My little dog - a heartbeat at my feet. --Edith Wharton
I keep looking for her, thinking I see her out of the corner of my eye. I keep listening for the sound of her nails clicking on the hardwood floor, of her sighs as she settles down into her bed to rest. I keep waiting for her to walk over and curl up at my feet as I sit at the computer and type or edit photos, as she has done night after night for (nearly) as long as I can remember. I baked buttermilk biscuits yesterday, and one fell off the pan when I pulled them out of the oven. I waited for her to swoop in, eat it up, wolfing it down with steam curling up around her whiskers.
But she isn't here. And she never will be again.
What is left? A little bag of fur I've been collecting all week, hoping to craft it into some memory of her that's more fitting than a hairball. Memories. Lots of them. And photos. Many, many photos. I am so thankful right now for my love of photography, so thankful that I have spent years documenting every little thing we did. I am so very thankful that a friend suggested I take some photos of her before she died - and that I asked my husband to take some photos of us together. I didn't want to - the house was a mess, my hair was a mess, I'm out of contacts and was wearing my glasses. The kids were barely dressed - Dora was wearing hand-me-down SpiderMan underwear (for boys) and Oscar was wearing a t-shirt and a diaper. The blanket Murphy was lying on had stains on it. But I am now so in love with these photos of our goodbye, so thankful to have them. I will cherish them forever, cherish the memory of how much we loved her, and how much love we showed her and each other even at the very end.
Murphy came to me so long ago, 16 years ago (give or take). I was single, just returned from studying photography abroad in Scotland. I was about to leave for a photojournalism internship in Michigan. I didn't have any children. In fact, though I knew I wanted to be a parent someday, children were less than a twinkle in my eye. She was one of my first three pets that were mine exclusively (though that would eventually change), and my first dog that I adopted myself, that I chose and took home and made my very own. I had loved and lost countless dogs (and cats, donkeys, hamsters, and bunnies) as a child. But this was my first dog aquired and loved as an "adult".
She lived with me in a tiny one-room studio in downtown Athens, in a two-bedroom college apartment on the campus of WMU when I worked nights at the Kalamazoo Gazette as a photography intern. She lived with me in a farm house on Vore Ridge Road, where my housemate would get up in the middle of the night and paint the toilet pink, or smoke from a bong made from a teapot. She lived with me at my parent's house, when lack of money or failed relationships sent me home once again. She lived with me in my little house on Lorene Avenue, first with two wonderful roommates, and then with a guy who turned out to love animals as much as I do. She came to the party we had after I married that same guy, snuggling with us on the couch in our formal clothes.
She actually played a part in picking said husband. Early in our relationship, we went for a hike at Strouds Run. I brought Murphy along, having long ago decided that pets are excellent at helping make decisions about which people to keep in our lives. Not only did they hit it off instantly, when we sat by the edge of the trail about halfway through the hike, my future husband stroked the ears of my little dog and said, "she has the softest ears I've ever petted." He said later he knew then that he wanted to marry me, in part because he just loved my dog so much.
She slept on my bed - usually under the covers, spooning with me, with her head on my pillow - for years. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep with my face buried in her yellowish-red fur, terrified or sad or just lost, with only the love of my dog (and my two cats) to carry me through. She went on every trip with me, and the one time she did not (our honeymoon), we spent all our time in the car repeatedly looking into the back-seat, forgetting she wasn't there with us.
She was imperfect, too. She hated kids (except for mine - she tolerated them). She once barked fiercely at an old woman crossing the street with a walker. She terrorized patrons at our yard sales if they didn't suit her taste (meaning basically everyone but us). She and my female cat had an interesting relationship. She loved to clean out the cat box. She got car sick, and always found a way to throw up in the most inconvenient place possible (i.e. down into the gearshift, or into the little slots on either side of the parking brake). She adored rolling in something dead, preferably something old, dried out, and intensely stinky - like a flattened, caramelized frog carcass or a fragment of garbage. She loved to kill innocent little things, including baby birds, moles, and crabs at the beach (earning her the nickname "crab-killer"). In her younger years she rolled over onto her back and peed with excitement when someone new entered the room, or when we came home from work or school. Then she would wag her tail, splashing pee around. She even did this once when being examined by a well-to-do canine orthopedic surgeon, who had the audacity to examine dogs wearing an expensive shirt and tie. We showed him.
I loved her though, intensely, and she loved me back just the same. She was my perfect, loyal, short, blond, beagle-barking, table-scraps-eating, loving, ever-present companion. My life will never be the same without her, but it was (and is) better for having had her in it.
I love you with my whole heart, Sergeant Murphy, and I shall see you again one day. I shall never forget your cuddles, your unending love for me, your excited frenzies in the backyard, your soft, sweet ears. My love for you goes on and on, and I'll be holding you in my heart forever. Thank you for giving me more than I ever could have given you. Rest in Peace, Murphy girl.
Visit me in my dreams.