I keep looking for him at the back door.
We had a name before we had the dog. Rufus. It was my fiancé's choice. What a dog’s dog name. A promise for the future, after we married and got a house of our own. In fact, one of Paul’s friends toasted us at our wedding by saying, “Here’s to Paul, Sarah . . . and Rufus!” Leading many to wonder, I imagine, whether ours was not a shotgun wedding.
Paul knew he was ours before I did. Immediately after moving into our new house, we went to the dog shelter (where all the good dogs wait) to look around. I briefly fell for a basset hound. Alright--I briefly fell for all of them. But Paul knew. That scroungy bundle of black fur marked by the white stripe down his chest, with the pup-tent ears and frantically friendly way, was Rufus. And so he was. We took him home soon after.
A dog is the heartbeat of a house. Quiet. Steady. Unflappable. There, drumming on, even when we’re not. Too often taken for granted. There were many times I came home and swept past a wagging Rufus, offering a mere pat on the head. I had stuff to do. Or thought I did. If only I had slowed down a bit more and taken the time to look in his eyes. To get lost, and be found, in them again. For a dog’s eyes are the heartbeat of a heartbeat of a home. They are liquid love. No wonder so many elderly folks have benefited from a dog’s companionship in nursing homes. In a world straddling the next loss, a dog will not despair. That tail will thump on. For you. In this way, and in others, they are the stronger species.
A dog threads himself so completely into the patterns of our lives. They are creatures of habit, and mark our days with their feeding, walking, and play schedules. Rufus nudged me out of the house every evening to take him for a long walk. It was good exercise. And unfailingly, I’d have my best brainstorms during these neighborhood strolls. The concept for Plum Blossoms in Paris? The inspiration was almost embarrassingly literal. I saw some daisies on the side of the road. Rufus peed on them. I thought of Daisy Miller. I imagined a young American woman, also named Daisy, traveling to Europe during the most rancorous period of the Iraq War, when the U.S. was pretty well hated by everyone. Voilà. But Rufus led me there, on a leash.
We lost our heartbeat last night.
And I’m writing this when I would normally be walking beside him. Pulling him away from some disgusting thing he’d try desperately to eat. Lately, as the summer heat intensified, he liked to lie down on the grass and rest for a few minutes. His pant turning up like a smile. And I’d sit down beside him, settle back in the grass, and look up at the clouds rolling by. Then I’d reach over and give him a belly rub, until his hind leg twitched and his paws raised in a blissful submission. I told him he was a good dog. He was.
I keep looking for him at the back door. Before I can stop myself. Yet I know it will pass. The roots of endings have a way of shooting off beginnings. And the earth spins us further from the past. As proof of this, our daughter is already looking ahead to the next dog. Which, if I’m being honest, makes my heart recoil. But then, she cried this afternoon that, “a part of my heart has died.” It's understandable she’d want to resurrect it.
I keep looking for him at the back door. Because I can’t imagine this house—this family—without him.
And right now, I don't want to.