The day before my 59th birthday, mid-fall 2012, I adopted my first dog, Enza. She was 8 years old, seasoned yet still puppyish, had been cross-country several times. She preferred the right rear passenger seat. When I texted her headshot to a friend, he said, “Oh, she’s going to teach you a lot. I can tell by her face.”
It was a big adjustment, and I liked her. Thank goodness she was the quintessential Black Lab hippie dog. After a year together, she gazed eyes wide on the knife blade as I prepped dinner, ever hopeful to benefit from gravity. I turned to her “please please.”
“Okay, I get it. I am your god.” Enza cocked her head a bit. I continued, “And, then, you are mine.”
Soon after, Enza did some adorable thing. I took her head between my hands, kissed her forehead, and realized, “Oh, I am in love.”
Last fall, Enza suddenly grew ill. I often stroked her ears before bedtime, but now it was also to gauge her illness. Her last day was the winter solstice. Now her chair is empty. This is the first time since 1984 I have not shared space with another mammal; just me and the houseplants. I am back to talking to myself, growing accustomed to quiet.
I did massage as a side gig for more than 25 years. My hands love kneading bread, knitting with soft yarn weaving through my fingers becoming fabric, the soothing of satin binding, a cat purring in my lap. Enza’s fur, the soft curl from a hint of Border Collie blood.
Love for Enza was unlike any I had known, not because she was a dog; it was who she was. And that she started every morning together making me laugh. As for the empty house, I swear I hear her panting. There are still tufts of her fur hiding in corners.
I like to hug. I enjoy a good handshake. I value an encouraging touch. These are all going extinct. Lack of touch for those of us with no partners, children, or immediate beloveds, is a deprivation we grow used to, often an unrecognized discomfort.
Two weeks ago, one of my dearest friends brought me treats from the outer world. We kept our distance. It hurt not to hug.
Then she pulled a huge cardboard box out of the trunk. The most plush, adorable stuffed dog the same size as Enza was jammed inside. I laughed and hugged it like a 5-year old. I nearly cried.
I named her Stella. She sits in Enza’s chair. On the wall, the clay tablet with Enza’s paw print. On the end table, the tin with her ashes.
When I need to touch something soft to take the edge off panic, I am able. It is a remarkable gift, as was my sweet girl. And now I learn even more, home with myself, realizing that this is the practice of living in the moment. There is no choice.