My girl, my good, good girl. The piece missing from my heart, the empty place in my soul, the shattering emptiness in this house, the place on the couch still covered with her blanket where sometimes I would let her curl up next to me even though we didn’t really want to let her on the furniture, they’re all so desperately empty without my good girl. My missy, my sweet, ferociously protective, beautiful girl Alba. I still don’t know how she can just not be here, how a creature of such joy and love can simply vanish. They called us from the pet crematory yesterday. “Alba is ready for you to pick her up,” they said. Like she were just at the vet or the groomer. Our girl was ready to come home. We took her there in a blanket Saturday night, wrapped up with her favorite toy tucked inside. I rode in the back seat with her, just like when we brought her home from her first house, from the family that showed us the closet where they locked this beautiful puppy for 15 hours a day while they were at work. “It’s a walk-in closet,” they said, proudly. This four month old wiggly fluffball peed on me on the way home, and again when we brought her into the house to meet her new brother, our little buddy Truffle. We took her to the farmer’s market where she went straight for a table to hide. Our sweet girl was so scared. She was scared of new people, of thunder, of fireworks. But oh, was she was brave. She would go anywhere if she was with us. If anyone looked at me wrong or approached the car or the front door she went berserk. She would get in trouble for it but she couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t let anything happen to her people. Not on her watch. But now I had to leave her at this place. This strange, undignified corrugated metal building next to a railroad track where we pulled the car to a garage door and a quiet man dressed in white rolled a metal cart draped in a red blanket to where Brian held our girl in her own blanket, the blanket she’d been lying on for days or weeks, in her corner of the living room, sick when we didn’t know it. The sun was setting, and the air was gold. This was the time of day she could be outside. Our sled dog, our snow princess her godmother called her, didn’t like the heat of the day. She was never meant for hot Kentucky. She should have lived somewhere she could play in the snow all the time, burying her face in the cold white stuff and flinging it around. This man wheeled our girl away from us, to a place I couldn’t go with her. I had to leave my sweet girl in this place where they would turn her to ashes, her beautiful white fur that was just at the growing out stage of perfect fluff, white fur that I’ve touched so many times my hands clench now with wanting to feel it again. I didn’t dare touch her before she left, only the blanket. I lay on the floor where we found her, where she’d laid down by the front door to wait for us and gone to sleep and didn’t wake up. I curled up on the floor and stroked the blanket that hid her, because I couldn’t touch her with the life all gone from her. Alba was light and love and I couldn’t touch what remained. I had to remember the real her, the girl that loved me so, the girl who would come to me from another room if I so much as looked at her. The girl who would wait at the top of the stairs for me to leave bed if her poppa got up first. How could I leave her in this place when she wouldn’t leave me, ever? Except she did. She waited until we were not at home, till we slipped quietly out the back door so we wouldn’t rile up the dogs but I think and hope and pray that I whispered goodbye as they came into the kitchen, ‘bye buddies, be good,’ like I always said, which was shorthand for I love you. I can’t remember. I still can’t remember touching her that last day. I had to have. I touched her, pet her, rubbed her ears, buried my face in her fur, thwacked her solid belly that was thinner at the end, I touched her so many times a day it was like breathing. I can’t remember breathing. I can’t remember the last time I touched her. I had to let her go into that place without knowing when I touched her last, told her momma loved her. The door closed and we stood in the parking lot, dumb. What do we do? How do we get in the car and drive home to a house without her? Where her collar and bowls and bed and food and toys and all the signs of this life wait but the life is not. How do we wait for the minutes and hours and days to pass, to dull the relentless pain of opening the back door and our girl not barreling at us? She should have knocked Truffle over as she always does to get to us, to me, to tell me how glad she was that I was home, that her momma was here. We had pizza. We were going to have a family night in with bad TV and the buddies in the nice, cool room with us, and I was so happy and my heart was so full I knew it couldn’t last. And then we opened the door and Truffle came and there was silence other than our voices calling frantically, echoing in the too-still house, already knowing she wouldn’t come. Nothing would keep her from us. I can’t think about the moment we saw her and the way I fell and screamed because if I screamed no enough it wouldn’t be true, she would be asleep, or her poppa could revive her because it just wasn’t possible. I try to stop the thought when it comes and think of my girl climbing into my lap even though she was far too big to do that. Once in a while I let her pretend she was a lap dog and nothing made her happier.
They called yesterday to tell us Alba was ready for us to come get her. We drove there, wondering how many other hearts were breaking in the cars driving next to us on the highway. This time we went into the main entrance. It smelled overpoweringly of scented candle. Alba wouldn’t like that. Her sense of smell is so strong that she found Truffle when he escaped. I couldn’t look at the young woman with the forced compassionate smile. “Are you here for Al-ba?” she asked, pronouncing it wrong like nearly everyone does. “She’s here.” A brown paper gift bag decorated with paw prints sat on a table. That couldn’t be right. Alba can’t be in a bag. Alba is larger than life. She can’t be contained. Her spirit couldn’t be contained in a body that failed her, and she couldn’t be contained in a silly bag with a gift tag on it. But there was a box and a clay piece with her pawprint and silly block letters like a child’s toy spelling A L B A 2016 as if I would forget and tacky heart and dog bone embellishments. And pieces of white paper with her pawprints, some smudged like she was running. And a clear plastic bag with pieces of her fur. Her fur that we battled for eight years with trips to the groomer and special brushes that she hated, and with brooms and vacuums and the Roomba that so intrigued her. That fur we tried so long to banish from home and clothes and car that I wanted now to hold in my hands.
Stilted conversation with the woman. What a job this is. Leave, carrying this bag that is supposed to be my girl. I put it in my lap. My missy gets to ride up front with me like she always wanted to, like she only got to do one time, on a dark, snowy night on back roads in Michigan when she somehow clambered up there and I let her stay and laughed at how ridiculous to have this big 70 pound oh so fluffy dog trying to sit in my lap as her poppa tried to be stern but couldn’t, because look how happy she was.
I didn’t really sleep the night she left us. As much as I wanted to sleep and escape the pain I knew when I awoke there would be a moment where I would think it was a nightmare and be relieved and then I would remember. And I couldn’t do that. The next night, 24 aching, hollow hours that echoed with the missing sounds of our girl later, we slept in the tv room on the foldout bed because we couldn’t sleep in the room where she should have been. I cried myself to sleep like I hadn’t since the time I was supposed to get married and the guy broke up with me over the phone after the wedding invitations were mailed. Except this was worse, because he wasn’t meant for me and I learned that later, but Alba was meant for me. She was my shadow, my protector, my companion, my friend. She saw my soul and loved me for it and asked nothing but to be loved in return.
I woke in the morning to the soft light filtering in through our many light-combating window treatments. The bed was soft, the sheets and blanket white. I felt peaceful. Sad, but able to breathe without the ragged, tearing pain that hadn’t left since Alba left. I didn’t say anything to my sleeping husband. At lunchtime when he came home because we need to be together, to keep each other upright, I told him, feeling a little sheepish. I did too, he said. Everything was soft and white and I felt at peace.
We named Alba after the part of Italy where they grow truffles because we’re silly like that. But in ancient languages it means white and it means dawn. I think she came with the light at dawn to comfort us. She never liked to see her family sad. Alba was with us for nearly eight years, years that saw heartache and strife and worry and illness, and she was always there to comfort us. To protect her, because she got so upset to see me upset, I could shake off whatever awful feelings were cloaking me, at least enough to tell her that momma’s ok, don’t be sad. I think she came with the light to tell us it would be ok. That she knew we loved her, even though we were so far from perfect. She loved us as we were, as only a good dog can, and showed us how to love each other and ourselves.
I ache with missing that love now, that unending, overflowing, undeserved pure love. I don’t know how to put one foot in front of another without my good girl at my side or waiting for me. I don’t know how to retreat from the horrors of the world without that goodness to take solace in. I don’t know how to go on without my good girl. I read comforting things. She will come back to me in spirit, I hear. I’ll see signs from her. I’ll feel her come rushing back into my heart. I’ll remember the love and the grief will fade, I hear. I want to believe all of those things.
They called yesterday to tell us Alba was ready to come home. We brought our good girl home, and lit a candle in our room on the fireplace mantle next to the little carved box that is supposed to be her, arranged her pawprints and her tags I’d been carrying in my pocket or in my hands the past three days, and pictures of her in the snow and with us. I put my hand on her pawprint, standing at the fireplace she slept next to, my feet on the place on the floor where she should lay, the place I would stop every night to pet her or maybe curl up with her for a minute and rest my head in that fur. She’s a good girl, I told her. Momma loves her good girl.