For nearly eleven years, the world came to Lucy through a fence, and it was ever interesting. The whiff of a burrito wrapper from the bus stop; the snarling threat of a Harley or the grating offense of a skateboard; the offered fingers of a neighborhood kid coming back from the beach; the rare dog she danced for—and the many she warned: This is my world, over on this side. Stay out.
She admonished people with canes, the mildest of teenagers, even bumbling beach wagons—but she never had time to warn the waves. They were on us in an instant, an intruder that did threaten, did take, did tear her pack from their den.
All those autumn afternoons and summer nights on our steps, on alert, ticking off each small instance of activity with her ears. She jotted diligent notes on the breeze with her nose, translating scents as verbs and sounds as superlatives. Lucy recognized the swooshing pop of the doors of new cars and the exclamatory clang of each older model—her dad’s being, by far, her favorite. For if everyone’s comings and goings were important, ours were fundamental. Was Mom in her house-central chair, clacking at that bright object on her lap? Was she speaking Not Dog with that disconcerting, nondescript item held to her cheek? Was Dad in that room with his bag that smelled like a jumble of a thousand people and dogs, pulling things out of it—paper, nonliving things that he inexplicably wanted to sit with for hours? (How can a person be so enraptured with something utterly lacking in verbs and superlatives?) Was Dad in the kitchen, making things smell different by putting them together, and then smoking up the place until Mom is forced out the door onto my slab of earth where everything else happens?
Then all is right with the world.
Lucy loved when we came out to the porch. As she settled into her well-satisfied draping of the top step—ensuring that we understood her important position—she looked around the street and toward us with a practiced calm. See, guys, I’ve got it. I’ve got us. All’s good. After an hour or so of restrained patrol and a few businesslike trots to the fence, she would dare to sprawl on the middle step and half-close her eyes. After all, we were watchdogs too.
Our routines were the well-worn palette on which Lucy mixed every new sensation. But her experience was rather limited. Sure, she met throngs of people and dogs, but mainly from her lordly throne of steps. Now that the queen has been forced out, she has had to walk among the people—and cats, and dogs, and children. The latter two still make her suspicious, but the feline has always fascinated her. Lucy’s amorous feelings for cats have long gone unrealized. When she strains that faint whine through her nose and pulls toward them I can feel her yearning to know this creature, as one might pine for some unattainable, imagined love in a painting—posed coyly, yet coldly out of reach.
Only sweet Petunia, my Dad’s easy-going cat (sadly just diagnosed with terminal cancer), had ever agreed to come within a whisker’s length—momentarily, and after months. But then the friends who sheltered us during and after the storm had two, Gomez and Pheobe (RIP, pretty girl), and when Gomez playfully swatted her, Lucy groaned in ecstasy and went back for more. She feasted on their food and then shared her own, regarding her housemates curiously. They all were like new lovers—not able to eat or relax without thoughts of the other. Where is she? What is he doing? When will we make contact again?
Since Gomez and Phoebe’s house—which they also shared with a bird (Biko) that miraculously did not take off for the trees at the first twitch of her paw—Lucy has adjusted to eight different living spaces, and companions of all varieties: my Dad’s cat and Calvin, Petunia’s happy-go-lucky canine brother; Chloe, a 23-year-old cat who has graciously allowed a dog half her age to cavort about; an eager, active pup named Poochacha whose antics our dog relishes being above; an ancient sworn enemy (in a one-sided war waged by Lucy alone), Sugar—a sweet old girl whose food dish she tried to pirate; and a total of five children, ranging from 18 months to eleven years. She allowed the youngest, Thomas, to curl up in her bed, her safe spot. She even permitted him to affectionately wack at her with his new beloved broom from our Red Cross emergency kit. “Boom! Boom!” He would shriek, delightedly—and then we would pop bubble wrap for entertainment. In the past, such activities would have sealed her disdain for toddlers. After our displacement, these sounds soon became her love’s superlatives.
When Lucy is finally able to return to her old stomping grounds, she will be ready to enter retirement. She has been bored and anxious in the basement apartment with no room to stretch out and no door to the outside, no sunspots to find. When we take her on little vacations she must learn the rules of a new place and accept its inhabitants. Yes, that is a bone, but not one you can chew. That is Poo’s bone. No.
Sharing: the new trick she learned as an old dog. One day as she settles on her new patio in the sun, Lucy can tuck into the end of a life she would never have lived had her protected patio not been breached. There exist—we all know now—unfathomable changes no level of vigilance can prevent. She will have lived them with us, her steadfast team. My hope is that we all can rest fully, knowing that worry will never scare away what needs to come in. And if it takes you out of yourself, which it did, Lucy, you’ll return home with a big open heart, new friends, a richer vocabulary, and more stories to write on the breeze.
You’re a traveling dog, my Lucy Lu, that’s what you are. And I’m so proud of you.