Sunday, June 20, 2010


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.


Anonymous said...

Oh, my dear. Thank goodness for the heart's infinite capacity to lose pieces of itself without shriveling and stopping altogether: the great mystery that is love.

Holding you close in my own heart for as long as you need ~

Karen said...

Oh, dear Sarah, how very sad I am for you and your family. I am always amazed that an animal -- a different species on this earth -- can have such love and trust for us. It humbles me to think that we are given such a gift. Having lived my married life much, much longer than yours, I can tell you that even though you don't want another now, you will have another just-as-much-loved animal. But you'll never have another Rufus. He'll be part of your family's heart and memories.

Melissa Sarno said...

:-( Such a beautiful tribute. I'm so sorry to hear about Rufus.

Grimmgirl said...

Sarah -- So sorry that you have lost your Rufus -- he was a sweet fellow.

Susan Deborah said...

Oh goodness dear, I am so sorry to hear this. You have paid him the best tribute: "A dog is the heartbeat of a house."

I am sure he will continue to dwell within your lives and memories.

Joy and passion,

Stephen Parrish said...

It is, as others have said, a beautiful tribute. One fitting a beautiful dog.

Richard Levangie said...

This post is just so sweet, and sad, and touching. My heart is with you.

Aniket said...

My dad never did get another dog, nor let us get one after he had lost his as a kid. He could never get over him. I used to hate that as a kid, but I understand it now.

So sorry to hear about Rufus.

Sarah Hina said...

Thank you, everyone. Normally, I try to respond to comments individually, but I feel utterly drained today.

All of your sweet words and kind thoughts have helped, though. I am very grateful to have the friends I do. Thanks and love to all of you.

joaquin carvel said...

it is a dog's dog name. but sounds like his was far from a dog's life.

very sorry to hear he's gone, but glad to know of him. i imagine the echo of that heartbeat will always be there.

Sarah Hina said...

That it will.

I was pulling out the Keats for our daughter this afternoon, as she picked some flowers for his grave. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Hard to keep in mind, but worth the effort.

Thank you.

Rick said...

I'm so sorry for you and your family.

catvibe said...

The sweetest of tributes from the sweetest of doggely mommies. I'm with Caroline here. When my cat Baby died, my kids forced me to take them to the shelter the very next day, and that's when we found Oly, who is a supreme treasure of a cat and walked right into that gaping hole that Baby left. Not to replace, but to replenish. Dog is good, Dog is great. :-)

Jennifer said...

Sarah, I popped over for something so happy, happy, happy and then saw this post. I am so terribly sorry for your loss. I know that exact feeling of still checking, still thinking you're going to be on his schedule. And for a time, maybe a significant amount of time, you still will be--until you're not. Which won't mean you've forgotten any of it, any of him, but that you're starting to heal.

Enormous hugs your way.

And the happy news? I just this very moment got an email update from Amazon saying that my order had shipped. Hmmm, I thought, I do order from Amazon a lot, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I had ordered recently. You know where this is going...It's Plum Blossoms in Paris. !!!!!!!!!!! Now, admittedly, I have been a bit distracted lately with the novel draft (finished) and the impending mother-in-law visit (arriving today, in about 90 minutes) BUT isn't this early??? Is it out earlier than expected? Or am I just so far out of the loop it's scary???

Either way, you have no idea how excited I am! :)

Sarah Hina said...

Rick, thank you. We're doing a little better now. But I appreciate that.

Cat, I like how you said that--not to replace, but replenish.

You know, one week later, and I'm already tempted to get another dog soon. I miss the companionship and all that doggie goodness. But Paul is inclined to wait, and we do have a California wedding to attend in a couple of months. So I think we're going to hold out for at least that long. And then, Miss Caroline may get her way (although she wants a small dog, and I say no-way-no-how ;)).

Jennifer, it IS early. And you want to know the funny part? I haven't even seen the book yet! You (and Cat) may have it in your hands before I do. So, um, take a picture of it for me, okay? :)

There was a snafu with the distributor, and the Amazon pre-orders are (evidently) being sent out early. I ordered a copy on Thursday, and still haven't received a shipping notice. Life's funny, huh?

Anyway, I'm happy that you're excited!! :) You'll excuse me if I'm feeling vaguely nauseated instead, though. ;) I kept forgetting all along that people were going to be reading it...

And thank you for those beautiful thoughts about Rufus. We are starting to heal, and I'm grateful.

And hey--I'm enormously happy for you that you've finished your novel's first draft!! You must be so excited. That's huge! Let me know how your revisions go. And you know where to find me if you ever want a beta-reader. :)

(So sorry about your MIL. I remember how much her visit stressed you last year. So...I'm squeezing you back. Big hugs, and stay strong.)

Jennifer said...

Yay! It's really coming--I was afraid it was a mistake. :)

Thanks for your words of suppport--but just think, with this early release you will have given me something to look forward to while she's here--and a good reason to go to my room to "fold laundry." ;)

I can't wait to read it!

Glad to hear you are feeling better. Anxious to hear if you end up with a small dog... :)

Take good care.

Sheri said...

Oh Sarah, I thought I'd check in because it's been so long and then I read your sad, sad news. I am so sorry. I have two human children and three, furry, four-legged children. They are as much a part of my family as us two-leggeds. I cannot imagine the day when they must go but I know that day will come sooner then I will be ready. I am so sorry about Rufus. Hugs from the blog-o-sphere

the walking man said...

The right dog will show up at the right is the way it works . Rufus is telling all the dogs he thinks would fill his spot correctly where to find your house.

I know it works this way because that is how our last three dogs have come to us. On their own, in need of a family and ready to stay awhile.

Sleep well Rufus, you did your job and can rest easy now.

Sarah Hina said...

Jennifer, thank you again!! I only hope you're not too terribly disappointed by the book (I know, I know--I shouldn't talk like that; but I just can't help myself).

And may your MIL's visit go easy on you this time around. A girl can hope, can't she? :)

Sheri, you're such a tender-hearted person. Thank you for these very warm words. It did come as a shock, but I'm finally feeling reconciled to the loss.

That said, every time I come home, I still look for his wagging tail. I guess pain is always the price of loving too much. Enjoy every day with your four-legged children. You well know how precious they are. :)

Mark, first off--it's great to see you again. I've still been reading your writing, but have missed the interaction at your place. I hope you're well.

I think you're right. I think a dog will show up one day, too. And we'll be ready.

Thank you, my friend.

Lyn said...

Oh, gosh. I was unprepared for this. My friend SLC Slavedriver just lost her dog, too. We have two adolescents now, a catahoula-lab mix boy, and a rat terrier girl. The catahoula is for the kids, but the rat terrier is for my mother. I didn't want a small dog, either, but, really, she's pretty cool. And she got rid of the moles in the back yard. Best of all, she hated my BIL on sight! Brilliant, intuitive dog. We waited three years after the death of our beloved Stormy, before we got these puppies. You'll do what is best for your loved ones.