Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Color: Black

This one has just come to me. I got the call. The one I knew was coming, just wasn’t sure when. Dear sweet Patty, my black lab from my former life was put down yesterday. Andy had to call to tell me. He told me with tears in his throat. I answered with tears in mine. Patty was well over 14 years old and from what I had heard through Andy, had, over the years since I’ve been gone, slowly slowed down. Mark had to put her to sleep yesterday. Andy said his Dad is pretty shaken up about it. I can only imagine.

Patty, like Satchmo, came to us under shady circumstances. Her predecessor, also a lab, named Maggie we had brought into our life, as fairly new newly weds, very soon after we had moved into our own house. She was a pure bred baby, daughter of a show quality yellow lab (her father had actually posed in Nordstrom ads!) and a black mama, also a prize winner. When we went to see the puppies this was the first I knew that a pure black dog can come from a mix of black and yellow labs. As can yellow pups. She was in a mixed litter, both yellow and black. All precious. She lived a good long life for a lab and with tears we had put her cancer ridden body to rest in the fall.

We told ourselves we needed to recover. That no little puppy could possibly take her place so soon so we would use the winter and spring to get the yard in shape, replace part of the fence, etc. We were without for two weeks. The house was too quiet. The walks too sad. A friend of a friend was looking for some type of small dog and in her search talked to a breeder who had a black lab pup that was nine weeks old and so was not as marketable and was looking for a good home for the pup. Offering a good price. We reluctantly (but not really) went up to look at the dog. The directions led us to a trailer park. We pulled up to a trailer, no view through the window: laundry was stacked over the height of the window. At the door Mama, exactly like Mama in “Throw Mama from the Train” movie met us at the door. She looked at us and cussed and shuffled back saying “the dog ain’t even been bathed yet” (and she said bath-ed, as in rhyming with laughed, not rhyming with behaved). It was like a freaky movie. She hollered “Pa, you do this” and disappeared into the trailer. Then this old, double wide sized guy shuffles out and motions for us to sit on the trailer steps. We all look at each other: Mark, Andy and me, with startled looks, muffling nervous giggles. He wanders around the corner where we hear much whimpering and yipping…obviously little dogs. Turns out they were Shiatsus. But when he comes back he has an adorable smelly little black lab puppy. Beautiful, though not in show condition. This little puppy leaps into our arms and licks our faces and there was no more discussion. We arrange to take her home. He wants to find the “papers” showing her breed purity so asks me to follow him into the trailer. He’s muttering something about needing to get rid of her because he just had back surgery and she’s getting too big to handle. Says she’s nine weeks old but I am guessing she’s closer to twelve, another reason he’s having trouble getting a home for her. As he tells me about his back surgery he lifts up the back of his grey and holy T-shirt and offers to show me his scar. His pants are slung so low that all I can see is this huge butt crack smiling at me. I look behind my shoulder, hoping at least Andy or Mark can witness this spectacle but no such luck. He rifles through a huge pile of papers on a counter and can’t find her papers but promises to send them to me. I know they will not be coming but I don’t care. We are not breeding this baby. We are rescuing her.

She is excited to be leaving the trailer park. She wants to be in our lap, not in the crate we have brought along, just in case… And we want her in our laps, not the crate. On this ride we notice lots of scratching and looking closely, little fleas dancing on her body. We swing by the pet store on the way home and pick up flea shampoo and a flea collar and take her directly to the sink for a bath before we settle in to the next many years together. We look at each other and all three speaking simultaneously say “We bathed the dog” (Rhyming with “We laughed the dog.”) And we laugh.

Andy takes to having a puppy like any good young boy. This is new to him: Maggie was already into adulthood by the time Andy came into our lives. Patty makes our family once again complete. She’s a running partner. A walking partner. A safety measure when home alone. A soft heart and a big appetite. She is black and she is beautiful.

Fast forward. The marriage is over. Andy is 15 years old and will be coming with me. I leave Mark and in my guilt I don’t even approach bringing Patty as well. While Andy goes back every other weekend, I do not have the heart to let Patty see me. I would rather she think I was dead, dropped off the face of the earth, than to have her think I abandoned her. So when I drop Andy off or pick him up I do it from in front of the neighbor’s house, out of view from the living room window where Maggie spends much of the day watching the comings and goings in the neighborhood. I compartmentalize any thoughts of Patty, as I have done with other things that I left behind. The pain is too thick to allow. When Andy is old enough to drive himself to his Dad’s and back I no longer have play the hiding game. I do not go to the old house. But it’s not the old house I miss. It’s certainly not the old marriage. It is Patty, my dog, who thinks I am dead, that I miss.

Tonight I have learned that it is she that is dead. Not me. And everything is black. I want to go home. To my old home. To embrace and sob with Mark. To grieve the loss. But I gave up that right when I left. I feel an emptiness in a place that I didn’t know was full. Black is beautiful. But not when it’s gone.

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