It’s raining, and I think of our late dog Twyla as I bring our other dog Harper in and dry her feet. Twyla loved getting toweled off, luxuriating in the attention given her bearlike coat.
After a dog dies, you never know what is going to set off a new flow of tears or recall a special memory — or simply make you feel that your world is no longer quite right. We experienced this all over again recently when our black-and-tan Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Twyla — 12 years old and in congestive heart failure — died suddenly and unexpectedly while we were visiting my parents the week before Thanksgiving. Because we were out of town, it wasn’t until we arrived home that the fact of Twyla’s death really began to sink in.
For my husband, Jerry, the change in the mealtime routine has him down in the dumps. Twyla took five different medications twice a day, and Jerry was methodical in giving them. First he gave her the pills that she would eat out of his hand because they were either tasty (fish oil capsules), chewable (the Vetmedin pills that improved her heart function), or simply looked like they might be a treat (the cranberry supplement to help prevent bacteria from latching onto her bladder).
Then he mixed the remaining pills in with her food, slipped a scrunchie over her head to keep her ears from dragging in her food, and ceremoniously placed the dish down in her private dining room, i.e., our balcony. There she dined, er, inhaled her food, happily unaware that our other dog, Harper, was eating dinner in the kitchen, something she would have considered a gross miscarriage of justice. In Twyla’s view, all food belonged to her, and we learned to make sure that little Harper was well out of the kitchen before letting Twyla in from the balcony so she could run in and lick any remaining molecules of food from Harper’s dish.
I performed the same routine at evening meals, but pulling out a single bowl brought only a slight twinge. It wasn’t until I was chopping a head of cauliflower for our own dinner that the tears began to flow.
Voice quavering, I asked Jerry, “Who’s going to eat the pieces of cauliflower that fall on the floor?”
Lots of dogs vacuum up fallen bits of food, but few of them are connoisseurs. Twyla would try — and eat — anything: citrus fruit, cucumber, celery, kale, kiwi fruit, the aforementioned cauliflower. She wasn’t above stealing the seed-filled core of a bell pepper out of our bird’s cage, and she would wait impatiently for her share when she spied an apple or pear in our hands. Blueberries were rolled delicately in her mouth, tested for ripeness before being swallowed. I dread the next time I pull out celery to chop.
Twyla isn’t the only spirit raised by food. A tangerine is my equivalent of Proust’s madeleine. Whenever I peel one, I think not only of Twyla but also Darcy, our tricolor Cavalier, and Savanna, our retired racing Greyhound. All of them came running at the scent of citrus.
It’s not just food that makes us think of Twyla. It’s the empty spaces in the house, where a little black-and-tan body should be sprawled like a miniature bear rug. In the corner of the kitchen next to the baker’s rack. Curled up by the wooden Buddha sculpture at the top of the stairs. Lying on the leopard-print cushion in our bedroom, waiting for her late-night treat. Sleeping in the leather recliner, snoring gently.
I think of Glee’s Halloween episode, with the performance of the Zombies’ song “She’s Not There.”
Please don’t bother tryin’ to find her
She’s not there
Well, let me tell you ’bout the way she looked
The way she’d act and the color of her hair
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she’s not there
It’s wrong, though. She is there. Just a little blurry through the mist of tears.
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