It was about four weeks before Papa died. The house and those of us in it, were held together by a fragile thread. Every day I was juggling hearts and trying to keep them from slamming to the ground. Every day I was trying to hold center when center had gone.
I had stopped to stare out the window and just breathe. The phone rang.
"Honey, I think we have a dog."
I stopped breathing.
"Did you hear me? I think we have a dog. The people behind the studio are gone and abandoned their dog, left him tied up, left him. I'm bringing him home. We have a dog!"
I still had not breathed.
"Honey? Are you listening?"
Sweet Lord. Three years since we'd lost Belle and Zeus, followed by two years near hell. My sweetheart's heart had a big hole that needed filling, and the only thing that would repair it was a dog. I knew it was absolutely what he needed and absolutely what I did not. It was as timing goes, perfectly imperfect. I could see the need and feel the impossibility. Now? No.
The sliding door opened and in he came, a black and white border collie almost stuck to his side. I looked at him, I looked at "the" dog and I waited. He looked at me and he waited. "The" dog looked at both of us and waited.
I got it out in a whisper.
"No. We aren't keeping him. Not now. No. Sorry. So sorry, but no, not now."
He looked absolutely stricken and he had just looked happy.
"But he came to us, he was left for us, right by the studio. Right at my back door. He was left for me... All you have to do is look, and you'll see he's wonderful. Can't you see?"
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But No. "
I started to cry.
"I know you need a dog, I know you really need a dog. I know he came to you, I understand. But you, you have to understand. I can't love any more right now. I can't ask my heart to take on loving any more right now. I can't bring another being, another spirit into my heart. I can't take care of another living thing, I can't love another living thing. My heart is as wide open as it can be and all of it hurts. I wish I could, I would if I could, but I can't. I.....Just....Can't."
He got up, walked over to the sliding door and out. With the dog. He was angry, he was sad, he hurt.
An hour passed, it is a long drive to the studio and I was sure he was explaining to the dog as best he could, what he really couldn't explain to himself. He called me. "I let him go."
I felt bad, but I could't feel any worse than I already felt. Bad was bad and sad was sad. End of story.
Three hours passed, the phone rang. "He came back. I let him go. I told him not to come back. He came back. I took him away again and he came back. We're keeping him. That's all there is to it. He's ours. His name is Presley, they named him Presley. And Presley and I are coming home."
I walked back over to Mama and Papa's.
It would be awhile, more than a month before I got to know Presley. A month where I was steeped in how the living, die, and we die with them. In sitting vigil, picking nosegays to place by the bed, in singing and softly holding hands and hearts, in the very gentle, sad, quiet. Presley did not intrude, but quietly wrapped his heart in grateful and his Dad's heart in his own while my heart was wrapped up in the rest of it.
A few months later I was watching him, wondering about how he lay with his head upside down devotedly staring at his Dad and me. He had mastered that, just as he had mastered complete devotion to his father, and earnest, grateful and adoring to the rest of us. It was about that time when the hugging started. If I reached for him, he would sit on his haunches and wrap both his paws around my arm and hug me. I couldn't touch him that he didn't hug me. He was hugging me all of the time and hugging everyone else, most of the time, he still is. Except for Mama. He knew instinctively about her paper thin skin, he knew that she required, gentle. Instead he would put his paws delicately on the edge of her chair, lean in towards her face and look at her as if to say, "I love you." In the last few days he has become her nighttime guardian. She says, "I am going to bed" and he will stand by her side and wait as she puts on her pajamas, he will walk beside the walker as she goes into the bedroom and wait patiently while she climbs into bed and turns off her light. And then he will stick his nose on her hand, say Good Night and leave her safe and sound.
He has befriended the world, the people, the cats, the squirrels, the deer, the other dogs, every creature, every size, every age and every number of legs. He has made willing and earnest a part of his grateful, asking permission to venture to places unknown and high-tailing it back the moment he hears his Dad's whistle. He is kind. When friends come to play he greets them with his favorite toy and drops it at their feet, if they both are catching whatever is thrown, he will catch his, bring it back to them and add his bounty to their own, and if the all-out-one-to-one- chase is on--- he'll pull up and let them have the glory.
He is the consummate Wal-Mart greeter at home, the beach, the sculpture shows, the studio, everywhere he goes. And he lives the way of kind, earnest, friendly, grateful and perfect.
ABH says to me, "He is perfect you know, he is the most perfect dog I have ever known."
I said, "I know."
I tell her I've been having regular and frequent little talks with him.
Eye to eye, face to face, nose to nose, I stroke his head and tell him how much he has saved his Daddy's heart and built up the rest of our own. I tell him how we love him and how he has made us grateful. I tell him life is a sweet-hard story especially the part about the road up ahead. I tell him that he is perfect and that probably next time he will be a street urchin child. That when that happens he will feel differently, he will think differently, he will be lost differently and he will be found differently, but no matter it will be OK. I tell him that if he forgets the good, kind, sweet, grateful and earnest, that sometime he will remember them again. I tell him that next time he should look for his friends because they will be there and he will know them. And I tell him to keep his eyes peeled for angels because they will always show up when needed, although he may not recognize them by their look. I tell him they may be standing tall or upside down hugging but one thing is for sure they will arrive when the timing is perfectly imperfect, but imperfectly perfect.