On these cold winter nights, it's easy to think of loss, of the dogs and people we've loved. About how certain empathic, wondrous animals and humans enter our lives and transform us, imbue us with love and then depart, leaving traces, half-lives, shadows of themselves behind, everywhere.
Brinkley was one --- my last and most adored pup. A spirited Golden, he spent many months in a too small cage at Save-A-Pet in Port Jeff --- waiting, I think, just for me. You probably know that a purebred, AKC registered, already tattooed retriever is not typical dog rescue fare. I lucked out. One of my luckiest days of all!
On our on-site visits, before I eventually brought him home, he was exceptionally well behaved, excellent on the leash (no "Mom, I'm going there now!"), seemingly as genial and tractable as so many of his breed. And, natch, so handsome, such a gorgeous boy! Having owned Goldens all my life (ever since Bobo, my first, wandered into our family's backyard when I was five), I didn't understand how frightened a dog could be --- how tentative and how plagued by separation anxieties. Didn't suspect the depth of his fears until he was with me a few days. By then, I was over the top in four-legged love. You couldn't separate us with a crowbar. We were bonded, glued. Family. But, oh, his problems!
Brink would howl loud enough for the car windows to shake, when left alone in my van for even a few minutes. I had hoped for a Travels with Charley type pooch, a boon companion to go the way with. Sadly, Brink would have none of it. Left alone in the car or even sometimes at home was sheer torture to him.
In most cases, as in Brink's, the history of a rescue animal is unknown, the neglect or abuse they have suffered at the hands of one of us remains secret. Silent. Their spirits can be so easily broken. It takes time, patience, and affection to help a rescued animal get over its fear of retribution. It's a crapshoot, and it doesn't always work. On more than one occasion, misunderstanding my intentions and fearful of being punished, Brinkley drew blood which sent me wailing to the ELIH ER to be pumped with IV antibiotics. Not sure you know this, but reporting dog bites is mandatory and a police visit ensues. Your pup gets a rap sheet and, if he bites too often, it's the slammer and he's toast.
As Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, the once controversial director of the Freud Archives and today a successful dog book author (go figure!) says, dogs are the "ne plus ultra of play." Brink came alive, drooled, pranced and pawed the floor whenever I gave him a toy (I spoiled him terribly!). He never met a toy he didn't like. He expressed his enthusiastic admiration by eventually ripping his toys apart, silencing their squeakers forever, tossing clouds of white plush stuffing in the most surprising places.
I had just three too short years with him --- years when none of my friends would come to my front door, terrified of being knocked down by 110 pounds of golden flesh (a habit I could never break him of). He had been suffering with an itchy skin infection and on a medication with a deadly side effect I didn't know about. One night he collapsed and couldn't stand up. He crawled the length of the hallway into my bedroom. I slept curled close around him that whole night long, making a bower in my breast, a haven, a harbor from the storm raging inside him. I died a little that night.
The next morning, with the help of friends, I rushed to the vet. There was no hope. He was felled by a viscous aplastic anemia. I cried like the baby I am, holding his warm, loving paw as the killing poison rushed in, singing to him, stroking him, That last look in his eyes --- loving, resigned, inquisitive, and sad, cut beyond the quick to a neverland of pain.
I looked for him everywhere, and felt his presence always. I missed him dreadfully. It was a visceral longing --- I just ached for him --- for his smell, his round, pink belly, for his fur in which I could cry myself to sleep and bury my nose and my heart, for the blessed grace of wrapping my arms around him, for the honor, the privilege of loving him, for his exceptional spirit which buoyed me up and got my heart pumping every day. Of all the dogs I've loved, and I've loved some, I loved him best. I guess because, in the end, his fears, his vulnerabilities, mirrored my own. He touched my soul. We got each other. Requiescat in Pace, beloved Brink.
Speaking of those beloved, let me tell you about Miss Louise, whose remarkable and so moving memorial service I attended in Brooklyn on Saturday, together with three hundred others. Louise, the mother of my dear friend, Dan, was born "behind a tree stump" in Halifax County, Virginia, the second oldest of ten. She had six children of her own and raised them in the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn. She became Mother, Grandmother, Aunt, Nurse, Confidante, Advisor --- a friend whose door was open to all, to talk, to walk, to listen, and to advise. I was not lucky enough to have known Miss Louise, as all called her, but I do know her remarkable son, and I attended the service to show my respect for him, for his life and accomplishments.
What was so remarkable about the service were the "reflections" ---aunts, uncles, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, neighbors from the Project, friends --- a host of people got up and testified, during the three hour service, of their love for Miss Louise, of what she had given them, of how much they'll miss her. We're talking a host of "reflections" which, I suspect would have lasted even longer had another service not been scheduled for later in that same space.
Louise's life was a hard one --- she saw it all --- guns, gangs, violence, Afros, Black Muslims, militants, the non-violent era of Dr. King --- but what a loving one, what a legacy, and what a celebration! Members of the younger generation got up and talked about how, with her passing, it becomes their responsibility to hold steadfast, to hold tight, to hold the family together, to bring it all around because, in life, what's more important, more lastinG.
Requiescat in Pace, Miss Louise! What she had, in the way of worldly goods, wasn't much. But what she had in the way heaven's goods, was priceless. Hers is a legacy of love. I celebrate her life. It makes me consider what my own legacy will be. How about you?