Last year, the dog I had with my ex-husband passed away. Her name was Allie. She was a golden retriever, and the first real pet dog I ever had.
We brought her home she was a few months old. Growing up, my family did not have dogs and I didn’t know how to live with a puppy. She ate my good leather shoes, pulled my underwear out of the laundry basket and chewed it up, and licked the finish off one of our pieces of furniture. I wasn’t prepared for having a puppy and I wasn’t very patient with her.
I got used to having Allie around though, and she was incredibly smart. My ex and I weren’t living together full time, so I saw her on the weekends. She was learning all of the standard commands, and quickly. She was sweet and kind and a great snuggler.
After we got married and moved to another town, Allie kept me company during the long nights while my ex-husband was working nights. She was by my side while I was pregnant with our first child, working on my associates degree. When our daughter was born, we made sure to introduce her to Allie as soon as we walked in the door. Allie was never jealous — she simply accepted our daughter Katelyn as one of her own.
When Katelyn was about two, I was playfully chasing her around the living room with the vacuum as she screamed and flung herself dramatically onto the couches to escape. When I took a short break to answer the phone, Allie charged at the vacuum and knocked it over. To Allie, it wasn’t a game. The vacuum messed with her girl and the vacuum had to be punished.
Although my ex had a strict “no dogs on the furniture” rule in our house, I often got scared being alone in the new house at night while he was at work. I’d invite Allie to join me in our queen bed and keep me company. I could tell from the way she slunk into the bed and leaned up against me that she knew she’d be in trouble if she got caught. I always assured her that I’d take the rap in the morning when he got home.
In no time, our son was born, and once again, Allie accepted him. He climbed all over her and pushed his hands into her mouth to grab her tongue. She was gentle and kind and patient.
When I filed for divorce, I regretted having to leave Allie behind, but I was heading to a rental property. I didn’t even bother asking.
Still, she was my dog too, so I made arrangements with my ex to allow me to take Allie on vacation with me when I took the kids to Tennessee or North Carolina to see my family. Allie was the best road trip companion I could ever want. I could count on her to stay with my sleeping kids (windows cracked of course with the doors locked) while I ran frantically to the rest stop to pee. Nobody dared bother a minivan with a dog in the front seat.
Allie and I had several hair-raising experiences on the road. Once, while driving from my parents’ house in Tennessee to my brother’s house in North Carolina, I had to drive on Route 40 across the Smokey Mountains. It was pouring rain and I was exhausted from having to be hyper vigilant for such a long time. Tractor trailers surrounded us and the hills and curves were insane. At some point she got tired of nearly falling out of the bucket seat, flicked her eyes at me, aggravated, then planted her front paws on the floor in front of her until we reached flatter terrain. Her frustration was so human. I found this simply hilarious.
Once in a while I would pick up my kids and ask my ex if I could take Allie to the beach, where she loved to run and splash in the ocean. He’d agree, and off we’d go, and she’d chase a ball into the surf so many times she’d exhaust herself and flop down on the sand next to the kids.
After our last road trip, I didn’t see Allie again for a while. From time to time my ex would ask me to feed Allie and the new dog and I made sure to spend some time with her while I was there. The new dog was an attention hog and got between Allie and me. I didn’t feel I had much quality time with her. I could see she was getting older. I knew I didn’t have much more time with her.
My relationship with my ex went downhill soon after that, and I never saw Allie “in person” again. I received word from him during the summer of 2017 that Allie’s health was not good. Soon afterward, he left for his annual trip to Maine. My kids were with him. When he arrived in Maine, he informed me that Allie had not eaten in days and could no longer get up to go to the bathroom on her own. He said he had to put her down. In Maine. (I live in Delaware.)
The night before she was scheduled to be put to sleep, my ex set up a Skype session so I was able to see Allie one last time, albeit on video, and tell her I loved her. She was obviously not doing well. I don’t know what she heard or saw or felt, but I know I appreciated being able to see her one last time. I hoped she heard me as I told her how much she meant to me.
When I had to end the Skype session, I went upstairs to take a shower and burst into tears. The next day around 11 a.m., my ex told me she was gone. I cried myself into a migraine and had to call out of work.
I have lost friends and relatives alike and have never, ever cried the way I cried when Allie died. I felt so much guilt about leaving her behind, not being there to care for her as she got older, and finally, not being there to hug her and hold her paw as her life faded away that day. Mr. Fussypants comforted me. “It’s okay,” he said. “She knows you loved her.”
When my ex returned from Maine, he gave me half of Allie’s ashes and her ID tag from her collar. At least I have that, I thought. A part of her will always be with me.
For days and weeks afterward I would be overcome with sadness at random moments. My poor dog. She was such a damn wonderful dog. I just didn’t appreciate her or tell her enough how much I loved her. I was so ungrateful. And I could have spent so much more time with her if I had just asked my ex.
I started this article early in 2018 but haven’t been able to finish writing it. Usually I’m not able to write about a difficult experience until I’ve had the opportunity to process my emotions. I need some closure to allow me to open the floodgates and let the words flow forth. About a month ago, I got the closure I needed in an unexpected way.
Mr. Fussypants and I have a large king-sized bed that is low to the ground. Just before we moved in April 2018, the bed frame was disassembled and we had the mattresses on the floor for a few nights. It was a disturbing feeling being lower than usual, and I was constantly fearing that a spider would crawl up my nose or in my ear.
One morning after Mr. Fussypants left for work, I drifted back to sleep for an hour or so before I had to wake the kids for school. I felt an odd depression on the mattress near me. I jumped up and looked at the bed, half expecting someone to be sitting there — one of the kids, perhaps. I thought it might have been the mattress settling on the floor. Do mattresses settle?
After we moved, the movers set up our bed in our new bedroom. The mattress was on the bed frame. Three times, I felt the same odd depression on the mattress near me at the very same time of day, during that in-between sleep and waking time, after Mr. Fussypants had left the house. Again, I was instantly awake.
But about a month ago, I finally understood. As usual, Mr. Fussypants left for work and I drifted back to sleep when I felt not just pressure on the mattress, but a creeping presence coming across from the opposite side of the bed. Instead of bolting upright, this time I stayed quiet. I felt the presence move closer to me and sidle up against me, and then I felt pressure and warmth on my own body, across my lower back and hip.
At once, I was mentally broadsided by the memory of my beloved dog, who knew she wasn’t allowed on the bed, creeping silently across from my ex-husband’s side of the bed, lying alongside of me. Once in a while, if the angle was right, she would put her head on the small of my back or my hip. I would reach down and pet her head and reassure her that I wouldn’t let her get in trouble. That her company was not just allowed, but welcome.
It was Allie. It was unmistakably Allie. She came briefly, softly, and then was gone.
I touched the bed where she had been. I was overcome with emotion. I got out of bed and cried in the shower again as I got ready for work. The shower is the best place to cry, especially when your kids are sleeping.
Because of Allie’s visit, I now remember her not with regret but instead with overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude. She came to visit me to forgive me. She came to visit me because she loved me. And all along, she has been with me, knowing my sadness, my guilt, and knowing how much I loved her.
A few weeks ago, I began listening to the podcast Happy Face, which is the story of a young woman coming to grips with the reality of being the daughter of a particularly gruesome serial killer. In one episode, she met Don, the son of one of her father’s victims, who said his mother reached out after death to communicate with him. “When they come to visit you, they’re telling you they’re at peace,” he said, with all the matter-of-factness of describing the inner workings of a coffee machine. That makes sense, I thought.
None of us deserve the love we get from our dogs. If you have a dog at home or sitting next to you, please give her (or him) a hug. Pat her on her head. Tell her she’s a good dog. Take care of her. Spend time with her. Take her for walks or take her to the beach. And above all, love her. Because your time with her is limited, and take it from me — you will regret it if you don’t make the most of the time you have.
I love you, Allie. You’re always in my heart. This is how I’ll always remember you:
Esther Hofknecht, MSM-HCA is an independent writer living in Dover, Delaware. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheArdentReader19977/