Do you remember when we met? I had come to the west valley animal shelter, and I saw you before you saw me. You were by yourself in a little cage at the end of the long corridor. When you saw me, you tried to bite your way through the wires. I stopped and took a moment to fall in love with you. Oh, you were tiny. A comma made of black fur, punctuating my love with licks and nips. Our affair was destined to be a run on sentence, on and on and on and on and on and on. But then, it was just the beginning of the story and you could sit comfortably and very dignified in the palm of my hand while you emanated gratitude and warmth and puppy love. There was a large wound on the top of your head that was caked in dirt and dried blood, and you had a slight wobble in your walk because the people at the shelter said you had been kicked very hard. They put you on a table and someone tried to feed you a French fry, but you refused it, because that would have meant you would have had to stop staring at me. you never wanted to stop staring at me. You were a master at seduction, even then, at just a few weeks old.
We went home together and you were scared. I had to bathe you in the sink and you hated it! You were even smaller without fur. The dried blood and fleas were gone, and then it was just you, wet and perfect and tiny and soon asleep between my giant platform shoes. It was the 90s after all.
I named you after Ralph Fiennes. “The English Patient” had just come out. You were badly hurt but I was determined to be your Juliette Binoche and nurse you back to health, my head on your chest, as you told me all the great stories of the war and your love. The vets didn’t believe you’d get better, but I held you day and night and cried softly into your fur and fed you nutrical from my fingers and you grew and suddenly, seemingly overnight, you were my big dog. My big boy. My Ralph.
You would sleep on the bed with me, in my single days, and you would put your head on the pillow, the rest of your dog body under the covers, just like a man. Before I was married, you were my dog husband. When we moved to the big house, you were horrified, and you barked at the movers like you were defending your homeland, but you grew to love the new house, and then your new dad, and begrudgingly, your new dog siblings.
I am not sure what I am going to do without you. My love. My Ralph. I don’t know yet. I am happy you are no longer in pain. All the money in the world couldn’t cure the passage of time. Where are you floating now? Among all the famous people in heaven? I bet it’s big scene up there. They should let you into the VIP lounge. Just tell them who your mother is.
I grieve for you so, my love. My big dog. Who was so afraid of the wind. When I petted you, I could hear the deep satisfaction that welled up inside you. Your great dog sighs were profound. You would shake the floors. When you were very sick, I would try to ease the pain by lying next to you in your bed, my whole body encircling yours, thinking if only I could absorb the pain, take the disease into myself and take it out of you. We can only do so much, we can only do so much on earth, my love.
I am convinced I will meet you again someday, when this is all over. When there are no more jobs or days or nights or appointments or things or shows or age or sun or moon or trips or life or anything. It will be just us, and there will be a field and you will run to me, with no pain in your hips. You will run to me and knock me down.