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Carlos is intertwined with my love of the pleasures of Japan. We met there while we were both in the Navy, meeting the first time at work in the windowless, cold bunker that was our command’s building. We were under fluorescent lights in the drab beige uniforms of Navy office work, but he was vivid and funny and sexy. I found myself flirting helplessly. And soon we were off on adventures, Japan becoming the backdrop of our passionate affair, with a definite, looming ending date: I would be transferred to Hawaii in nine months.
Mono no aware is the Japanese concept for being sensitive to the sadness and beauty of fleeting moments. Everything we did–eat sushi, drink sake, visit temples, make love, read aloud from “The Confederacy of Dunces”–was tinged with my feeling of the poignancy of the impending end. For what relationship could survive my move to Hawaii, the inevitable fizzle of the long-distance romance?
So, Tokyo, September 1992, we are saying goodbye before I board the bus for Narita airport; I am crying, cradling this pain of the end, and he says, “Don’t cry, I’ll see you in 6 months.” It hadn’t occurred to me that this could continue, that he was already planning the future.
The future was expensive phone calls and long letters in the time before e-mail, a civil ceremony in Honolulu on October 7, 1993, and, when my four years of service were up, married life together–finally!–in San Diego in August 1994.
After all that mono no aware, the together time sped up and propelled us. San Diego, Washington, D.C., Naples, Italy, back to San Diego, Montgomery, Alabama, London, Yokosuka, and finally back to the D.C. area. Besides living in the U.K., Japan, and Italy, we vacationed in Bali, Vietnam, France, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Mexico, Bolivia, and Puerto Rico. He deployed many, many times for six months, three months, eight months. Each time it hurt and then it stopped. Perhaps I learned patience, perhaps we were just stubborn and persistent.
We bought our first house. We renovated a bathroom, we gardened and hosted dinner parties. He retired from the Navy. We adopted two rescue dogs. We got fatter and older. We fought, we made up, we got drunk–often. And we laughed.
We laugh and laugh. We endlessly quote movies: “Stripes,” “Bull Durham,” “Caddyshack,” “The Godfather,” “Cool Hand Luke.” When we started dating, he read to me National Lampoon’s version of Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diaries.
Noviembre 13. [...] Even I found myself forcing down a bottle of Coca-Cola, the vile mate of yanqui imperialists, Although the foul liquid made me gag, I noticed an odd aftertaste that I could not dispel. A half hour later I found myself having another, and yet another. This is foolish counterrevolutionary weakness on my part, and I will steel myself against it. But I suppose it can’t hurt to kill the six-pack.
Enero 17. No Cokes for three days. My hands are shaky and my knees are weak. I am itching like a man on fuzzy tree. Delirious. I cannot go on unless I have another. Soon. A peasant in the village will deal with me–one rifle, one six-pack.
Enero 20. [...] A company of Bolivian infantry opened fire, chopping Pombo and his men into paella. [...] Marcos himself barely escaped with his life, shielding his body with a Coca-Cola cooler.
Summer 1992: I am laughing with delight as he reads to me. And then twenty years flash and burn. And I am here, with puppies and husband. And I am still laughing.
Emerson has always been affectionate with me. That first night one year ago today, May 12, 2012, when he came home, Emerson sat near me constantly, ready to be pet, ready to be taken into our life, his soul-searching eyes asking me, “What’s in store for me lady? Got treats?”
Ready for bed that night in our bedroom, we all stared at each other, Carlos and I from the bed, Emerson from his crate. All three of us apprehensive, tired, wondering how this would go. By the next morning though, Emerson woke up, registered where he was, shook himself, and seemed to have decided the living arrangement could work just fine.
But with strangers he was pitifully nervous. I paraded him over to the neighbor’s house to show him off and he cowered at my feet, tail between his legs, terrified. Other friend-neighbors came over to meet the new dog and he cringed and growled. I got the pity-face from everyone.
I walked him up to Your Dog’s Best Friends doggie daycare several days later and he flattened himself under a chair in the “orientation” room and could not be lured out with treats. I almost started to cry thinking that if he could not go to daycare, I could not keep him. The owner, Paul Haire, came in the room, looked at Emerson shivering, immediately got on his hands and knees, dropped his head beneath Emerson’s, and stayed still. Emerson relaxed. The test dogs were brought in, Emerson perked up, greeted them appropriately, and was accepted into daycare. By the end of the day when I came to pick him up he bounded out to me grinning and perky. He quickly became a staff favorite. They remarked on how loving he is.
Our relationship proceeded.
After a very short while Emerson proved himself reliable in his household habits and the crate door was left permanently open. He began to seek the floor next to my side of the bed. We moved a dog bed there so I could reach down at night and feel him. He started to lay next to me on the couch as I read, head on my leg, silent and clearly content.
One night Carlos was tired from a tough day at work and was the first to break the “no dogs on the bed” rule. He said, “Maybe we can have Emerson on the bed tonight?” And up Emerson came, tucking himself between us, exposing his belly to be rubbed, and sighing as he closed his eyes. Over time we decided Emerson would sleep in his own bed, but he was invited up to cuddle in the morning.
And so routines established themselves. He was still nervous around strangers, but after five or six meetings with new people he started to relax around our friends. Carlos’s brother came to live next door. He was the only new person that Emerson treated as family from the first moment. We think Alvaro must smell just like Carlos.
One night I reached down from the bed to touch Emerson and he rolled over to let me rub his belly. His particular musky smell wafted up, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of both longing and protectiveness. I was in love.
I visited family for Thanksgiving, leaving Carlos and Emerson at home. In my absence, Emerson climbed under the covers on my side of the bed. The entire time I was gone I ached for him. The sensation made me laugh at myself, at what I was feeling for a dog. When I returned and climbed out of the cab in our driveway, Emerson was waiting with Carlos. Carlos was happy to see me, but Emerson’s whole body vibrated with happiness.
In November, around the six-month mark, Emerson seemed to grok he was staying forever. He began to ask for things, giving a little moan/growl when I spent too much time on the computer and placing a paw on my leg, trying to lure me to touch him. He stopped gulping down his food and took this time. He followed me around the house, flopping down noisily in whatever room I was folding clothes, checking email, cooking dinner.
I started to wonder if he was bored. We played with him, walked him, pet him, but I started to do PetFinder searches for a companion dog. I thought a female would make him happy. In January we brought home a spit-fire named Remy, half-Basenji, half-???, who immediately jumped on Emerson, chewed his ear, and stole his toys. It took a while for Emerson to adjust to sharing the couch and affection, but she has become the companion I hoped she would be for my beloved boy.
There were many people involved in bringing Emerson to us. I highlighted the story in my last post. But on this first anniversary I’d like to thank all those people again. In Nash County, North Carolina, Zach Wilford recognized that the stray dog in his neighborhood was very sweet and very scared. Zach pushed everyone to save this unpromising foundling. Without Zach vouching for Emerson, he may have been put down after three days in the very small county shelter. Others from Nash County who never even met Emerson pledged money for his eye surgery and to attract a dog rescue to take him. Carol Vierela from Nash County Animal Friends drove Emerson to Virginia.
Mutt Love Rescue (particularly Cathy Komenda and Cathy Haffner) got Emerson his eye operation, shared their homes with him, and helped him find us.
Cathy Komenda wrote last year on May 12: “His adopters were so excited. They could not take their hands off him. He is going to be spoiled rotten.”
He is spoiled rotten. And we haven’t taken our hands off him yet.
Video: Emerson and Remy show off their training.
The Story in Facebook Links
December 30, 2011 Emerson is picked up as a stray in Nash County, NC
December 31, 2011, Emerson is in the shelter and Nash County Animal Friends solicits contributions to help Emerson get rescued and to have his cherry eye fixed. In essence, they created a dowry for him.
January 4, 2012, update on Emerson
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages –
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, couthe in soundry londes
(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),
On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.
The palmers long to travel foreign strands
To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands
–Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, (Modern English trans. Ronald L. Ecker and Eugene J. Crook)
Our Springtime baby, we had no idea how much we’d love him.
That a stray dog’s progress to his forever home can be documented is due to the dedication of his rescuers: Nash County Animal Shelter and Nash County Animal Friends in North Carolina, and Mutt Love Rescue in Fairfax, Virginia (who paid for his eye operation, boarded him, put his photo on Petfinder.com, and brought him to the adoption day to meet us).
The Stray Dog’s Tale [Facebook page link with more of the story]
December 30, 2011, Nashville, North Carolina: Zach Wilford wrote about Nash County Animal Control picking up a stray dog from his neighborhood “with double cherry eye. Brindle in color. … He was very sweet and very scared.”
He would not go near the animal control officer. I sat on the ground and talked very sweetly to him and he came up to me and laid on my lap. The female officer was there. He is extremely sweet I just think he has had bad experiences. He was licking my hand and face lol. If he doesn’t come around soon I will try to make a trip over there soon to help I believe he will remember me. I gave him food and water while he was in the trap and I gave him a blanket to keep him warm and covered the cage with a sheet to guard from the wind. I couldn’t let him sit out there like that, cold. I’m seriously praying like crazy for this one.
The House Dog’s Tale [Facebook page link with more of the story]
We don’t know who gave him such a fabulous name, but like his namesakes, the Transcendentalist philosopher and the 1970s Progressive Rock keyboardist, Emerson had a following (check out the comments at the link above). And many of those followers pledged money to go to the rescue league to help pay for his eye operation.
January 6, 2012, Emerson doesn’t know it, but he’s about to travel from North Carolina to Virginia with Mutt Love Rescue: “He will spend a couple of nights with me and on Sunday, we will meet his Rescue in Richmond. This is the most loving dog and I think he was a house dog in his past.” –Carol Vierela, founder of Nash County Animal Friends
Emerson is neutered, has his cherry eye surgically repaired, and is boarded in Virginia. About four months later, we see his photo on Petfinder.com. Something in his floppy ears and knowing eyes gets to us.
The Happy Tail
We meet him on May 12 and Cathy at Mutt Love Rescue delivers him to us that evening.
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beest, out of thy stal!
Know thy countree, looke up, thank God of al.
Hold the heigh way and lay thy gost thee lede:
Truth shal delivere, it is no drede.
Epilogue, June 2, 2012
Alexandria summer: Heat, mosquitoes in the backyard, ugly new construction on our block, passive-aggressive boss, heat, ennui, heat—
spray my calves with poison to keep the bugs off and step out into life I helped along: bowls and bowls of homegrown cherry tomatoes, a few Green Zebras, and a single Brandywine that made it to ripe through the gauntlet of thirsty squirrels. Bonus: our first heirloom Stone Mountain watermelon, a few more on the vines. Summer is sweet, feels cooler in the soul.
Backyard bird feeder visitors this spring have included House Finches, House Sparrows, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Mourning Doves (on the ground below the feeder), a single Red-winged Blackbird, and Gray Catbirds. I’ve tried to keep the bird bath filled with clean water on these hot days (today the high is expected to be 102°F). I’m particularly motivated to monitor the water supply because I noticed a few weeks ago that two catbirds were delivering twigs and fluffy bits to one of our large Osmanthus bushes. I wanted to thank them for choosing our yard, a great compliment which meant they had identified it as rich enough in food, water, and shelter to support the family.
Lately the pair has been taking turns swooping about, grabbing insects and caterpillars in their bills. This morning I pushed gently into the bush to see what was happening. I think I was expecting a Del Ray–style nest evoking the vibe of our weekly farmers’ market crowd: couples weighed down by Swedish baby carriers (or Andean baby slings) and cotton tote bags with blue/green Earth logos. Instead, the nest looked like an episode of Hoarders with the bits of plastic and paper woven among the twig structure. If it were 1987, I might think these spoiled suburban birds with their black mohawks were building a shantytown to urge the university to divest from South Africa. No, perhaps this is indeed an emblematic Del Ray nest. My little urban homesteaders are recycling and repurposing while exploring E. F. Schumacher’s “appropriate technology” concept.
The eggs are supposed to be turquoise blue, but when I leaned in to gawp, one of the pair jumped on a branch very close to my face and gave me such a nasty look. I retreated and refilled the bird bath.