It was when my dog Esme died that I realized I am a lonely person. Watching the early morning sun on the grass a few days after her sudden death of a heart attack – my heart feels so empty, in a complete way. Not a just lost my dog way. I realize she filled some hole in me emblematic of a manhole cover. She was a strong cover to an unexplored emptiness in me. An emptiness unnamed and without known depth.
When I was young loneliness was lack of human contact, a Saturday night without a date, was not admitting to any needs or lacks. I got over that. Learned to fake it, always have a mate, face the facts, not the fears, not the unknown. As I write I am surrounded by cats. They never run out of things to do. They never need you to take them for a walk, they would never ask for your company. They will ask for treats, food and the litter changed, but they are self-sufficient beyond my understanding of the meaning of the word. As much as my cat understands my needs and will always materialize and sit with me all day when I am sick or, in this case, lonely. It’s a companionship.
Esme was on my time. She had her needs, yes, but her focus was on what I was doing and could she fit in it or not. If not, she lay on her bed or outside completely happy – it seemed to me. She was not nervous without me, she was whole. I, on the other hand, was busy or available. When I was busy I knew she was happy, adjusted, doing her thing. As it happened she never peed or pooped in the house, never ate what wasn’t hers and only chewed furniture when my life was miserable.
Her perfection may have masked my weakness. It certainly made life with her easy. On the leash you hardly knew she was there – no tugs just easy pace, whatever I set. Off leash, her life was hers and she took her hikes, dazzling me with the beauty and ease of her run – even though I may have been calling her to come back I secretly admired her flight.
I grew up alone and dogs and horses were where I put my heart. All those photos and paintings of children and animals are on the mark, animals are where it’s at. Esme was like the dog in the Norman Rockwell painting you have your arm thrown around. It looks so casual, but it’s not. It’s dead serious. This is an important relationship. She was the softest dog, the quietest, the most beautiful, the most rare.
I once had the pleasure of living with a cat I named Peaches. I named her Peaches because on the top of her head was the outline of a peach seed. People would ask me, “is that unusual?” The outline of a peach seed? On every cat you’ll see. She was no different. They are all the softest, rarest, most beautiful. That’s why we love them so much. Why they love us is the subject of another writing.
Esme introduced herself to me through love, at the death of my soul dog Zoe. Zoe told my wife Paula that she would send Esme when I was ready. After three months I found myself looking at Greyhound rescue sites online. I called one of the shelters and asked was there a dog they weren’t showing. Yes, there was, but she had just been returned by a family where she was biting the children and she wasn’t ready in their mind to go to another family, and yes, we had children but they were 12 and 13.
We went to the shelter that day – no easy feat, we lived on Martha’s Vineyard and it meant finding a ferry over and back – but they were available and so off we went to Mendon, Massachusetts. At the shelter a white dog was brought in, and another dog followed unbidden. I looked at the white one, asked her, “are you Esme,” she came and stood beside me. She never left.
You’re wondering about the other one? He climbed – all ninety-five pounds of him on Paula’s lap (she’s 120) – and that was that. We had four dogs. Esme focused on me like it was her job, and I believe it was. It’s hard to know what to do, how to explore what’s left, how to have what’s here, how to let go of what’s gone.