I spent the week house-sitting for one of my sisters. Wednesday morning, Bear, her family’s super-lovey Bernese Mountain Dog, bounded around the Amethyst Brook woods as I walked up the trail. Back in the parking lot, I noticed that she had two porcupine quills in her snout.
We sat outside of Amherst Coffee for a while; I wrote while she lounged, getting loved up by everyone who walked by.
Then we stopped by the vet, but because it was the Fourth of July, only one tech was working. She told me to come back Thursday morning when they’d be better staffed, and we’d get the quills out. So Bear and I spent the rest of the afternoon at home, writing letters, catching up on administrative life stuff, feeding the bunnies, watering the plants, napping, and looking at what seemed like the rest of the world’s vacation pictures on Facebook.
That evening, I drove to Northampton to spend the evening with Jessi, my best friend of twenty-five years. We ate pizza and pints of Bart’s ice-cream with her kiddos, then sat on the deck of her apartment–the kind where you can see the shuffle of feet of the people on the deck above yours–laughing, talking, catching up on a million topics from marriage to divorce to parenting to sex to work to push-ups and tattoos and self-love, in the kind of conversation that spins and weaves threads in every which direction but always circles back to the center.
Sprawled out on her huge bed, her twin girls came in and hugged me. “Are you sleeping here?” they asked. No, I told them. Bear-dog would be terribly lonely if I did that. “We will miss you,” they said.
They washed up, and then I got in the bottom bunk with them and listened to one of them read the poem dedicated to Jessi from the copy of “Don’t Miss This” I had just inscribed for her, the one that ends:
Here, there are no answers
only the dissonance of flowers in a vase in one country
and rubble in another
only the fierce protection of one woman for another
Here is what keeps us together
knowing that in the end
(as if we would know it was the end)
we will hold each other and each other’s children
without needing words or even common language
How big can our dance become
made more luminous against the darkening night?
Then, while Jessi read to her son on the top bunk, the girls read me some of the poems they’d written in second grade. We said goodnight. Jessi made lunches for work and camp the next day while I sat on a stool in her little kitchen, soaking her up. By 9:00, we were both ready for bed.
So I drove back over the bridge to Amherst, feeling truly contented.
Pulled into the driveway and turned the key to the front door, expecting Bear to be standing there, wagging and happy to greet me. But she wasn’t. My stomach dropped. I started calling for her, all over the house, then outside in the dark, under the deck, all around the beautiful gardens and sloping yard. No Bear. I began to cry somewhat hysterically as I called her name. I texted my other sister, who also lives in Amherst. “Bear is missing. Please come.” She drove over right away with flashlights and we looked and looked and looked. Nothing.
I dreaded having to call my sister and brother-in-law the next morning and prayed Bear would return by daybreak. Mind racing–maybe it was the quills that drove her out of her dog door and beyond the boundaries of the property that she usually roams freely within? Or the boom of the UMass fireworks finale that freaked her out? And of course, going over my day and night, wondering if I’d done anything inadvertently irresponsible or could somehow have prevented this from happening. Distress that this happened at all, and perhaps selfishly, that it happened under my watch. Pangs of guilt.
Next morning, still no sign. Phoned-in reports to all of the local vets and animal shelters, the police, the town’s animal control officer. My sister printed up flyers at Staples and brought them over for us to tape to telephone poles–the gas station on the corner, the little library on the common, the neighbors’ mailboxes. All day, back and forth, texting, talking, checking in, hoping, wishing, praying she’d find her way home. Tears on the phone with my sister, who I know doesn’t blame me but is heartsick with worry for her pup.
So far, she hasn’t. I am back home now, at my own kitchen table, with Bobo–who we think of as Bear’s cousin–at my feet. My sister and her family will return home later this afternoon. It’s my nephew’s tenth birthday today. Bear’s safe return would be the best, best, best birthday present ever.