Recently my Pack has experienced significant losses.
Thanksgiving weekend, Hannah and Molly pushed out the door with the faulty latch and disappeared over the horizon. I found Hannah’s body at the pound on Sunday, November 25, thoughtfully wrapped in two plastic bags. She had been hit by something, and her jaw was broken. She was still soft, so it was a recent event. Joe and Marsha helped me take her to the crematorium. Hannah MacKenzie was four years old.
Two days later, Wednesday, November 28, after Joe and Marsha continued the quest to find Molly, she was found at the pound. I went up on Thursday after work and bailed my girl out of Puppy Prison. She came home with a limp, a sore abdomen, and a new attitude – which we need to work on. Molly Regen is two and a half years old.
The following Sunday, Maeda Jayne, my 13-year-old, had what appeared to be a stroke, and was not well.
On Monday, Joe and Marsha picked up Hannah’s ashes and brought them to the house.
The next day, December 4, 2018, I came home to find Maeda struggling for breath, looking like it was going to be our last good-bye. It was. She and I sat together, exchanging memories and snuggles, before she took her last breath, wagged her tail, and was gone. The dogs outside began to howl.
Joe and Marsha came again to help take her to the crematorium.
On Wednesday, I passed Glorianna to a neighbor, because I did not have the energy for this shepherd mix puppy, formerly of San Carlos Apache Reservation.
On Wednesday, I found lesions on Freckles, and some odd growth around her lip.
She and I went to the vet on Friday. She was banished to quarantine for ten days. Freckles McGee is four and a half years old.
The neighbor brought Glorianna back home.
Molly and I are negotiating her responsibilities in the Pack.
She growls at everyone, including me.
She still gets sore if we walk more than a half mile.
Interlude: I celebrate my father’s birthday December 6, also St. Nikolaus Tag. On this day, I found a gold and sapphire ring in the mud at school. It fits, so I assume it is a gift from the Earth, my dad, and my dogs. Happy St. Nikolaus Tag, I love you, too.
The school where I work is fraught with trauma, violence, and daily overdoses of anxiety and chaos.
The nights have become impossible at home – nightmares, my own anxiety attacks, and the chemistry of grief.
Never mind that Christmas is coming soon, and my family in the East are not the Magi.
I am a wreck.
Many of my friends and most of the community wonder that I have a multi-dog Pack. Some have been gracious, even though they don’t get it. So, I am writing this essay as an explanation, of sorts.
Because everyone needs to love someone and be loved in return.
Because they get all excited when I’m around, anxious to spend time with me, overjoyed to just hang out. Not once have I ever heard them say, “Wow. I just wasted 70 minutes talking to you.”
Because in the middle of the night, when the nightmares are too strong, I wake up, and lying next to me, against my body, their head or paw on my leg comforting me are good friends. Not once have they said, “Just drink a beer, and go back to sleep.”
Because when we are playing, and a right hook catches my cheek, it is because we are playing, not because I confronted my mother’s addiction and her right hand cracked my face into the next county, leaving me dazed and confused, in tears in the kitchen.
Because if I want to go for a walk in the rain, the snow, or on a cold day, they wag themselves silly with anticipation. They don’t sigh deeply or in scorn, asking, “Why kind of idiot goes out in weather like this.”
I do. Does this mean I’m an idiot?
Because I like to hike, to camp, to travel, to explore. I don’t have a husband (divorced), an elder brother (former addict, now deceased), a father (estranged, now deceased), or other male relative to protect and defend me because sexist societal rules say I should not go out ‘alone’. If I had succumbed to the notion that ‘girls can’t/shouldn’t’, I would never have seen the Great Divide – in the dark because, on our way from Arizona to Connecticut, 2015, I had to pull over so Hannah could piddle; from the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, 2016, when we headed north to avoid a tunnel; from the northern end – which included my first sighting of sheep, mountain sheep, long-horn sheep. All this with dogs in the car, wanting to get out and take a look, too.
I cried with sorrow that the people I left behind were not there to share this with me. But, they’ve seen it on television, and for them, that is enough.
It isn’t even close.
Because I love the sound of coyotes and to watch the night sky – especially when the coyotes are close, and my dogs howl with them.
I am more alive when we are outside, in the woods, among the coyote and the elk, the pine and the wild turkey. Among the Wild Things.
I don’t need to explain this to the dogs. They come back from their expeditions, grinning from ear to ear, covered in the weeds and mud of the local pond or creek, tired, exhausted, exhilarated.
They, and the illusion that minute measures of tent fabric will be enough to keep out the bear, the lion, the whatever that thing is that is breaking through the underbrush at three in the morning, make me feel safe.
One dog invites a visit from a stranger: “Need help setting up the tent?”
Two dogs invite a conversation from a respectable distance as they gage my ability to set up camp alone.
Three or more? People nod and walk on, making comments like, “Nice dogs you have there.”
Morgen used to wag his 98 pounds at them. Duncan stood closer to me. Maeda Jayne, all husky and shepherd, gave them the ‘look’. Hannah used to bark them away.
I don’t know, but I get the feeling Molly has taken over the care-taking position, practicing her growling at the puppy, and her hair-raising barking at the Mastiff next door.
Because God can’t be everywhere. He sends companions, guardians, protectors. But even they go away. Morgen is now romping through the Eternal Woods with my grandfather. Duncan is somewhere listening to Johann Sebastian Bach play the Brandenburg Concertos live – and waiting for me. Maeda Jayne is with my grandmother, swimming with the mallards and geese. Hannah? I don’t think Hannah has left just yet. Her Spirit is here, training Molly. Protecting our Pack.
Kyte, Bruno, and Abigail Fenstermacher, Meshach, Patty, and Sam, who came before, remember.
Because it is lonely without them. Times are uncertain and I need reassurance. But, I wonder if Molly prefers to run free. Then I recall Hannah’s fractured jaw; the dead and rotting corpses lining the road where I found Freckles; the cold and rainy night Molly was abandoned; the emaciated bones and skin Glorianna wore the day we met.
I know that I cannot prevent violence. I can not stop addiction. I can not change society’s rules.
But I can live.
And I do.
Hannah at Roosevelt Lake, Arizona
Maeda by the Shetucket River, Connecticut