you know when you get a tune stuck in your head?
in it's endless groove of repetition, it becomes oddly comforting, like a cat that won't stop washing it's paw.
or a dog that won't stop wagging her tail.
when we adopted Maggie May, her name was Menya (pronounced Mean-Yeah), which, of course, made no sense, because she was the furthest thing from mean. so we racked our brains, wanting to honor Daphneyland, the shelter that named her when she was rescued from the streets, but I'd wanted to somehow incorporate the word "match"—for Kevin and I had learned only months earlier that he was a match to give me a kidney.
"Mmmartha?..Mmmable?", we Mmm'd away in the front seat, driving home from the Acton basset rescue, our new, old senior bundle of fur and fear curled quietly in the back seat, until finally we landed upon...
"Mmm..aggie! MAGGIE!" we turned to each other and laughed! of course! it was Scottish and beautiful and strong. and then, in the two-named tradition of all our basset hounds, we added "May".
in her first week with us, it was impossible not to awake without Rod Stewart's 70's classic about his "mother-lovin'" lover tearing through my head at volume 10. "WAKE UP, MAGGIE! I think I've got something to say to you!" we had a new dog! she was sweet and shy and...scared. it became very clear, very quickly that Maggie had been abused. that first morning we woke up to a pile of poop, a pile of vomit and a very low, very waggy tail.
[yes. "waggy" is a word.]
as the saying goes, "she was afraid of her own shadow." at times she clearly was, jumping for no apparent reason, sending us into teasing titters of delight before scooping her up into comforting arms and reassuring kisses. but, oh, that tail. her tail never scared her. high and fast, or low and quick, she never stopped wagging. and as she grew more comfortable, and transitioned from the floor, to the bed, up into the nook of our arms, her tail wagged so boisterously she would surprise even herself, like a friend suddenly showing up at your door—popping around the corner of her bum—and she would wag even more, as if she had not known it could wag so much; as if she had not known she could be so happy.
it's fun to anthropomorphize our pets [learn this word! use it! impress your friends!]. we loved to tease Maggie about how she wasn't very quick—comparing her to "Eddie" on Frasier—as together we all curled up in bed in a blissful, endorphin-induced sitcom ball. but the truth is, the joke was on us. Maggie was the smartest.
she would silently curl around me as i writhed fetal in a feral, migraine hell.
she would click-clack her way under Kevin's desk when the height of his shoulders got a little too high.
and she taught lessons not with judgement, but by furry, forgiving example—and the occasional gentle nudge of her nose [her version of a lick].
the train she rode with us is well documented—overdosing, 51/50, renal failure, dialysis, kidney transplant, addiction, rehab, recovery, separation, relapse. but, not once did she ever pull the cord, hit the buzzer, get off at the next station. she was along for the ride. she took the express with us all the way to the last stop.
but there were many scenic stops along this 3 year and 9 month journey together, too.
there were the dog parks of Los Angeles to explore! the type A, animal lover-riddled North Hollywood park. the on-leash, "character"-riddled Sunland park. and the L.L. Bean wearing, designer dog-toting-riddled, La Crescenta park. She loved them all!
["I sniff, therefore I am."]
there were booty calls with a rescued runt over in Northridge; long, lazy weekends with friends who cared for her with the kind of love that makes you catch your breath.
and then there was rehab, where Maggie loyally, willfully even, squeezed into a tiny, twin bed with me for 60 days. as i tried to come to grips with who i am, Maggie found herself and shared her "belly" best. finally freed, she would display daily her glorious nipple-studded belly—legs splayed, tail sweeping the floor in an insistent, inspirational brush of joy. "see!" she seemed to say, "just let go!". she planted smiles on faces drawn with depression and doubt and filled my heart, drained from self-loathing and sin, one wag at a time.
it's the habitual things we miss when we lose someone we love.
i already miss plopping the extra ice cubes that fall from the fridge filter into her water bowl. Maggie was quickly a princess, a Palmdale ex-pat, who drank ice water and ate warmed-up food; a homeless hound found wandering the streets, sleeping her last moments on a $2000 bed.
i already miss the gentle way she would approach me, constantly checking, nudging, "Are you OK? Are you OK?", padding her way over to Kevin to do the same, then back again to me, wrangling our little family together into a hopeful, happy huddle.
and i already miss coming home to a "facefull" door, our front door is a French door—15 panes of glass—and one of them would be filled every night, without fail, with a little gray face and shining brown eyes atop a body wriggling with such excitement that you could scarcely believe she didn't implode.
but in the end, she did.
for Maggie was all heart.
it is fitting that the hound who placed 2nd in the tail wagging contest [she was robbed!] at The Arcadia Basset Hound Picnic spent her final moments at home, wagging on her homemade bed regally embroidered with her name [by S.]. we looked at each other helplessly, Maggie, panting, me, sitting on the floor next to her, pleading out loud into the desperate air between us, "Maggie, tell me what to do..."
and she did. between the beats of that ever-waggin' tail, i heard her. because she taught me to listen.
heart failure isn't pretty, but it was quick. too quick for me, but not quick enough for her.
[in the final analysis, i'm glad you weren't there, my sweetheart.]
there's a prayer i've learned in the rooms of the coffee-clutching humbled.
"...that i might comfort, than to be comforted—to understand, than to be understood—to love, than to be loved."
Maggie lived this prayer daily, effortlessly.
—be in the moment [OR—i'm so not worried about tomorrow's meal, because this is THE GREATEST FOOD EVER!]
—be a friend without expectation [OR—ok. i will just lie here until you can pet me. no big whoop.]
—make amends immediately [OR—i love you. i'm sorry. i love you. i'm sorry.]
—help someone like myself [OR—hi! how are you? i'm going to sniff your butt now.]
now there is a different song howling away in my brain. it's called "Starlight" by "Muse". i'm not sure why. i don't particularly love "Muse". they have a couple of crank-worthy tunes, but ever since that dark, early morning drive home from the ER, the wailing crescendo of it's chorus grooves endlessly in my head.
"hhhooolllddd you in my arms...i just wanted to you in my arms..."
as i drove home in stunned silence along an eerily empty California freeway, the starlight shone dank, heavy. me, who had always found twisted comfort in the dark, now craved the purification of light.
i could not go to sleep until all three of Maggie's beds were outside, ready to be transported and bring comfort to another rescued hound.
i could not go to sleep until i'd thrown away Maggie's already prepared breakfast, remembering with a full heart how she had gobbled every bite of her dinner just hours before; how she had twirled with joy, prancing for more.
and i could not go to sleep until night passed into dawn; until the starlight dissolved into shining rays of light, carrying our wonderful, wagging Maggie May home.