“Just love,” I call out, throwing my voice ahead of me, as Pettigrew hurries us towards the woman in the neon yellow jacket standing in the middle of the street with her arms stretched wide.
Sandy, the school crossing guard, keeps a pocketful of treats for the dogs that pass her intersection.
A flash of confusion clouds her face as she looks at me, trying to make sense of what I am saying. I see the moment she remembers. Pettigrew’s stomach isn’t up for treats, but he can always have love.
He sits expectantly at her feet, relishing a thorough ear, head, and neck rub.
Would he have welcomed a treat? Without a doubt. But sometimes, just love is enough. In fact, sometimes it is exactly what is needed.
The other night I was out later than usual, to which Pettigrew doesn’t take kindly.
When I came home, rather than remaining ensconced on the coach, merely deigning to roll his eyes back to see who had returned, he met me at the door. Followed me around as I hung up my coat and put down my purse. And finally, joined me when I sat to check email.
But first, he reminded me, someone needed loving.
So I sat, patting his head, rubbing the soft fur on his back, feeling it bristle up as I rubbed against the grain and turning silky as I flattened it again. I touched the wirier fur on his tail and the downy, soft fur on his neck. I patted and patted. I thought about treats. How much faster they are. One treat. Pettigrew rushes off to enjoy it in privacy and I can move on with my activities. But there’s something lost that way too. Sitting together, sharing this moment, Pettigrew and I were solidifying our bond.
This is the way we had started. When he first came to our home, an anxious, uncertain pup, we kept him confined to the kitchen. We didn’t know if he was housebroken (he was), if he would chew the furniture (he did), if he would wreck havoc on our home (debatable). So, I spent long hours those first few days. Just the two of us. Together. In the kitchen. I would cook, or clean, or read. But other times we would be just as we were that evening when I came home too late for Pettigrew’s comfort, enjoying a good rub.
When our boys were babies I can remember the feeling of pouring myself into their tiny bodies. Adapting my rhythms to theirs.
I believe we undervalue the importance of just love. That we miss out with that easy treat that follows a pro forma pat.
When I was in college a good friend’s father collapsed and died of an aneurysm. My friend didn’t make it home in time to say goodbye. When he returned to school, he threw himself into his activities. Taking up all of his responsibilities. Eschewing offers of extra time or help.
What could I do? I felt helpless. We took one walk together to the Duck Pond, an overgrown puddle on campus. I remember silently standing next to him, feeling the rough wood of the split-rail fence under my hands. Watching the lights reflected on the water. Then we walked back.
A year later he confided how much comfort he took from that walk. That time we spent together, silently looking out over the water. Just love.
Below is a short piece I wrote over two years ago about that experience for a writers’ class with Helena Clare Pittman.
They turned toward darkness, away from light and people.
Her words floated in the night, “I’m sorry for your loss…How are you doing? …Do you want to talk about it?”
An underground spring? A stream?
On this night of death, she wondered about the source… where the water flowed.
“They reached me at school.”
“He dropped on the court playing ball.”
“No time to say goodbye.”
Light reflected off the pond’s surface. From the moon. From the windows at their back.
Eyes gazing ahead.
Arms resting on the split-rail fence.
Side by side.
They walked back up the hill. To the lights. To the people. To the life he needed to reclaim.
A year later he asked, “Do you remember the night we walked to the pond.”
“Yes.” She remembered her inadequacy, impotence in the face of his loss.
“It meant so much. You were the only one who asked.”
In silence she revisited her memory.