a little exasperating. He also reacted to being left alone for long periods of time by climbing on counters and generally getting into mischief. Poppy would never have done that.

When it came time to train/discipline Fennel I used my best, stern voice (what I called “beating him with my words”), but he seemed to hardly notice. Poppy, on the other hand, would drop her ears and slink over to her bed, as though she had displeased me terribly. Eventually I learned to separate them before I did any training or discipline. In other words, my dogs trained me.

I note with some amusement that for years I assumed that any mischief created while my attention was diverted or I was away was always attributable to Fennel, and he always received whatever meager discipline I meted out. That is, until the Day of the Flour.

I love to bake, and when I was a teacher I would periodically bake cookies for my classes. Because I taught three blocks with average class sizes in the low 30s, that meant baking a bunch of cookies. One day, while preparing to bake, I realized I didn’t have enough butter. I ran to the store, leaving a 5 pound bag of flour on the shelf, thinking “Fennel won’t have any interest in that.” When I returned, I was not all that surprised to find flour all over the house. But I did find something surprising.

Picture a dark, hardwood floor, and white powder everywhere. Off to the side, looking a little startled, sits Fennel. Smack in the middle of the greatest concentration of white powder sits a figure that might be a dog. She is completely covered in white powder. Some of it, especially around her snout, seems caked on, and in that sea of white the only things that stand out are her two brown eyes, sheepishly blinking her guilt.

I never blamed Fennel again.

After Poppy’s death, Fennel went through an amazing transformation. No longer preoccupied with trying to get attention, he mellowed. Being more relaxed, he behaved better, obeyed commands, and generally turned into a wonderful dog. He still is, but I have now relocated to New York. For a while, my aunt lived in my house and took care of him, but that was only a temporary fix while I determined if I would be in New York long-term. Recently I determined that I will be, and the decision was made to send Fennel to live with my brother, his two young sons, and his two, lumbering, two-year-old female lab mixes.

On my last visit down south I packed up Fennel’s things, bundled up his bed, and moved him to my brother’s. When I came back to my North Carolina house that night, for the first time in almost 14 years, I walked into my home to find no dog waiting for me. No home has ever felt so empty. That was when I learned the answer to the questions I asked when Poppy died.

Our lives, no matter how full we make them, are equally full of little spaces that can only be filled by something special. For some people that special thing is another person, a child, or maybe fire-bellied toad. For me, that special thing is a dog. As much as the emptiness that Poppy left behind broke my heart, all the tiny little spaces she filled for all those years went almost unnoticed. Now, with her long gone, Fennel moved away, and me living in New York, I am once again noticing those little spaces.

I live now in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. My next door neighbor has a Jack Russell Terrier named Sammy who holds court on the front lawn all day long. Recently, when leaving for work in the morning or coming home at night, I’ve taken to stopping and spending a little time with Sammy. I scratch his ears and rub his belly, and he nuzzles his silly little snout against my leg. I doubt I would ever choose a Jack, but when I spend time with Sammy I can feel those little spaces filling up again, and it feels very good.

I’m thinking maybe it’s time.


parinella said...

Thanks for the stories. I am far from being any kind of animal person (and the part about the cats in Part I really hit home, as my wife got two kittens last year after her two previous cats died and I thought I was cat-free for life), but I was moved. Well done.

Paris, said...

I have an eeriely similar situation. My male boxer, named Kobe, was my first REAL dog if youk now what i mean. I had others but Kobe was the first to stay, first to be my ultimate best friend.

When my Kobe passed on, my second dog (also a boxer) became very obedient and almost "pulled rank" for Kobe. She took over his duty of consoling me when i came home sad or upset or flustered/befuddled. She has played an amazing role in my life, and i hate the thought that one day she will be gone also. It seems that i let myself build me up on my dogs and, as a dear friend said, I have "put my world into my dogs" which is a very hard thing to do considering I know the consequences; In less than 10 years my world will no longer exist. I thought that Fennel and Poppy together remind me so well of what it was like with my two dogs.

Another thing about the dogs, when you mentioned the dream you had about Poppy and the pool.. i actually broke down in tears because i remember my nightmare. Kobe was run down by a truck or large ATV in my own yard which left him wounded beyond repair. Imagine hearing your dog be hit (in your own yard, mind you. The same place your dog runs EVERY day, same place for four years), running outside to his aide and finding that he has a gaping anomaly SO conspicuous you wouldn't have to strain to see from 100 yards away.

Kobe's insides were as if someone had bottled them up under his skin and shook him around like a juice bottle, all of which you can see through this 1-foot hole in his side. His legs had been injured as well. I, for one, was in a state of bewilderment, i almost couldn't even comphrehend what was going on. Ultimately, after an agonizing hour of pain or so, we got him to the vets office where he could not be stabalized, and i made the most painful decision of my life. I say painful and not hard because it shouldn't be hard to do what is best for a friend, it's painful.

Truthfully speaking, i knew as soon as my brain grasped the idea that, "Hey, my dog is injured.. badly", he was to be humanely euthanized. What a word, right? "Humanely euthanized". It acts as a mask of many different forms of the word death. I'm getting way off task (please excuse me, i have a brain like a ping-pong ball!)

As i was saying,

Your stories of Poppy's normally graceful behavior are my Kobe's stories too. When i read about Poppy, i can describe exactly what was going through my head.

I felt very close to you, and we've never met. It's kind of like Christianity, if I walk into a church or into a group of proclaimed christians, I feel at home because they're proclaimed christians; i feel at home in a group where we have something so great incommon. With this, i felt immediately drawn to you and your words soley because of our love of dogs. It's something hard to explain to others, and where i'm from not many men can say they love animals without looking at their purpose (IE: Bird dogs are bird dogs and a tool, not a friend, not a lasting or worthwhile object).

I was almost awestruck, but more-so was i hanging onto my seat reading line for line. You are a great writer who captures your audience (or at least me!)

I think what i like best about your writing is the way you describe and the way you educate yourself on the background of your story. Not everyone knows what the Piazza del Campo is and what happens there every year, but you don't hesitate to spill your knowledge of the event to prepare us for the story.

Thank you for capturing my Kobe in your writing, it brought me back to the idea that missing a dog, or best friend, isn't about what you're going to miss because they're gone.. it's remembering them and how they worked miracles in our empty, depraved lives.

I definately was rushed into another dog when i admittidly was not ready (a gift). If it's been enough of a time to ease the pain, then i think you're right: It's time. You have poppy in your heart, still, and she won't go anywhere. I wish you all the good luck finding your new 'furend'


Anonymous said...

i agree with paris, you are a great writer(im sure you make all those other bloggers on wtut that routinely get goose egged((couph-couph parrinella)) pack up shop) although i cant see how ANYONE could ever love a fire-bellied toad(uless those are the ones you can lick and trip off of).

So when are you gonna write a book about ultimate.....or at least your experiences with ultimate????

Anonymous said...

Please, give me link to download XRumer 7.0!!!

Always yours,
miss MW