Esmeralda

In 1996 I was 18. I was in a sh*tty relationship (I didn’t know any better at the time). This person and I were ultimately incompatible, however he was the catalyst for one of the greatest loves of my life: Esmeralda.

(You’ll have to bear with me. All hyperbole aside, it’s hard for me to even type her name. And I almost never talk about her; not in writing, not out loud. It’s still too hard for me.)

That person, we’ll call him Dan, knew I was terrified of dogs. It’s hard to believe now because of how much I adore dogs but, back then, I was scared so badly by them.

He thought it would be funny to get me one.

We went to a pet store in a strip mall (I know, I know, I would never go to a pet store now, but back then I didn’t know a fraction of what I do now where animals are concerned). There were three puppies in an enclosure: two boys and a girl. The woman working at the store asked me if I’d like to hold one of them. I said no.

I watched them interact. The boys were trying to get the girl to engage and she kept trying to break up their antics. She intrigued me. I told the woman I’d hold her.

She pressed herself against me, all warm and smelling of corn chips, and licked my face.

I didn’t know what to do with the thoughts I was having. She seemed so lovely, yet she also, simultaneously, frightened me.

Dan offered to hold her. She immediately peed on him.

I think she knew a lot of things before I did.

Here she is, the day I met her and brought her home:

I didn’t know how to hold a puppy. I was afraid to hold her. But she seemed to want me to hold her, so I did the best I could.

She was a German Shepherd. I didn’t know anything about dog breeds before she came into my life. I didn’t know anything about dogs, period, before her.

I was a terrible puppy parent. I didn’t know how to raise and train a puppy. I still feel like I failed her. In all fairness, she was an awful puppy. I mean that sincerely. It’s like she sought out the most devious activities just to wreak havoc. She chewed through cables and cords. I would wake up and find her staring at me like a weirdo. She would sneak behind the washer and dryer and chew on that funky metallic tube thing. I would swear I knew where she was, then she’d be somewhere else, doing some other awful thing that either required a lot of cleanup, or throwing something out.

She ruined a couple of phones.

Looking back, I wish I’d tried to understand dogs better. I was half scared of her, half confused by her.

A few months after we got Esmeralda, we went to move from the place we were living (with Dan’s brother and his long-time girlfriend and their baby). Dan’s brother said he’d care for her until we found a place that would take dogs.

I kept visiting her. She seemed bored, but she had a large yard to run around in. I kept looking for an apartment that would allow me to have her with me.

One of the times I visited, I noticed she had no food. I’d been giving his brother money for food for her and their dog. Turns out he’d been using it for not dog food, and both dogs hadn’t eaten in at least a couple of days.

I was furious.

I said, this stops here.

I went to my parents. They had never allowed me to have a dog. I told them the situation and they agreed to allow her to live at their house until I found a suitable place.

She was relegated to the backyard and her Dogloo. This was in the Pacific Northwest autumn; it was cold and wet. She wasn’t allowed in the house.

All it took was her sitting at the back door, completely soggy, in the rain, for my parents to allow her inside, but only inside the back porch.

You can already see where this is going.

Bit by bit, she was allowed further and further into the house until, finally, she was sleeping in bed with my parents. They loved her.

As awful a puppy as she had been, she turned out to be an incredible dog. She was majestic and noble. Strong and steadfast; always in protection mode of me. She would sit on my feet, facing away from me. She didn’t do that to anyone else.

Sometimes when I wasn’t feeling well, I’d go over to their house to see her. She would lay down with me and, if anyone tried to get near me, even my parents, she would put herself between us.

In 2000, well after my relationship with Dan had ended, I wound up in a position to move to Germany.

I wanted to take her with me. My parents wanted to keep her in the United States with them. We finally agreed she would stay with them so as not to uproot her and have to potentially quarantine her.

I missed her desperately.

The first thing I always wanted to do when I came back home from Germany on visits was to see her. Immediately.

During one of those visits I was so sick, I couldn’t stop throwing up. She came into the bathroom and gently put her head on my leg. When I finally laid down again, she laid down next to me, occasionally smelling my face and softly whining.

She knew. She always knew when something was wrong. She was my protector. She was my best friend at a time when those were in short supply.

When I moved back to the United States in 2005, it was wonderful to see her far more often. I got to invite her over to my townhouse. I loved being able to see her and spend time with her.

In 2008, my partner and I moved to California. That was hard, for a lot of reasons, one of which was how much I missed her.

At that point, she was 12.

Her health was declining, but she still seemed mobile and comfortable, so I seated myself in denial and thought there would always be more time.

There wasn’t.

In 2010, my partner and I went home for Christmas. Before we left California, my mother had warned me Esmeralda wasn’t doing well. I asked for details. It was clear she was suffering and her quality of life had diminished. I asked my parents to make an appointment at the vet and we would all go and see what the situation was.

That appointment was seven years ago, yesterday.

I still remember the car ride. She had trouble getting in the car. She voided her bowels involuntarily on the way to the pet hospital. As we got into the waiting room, we had to use a contraption used to help dogs in her condition along because her legs would sometimes give out.

It was hard. But I had no idea how hard it would be.

I asked the vet, what do you think we should do? She said she couldn’t answer that for me/us. When I asked for any guidance, she said she could see a lot of stress in Esmeralda’s face.

(I’m already crying.)

I knew what she wasn’t saying. I knew the compassionate thing to do. But my heart broke and fell apart in messy pieces in that examination room in Vancouver, Washington near the Fred Meyer in Cascade Park.

I feel like I killed her. I feel like, even though it was the compassionate choice, I somehow gave up on her. I feel like I murdered her. I was only trying to do what was kind and compassionate, but my heart never understands that.

My parents left the room. Todd (my partner) and I were in the room with her. The vet gave us time together. I was sitting on the floor, already sobbing; Esmeralda came to me, and gently licked my tears away. I just held her and told her over and over how much I loved her. I told her she was my best friend and that I was so sorry for all the ways I failed her. I pet her face and ears. I kissed her snout.

(I’m crying so hard right now my face won’t stop twitching and these awful involuntary sounds are coming out of me. I can’t see my screen very well. I have to get this out. I’ve been carrying it for so long.)

The vet came back in.

I held her. She died in my arms. My face was next to hers and I kept whispering over and over, “I love you. I will always love you.”

The moment she died, the moment I felt the life leave her body, that sickening slackening of her body, was the worst moment of my life.

I tried to lay her down, gently, but one of her back legs was bent strangely and I couldn’t move it so she could lay down. The vet told me it didn’t matter. I said it did matter. She deserved the respect and dignity of being able to lay comfortably.

Todd gently moved her leg. Of all the moments in our lives together, that one gesture stands out as a beautiful moment of his compassion and love for creatures.

I bent over her on the floor and sobbed. I cried harder than I’ve ever cried in my life. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to stop touching her or holding her.

They dimmed the lights and left me with her for a long time.

Eventually the question came up of what to do with her.

Even now this bothers me.

My parents no longer lived in a house, so there was nowhere to bury her. I felt strongly that I didn’t want her cremated. I couldn’t stand the thought of her being put into an oven.

I asked the vet for a day to figure things out.

Every time we visit the Pacific Northwest, we stay with my partner’s parents. I love them so much.

When we got back to their house, I went straight to bed. I didn’t want to talk.

The next morning, my partner’s mother and I had a nail appointment. I recall that so clearly, and it seemed all wrong for me to be getting my nails done when Esmeralda had just died. I literally never get my nails done, and she always made a point to take me out to do that which was very kind of her. That particular day I felt so completely detached, I just tried to do what we had scheduled.

We were sitting in the salon, and she turned to me and told me I could bury Esmeralda at their house, because she knew how much she meant to me.

Second only to having Todd, it’s the most meaningful thing she could have said or done.

That night, my parents picked up Esmeralda’s body from the vet. They had put her in a large plastic bag and I recall that upsetting me.

So, in late December, Todd and I began to dig the Esmeralda-sized hole behind their home.

It was freezing. I couldn’t stop crying. My tears were freezing to my face. There may be no worse feeling than digging a hole for someone you love.

Finally the hole was deep enough.

I couldn’t bear to put her in the ground in that awful bag. I couldn’t bear to put her in the ground unprotected.

I took off my long woolen coat (it hung to the ground). It was brown. I wrapped her in it.

I’m not religious, but I took my medal of Saint Francis and placed it in the interior coat pocket. For protection.

Todd and I gently put her in the hole.

Filling in that hole with dirt…it still feels wrong. I knew I wouldn’t see her again.

I laid down on the ground and cried and cried and the crack in my heart got bigger.

I went to sleep.

The next day, I found a place where I bought two markers for her grave: a stone that said simply “peace,” and a small statue of two birds, huddled together.

His parents take such good care of her grave. They put a stone bench next to the site. They planted flowers there. Every time we come to visit, they have put something commemorative there. They know how much I loved her. How much I still love her.

I go out there and talk to her. I don’t know what happens after death (though I have technically died and all I experienced before being revived was darkness), but talking to her feels correct.

I know it will sound like an exaggeration, but I think of her every day. It hurts just as much now as it did that day in the winter of 2010. I try to look at pictures of her, but they all make me feel devastated.

This was always my favorite photo of her:

My oldest brother took this in 1998. He titled it, “You’re always on the back of my mind,” because of the connection we had. That’s me in the background.

This year, I had an idea.

I wanted to turn this picture into something that I could look at and feel not sad about, but happy about. Happy about her life.

I asked a friend who is an artist if she could take her from this picture and put her in a completely unique setting; somewhere I’d never seen her, somewhere fantastical and beautiful and colorful. Somewhere I could imagine her being. Somewhere entirely new and not dissolving into sadness.

And that is exactly what she did.

This is the painting she created. It’s more beautiful beyond measure than I could have ever hoped for. I look at her there, I can think of the myriad positives, and it doesn’t hurt quite as much. I can picture her there, in the wildly colorful landscape, and my thoughts turn into a Gondry film starring Esmeralda. There she is surrounded by warm breezes, neon palm trees, and synth music. She’s like a glorious version of Amaterasu.

This one piece of art has helped me beyond measure. A testament to the artist and her amazing skill and love for what she does. I couldn’t love this any more than I do. She brought her back to life for me. She brought her to life in a beautiful new way.

I’m ever so grateful.

Sometimes I still think I see her. Sitting on a corner. Looking at me from across a room. It’s difficult, but it’s also kind of sweet. My brain must want to see her so badly, it’s like I think she must be there. It’s like looking for someone and finding out they just walked away. It’s like you just missed them.

I have almost no photos of her. It’s one of the main reasons why I take so many photos of Cloud. I also whisper to Cloud that he’s my favorite living dog. I whisper in his ear that I love him. I whisper that I want him to be healthy and live a fantastically long life. I try to make his life as lovely as possible. I feel like I failed so badly with Esmeralda when it came to being a good dog parent; I only want to learn from those shortcomings.

I hope I have.

I miss her.

Every day.

I think of her.

Every day.

I love her.

Every day.

At the dog park we go to, there’s a Shepherd who looks so much like her, it’s eerie. I can’t watch her without breaking down.

When I played The Last Guardian, it was impossible for me not to see her in Trico. There would be times I’d break down into tears just watching Trico move.

At the end of a game called Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, (SPOILER) one brother must dig the grave for the other, and it wrecked me. All I could think about was that night seven years ago, in the cold, dark night.

This piece of art, that beautiful, colorful, art, has helped me more than I could have anticipated. I credit the artist with such skill and care. She opened up a portal to another world where I can see her and think about her in a new way. I can think about her life force.

I once saw a gravestone, and I think the inscription concludes this more accurately than anything I could say:

” If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.”

33 replies »

  1. She sounds like she was a truly special animal. I’m glad you had her, and she, you.

    I think it’s one of life’s greatest injustices that dogs, who are so loving, silly, and awesome in a thousand different ways, are only with us for such a short time, and can leave the biggest of holes in our souls when they’re gone. It’s part of the contract you sign when you bring them home – you KNOW it’s going to happen. And yet, somehow, the time we get to spend with them is worth the inevitable heartache.

    I think about how one day, I’ll be getting ready to leave, and Max won’t be there to squeeze under my legs for back rubs and get hair all over my pants. I think about how one day, I’ll come home from work and Moo won’t be there waiting by the door with that goofy grin on his face, waiting for me to kneel down so he can jump up and give me hugs. How one day, my bed will seem a lot emptier at night. And I think about how I’m going to have to be there when they go – it may be emotionally devastating, but I would never want them to be alone.

    All of that is going to happen… but I wouldn’t change a thing. Dogs are the freaking best.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go grab some kleenex. Give Cloud a hug for me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It doesn’t seem appropriate, their lives being as short as they are.

      I looked at Cloud the other day and realized he will be roughly six pretty soon. That’s half the average life expectancy for a husky, and I just hugged him and hugged him and asked him to do his part to stay healthy (no more sidewalk muffins, literally).

      I know you love your babies (fur and otherwise), and they are lucky to have you.

      And I’d write more in response but I’m already going to cry so…you know how I feel about dogs in general and Esmeralda in particular. I will leave it there for the moment.

      Hug.

      Like

  2. This is hands down my favorite piece that I’ve read of yours. I’m not sobbing but the tears are streaming down my face. When you write your heart’s truth you inevitably effect your reader, touch them in some way. Very, very well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow, thank you, Rob, I don’t even know what to say. When I wrote this, I felt like I failed to explain how I felt, and that the piece came out all wrong. I finally had to leave it alone and post it no matter how I felt about it.

      I am digitally passing kleenex to you through the computer. I know it’s late, but it’s there all the same.

      Thank you, truly. Your words humble me.

      Like

  3. This really hit me hard.

    I moved in with my husband when I was 16 years old. My home life at that point was awful. We decided to adopt a dog almost right away. We got Buddy from our local animal shelter. He was like our starter child. He was so smart- a sheltie. He knew how to jump the fence, and he’d wander, and my now husband would carry him home over his shoulder, like a firefighter. He was lovely when we got a cat. He was lovely when we had our daughter. He had cancer once, and we successfully had him treated. It came back again when he was 14 years old. We were in the middle of a bad time, and he was with a dog sitter for 4 days while my husband and I were in another city for job interviews. That’s when he died.

    You’re so fortunate that you got to be there for Esmeralda when she passed. I’d literally have given anything to have been there for Buddy. I’ve lost 3 cats and a dog since then, and I was still only there to say goodbye to one of them. I’ll never forgive myself.

    I want you to know you didn’t fail her. She was so lucky to have been so loved. Not many are as lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Liz. I’m so sorry. That had to be impossibly hard, especially given how much I KNOW you love creatures. I am glad they had your love for the duration of their lives.

      And I absolutely feel fortunate to have been with her until the end. I wanted the last thing she heard to be me telling her I would always love her. And it was.

      And I’m crying all over myself.

      Hug.

      Like

  4. This was a beautiful piece. I can’t imagine how hard this was for you to write but I’m ever so glad you did. The kind of love you had for her is the most fantastic and pure love one can experience. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Nathaniel, thank you. It is no exaggeration that I was sobbing the entire time I wrote it. I’d get some composure here and there, then right back at it. I miss her every day. I wonder how she and Cloud would have reacted to each other. I bet it would have been like those buddy cop movies where they hate each other at first, then become the best of friends who save each other from some situation.

      Thank you for your kind words. Truly.

      Like

  5. Mannnn I had to put Mortimer down a month ago and your emotions in the room at the vet are so real; I felt all that too. Love the painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Jason! No! I’m so, so sorry. :( I had no idea. I’m glad you were there with him until the end. He was so lucky to have had you (and M) in his life.

      And thank you. That painting has really helped me. I am just so grateful.

      Hug.

      Like

  6. I’m not a dog person at all (got two cats roaming around my house) but I found this quite touching. I like how you got your artist friend to create that picture – you’ve turned a negative into a nice positive there.

    Having read this, there is no way you’ve let Esmeralda down. It sounds like she had a great journey, starting from the day you first met her in the pet store…

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh gosh, thank you! And I am so grateful for that piece of art. It has helped my mind so much.

      I…I hope you’re right. I know I wasn’t the best, but I learned and I tried and holy god I loved her so much. Thank you for those kind and lovely words. They mean so much to me.

      And your cats are lucky to have you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I’m lucky to have the cats…only got them a few months ago, but they’re great. Even if they do insist on using their litter tray while I’m cleaning it or try and eat my lunch!

        Compared to some of the horror stories I’ve heard (i.e.friend of my wife recently adopted a dog who had been kept in a shed for 4 years and used solely for breeding…she didn’t even have a name…) you did a great job. No one is perfect, but as long as you do your best, that’s all that matters.

        I read about Cloud last night too…that’s a great story and I’m glad you’ve given someone else a home!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aww, new kitties!! What are their names?

        Some of those stories make me feel physically sick. I will never understand how some people can treat animals so poorly. It makes my blood boil. :(

        I did try. I tried very hard.

        Aww, thank you!! Oh, Cloud. He’s so dreamy. He’s the dreamiest puppy. From the moment I met him, I couldn’t NOT liberate him from the shelter. I love him so much. :)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mikey and Rosie. They’re brother and sister, so where one goes, the other follows!

        Yeah those stories are awful. I was seething too. Might get to meet the dog today though, so big pat from me!

        I really liked Cloud’s story – he’s lucky to have you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • They are adorable…they are currently next to me on the couch looking for attention. Had to seperate them for a week for neutering….awful week, they are so close!

        I guess you and Cloud are both lucky. I’m a new pet owner and I’m only just realising how great pets are. Sure they need me to feed them, take care of them etc, but I need the affection and the comedy they give me!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aww, that SOUNDS adorable!! And the second part sounds awful. I can’t imagine. :(

        Perhaps Cloud and I are both lucky, though I think I came out better on this deal.

        I love that you are now finding out new and wonderful things about living in close proximity to creatures. :) I feel like I find new wonderful things all the time. We are lucky, indeed, no?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was a bad week, put it that way. It’s Rosie’s turn in a few weeks…not gonna be fun.

        If you were willing to wait outside in the cold for hours for Cloud, I think he’s been pretty lucky too!

        Indeed we are lucky…never thought I’d become a cat person in my thirties, but it’s been a lot of fun owning cats so far!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aww, I’m so sorry. Poor kitties. I hope Rosie’s trip to the vet goes smoothly.

        Well, shoot. If it makes any difference, I’d do it again. That night Cloud and I were both outside in the cold. I think about that and I feel like it’s another way we are connected.

        I love that you are having this new and wonderful experience. And that it involves helping give creatures a home.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! It’s next week and I’m dreading it. Poor cats really just want to go outside now….I really like how they’ve made our home their home. I was worried about them being bored the other day. I didn’t need to worry – they’ve turned the top of our kitchen cupboards into a den, so we’ve had to put blankets up there.

        I think, with pets, the story of how you got them is part of the bonding experience. You’ve got a great story to tell there.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful and sad story Becks. Feel like I you share more personal moments than firends I’ve known for decades and family I grew up with.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The saying is true: “dogs are man’s best friend”. With that being said dogs have a way of knowing us better than we know ourselves. They just have a “uniqueness” about them. I could feel the pain as I read this piece. Thanks for giving us an introspective & personal look into another facet, Rebekah. German shepherds are most breeds in that working class are very protective & loving. We have a Black lab; I can understand where you’re coming from. We had a Beagle when I was growing up; my mom had to bury her. It wasn’t as ceremonial as yours; nonetheless; it was something that had to be done. I also understand why you didn’t cremate your beloved animal; it was hard enough having to deal with the death of her. Thanks again! Fyi, Christmas is Monday; MONDAY!! Can you believe it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rich, Thank you. I definitely believe there are certain dogs that have special connections to their people and a sense of that person’s emotions.

      I’m glad you have had such wonderful dogs and that you were there for them for the duration of their lives.

      Like

  9. Thank you for sharing such a touching and amazing story. The painted portrait is a lovely way to commemorate Esmeralda. What a wonderful idea. The dog that my wife and I have now is my first dog (a Boston Terrier) and prior to him we had my first bird (a Zebra Finch). I never had a pet in my youth. Learning how to care for a dog was definitely a steep learning curve. Looking back we joke how she selected the puppy atop the litter in the photo and we unknowingly picked up a “high energy” dog. Currently, the dog (Blitz) is buried underneath a pile of blankets on the couch with no desire to come out into the cold weather unless there’s food.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading it. That painting has helped me more than I could ever say. I’m terribly grateful for it.

      Isn’t it funny how certain creatures make their way into our lives? I love that you now have a fellow couch barnacle to keep you company when it is freezing out. :)

      Like

  10. Hi Rebekkah, Your story about Esmerelda broke my heart. The pictures of you with your puppy reminds me of how young you were at the time. We spent time with Esmerelda when she was with your parents. They took such awesome care of her. She was definitely number one with them. Your loving story about your dog made me cry. Animals bring such happiness into our loves and they definitely make us part of their family just by the trust they give us. What a nice memory you have of your loving connection to her. And, you did your best to make her life special too. Just concentrate on those good things when you remember her. Love you, Elaine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Elaine. It’s still hard for me to think about her. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but I think about her all the time. I miss her terribly. I’m so glad you got to meet her, and yes, my parents took very, very good care of her. I’m so grateful.

      I was so young when I got her, just 18. I wish I’d known better how to raise a puppy. When I care for Cloud now, I think about what I’ve learned and hope his life is better for it.

      I love you, too!

      Like

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