Monday, January 24, 2011
"I guess we should discuss joint custody arrangements."
Jack had suggested this to Bel last winter. At the cemetery, Jack was stunned but relieved to be reunited with his dog Max after a month-long search for the mixed breed beagle-dachshund. How the dog ended at the cemetery where his wife was buried remained a mystery to both Jack and Bel.
Bel's husband Mike had died from bone cancer three years ago, and she was a regular visitor to the cemetery. That was where she found the dog she named Brownie last Fall.
The seasons had changed. Now, Spring had come.
Bel had felt energized with the changing season. Truth be told, she felt buoyant after two seasons spent with Brownie. Last Fall, the dog had saved her from an almost certain descent into a bottomless pit of despair and hopelessness. She had finally let go of the cloud of grief that surrounded her with Mike's passing. Then in December, in the cold of winter, Jack came and was reunited with Max.
Jack. The man surprised her with his willingness to share his Max with a total stranger. Bel did not know why she readily agreed to the arrangement; perhaps it was because she just welcomed anything that will allow Brownie to stay in her life. Besides, Jack looked trustworthy and friendly.
The joint custody meant two weeks of Brownie every month. Jack explained that he occasionally had to travel out of state and the arrangement would mean that he did not have to drop Max at the kennel. It also meant that she saw Jack every two weeks when they meet at the cemetery to drop/pick-up Brownie/Max.
Jack and Bel had shared the stories of their respective spouses' passing. Barbara died from a motor vehicular crash two years ago. At 30 years old, she was at the prime of her life. Jack admitted that the experience shook him to deep depths of anguish, but he had held onto to his sanity by spending his time with Max. Barbara's dog had given Jack a much-needed focus to continue on living.
Jack thought he lost Max forever, when he got home one Fall day and didn't hear the familiar welcoming barks. He related to Bel his frantic search for the dog but that he did not imagine finding him miles and miles away from home.
"I am overjoyed to find Max here in the cemetery. " With twinkling eyes, he continued to tease Bel, "Little did I know that I would find him romping around in the snow with the snow angel."
Embarrassed at being caught indulging in a rare display of carefree abandon, Bel stammered an excuse. She did not realize that she presented a pretty picture with her red nose and her hair covered with fluffy snow.
Bel sent the dog home with Jack after their exchange of information. She felt grateful to Jack for his sensitivity but understood that it was Jack's turn to enjoy Max's company.
After just three days of quiet at home, Bel was becoming more restless. She found herself at a nearby dog park which she discovered shortly after finding Brownie. It had been a favorite for both of them because dogs were allowed to run around leash-free in the park.
Bel had been sitting on the park bench for awhile when from out of nowhere Brownie/Max sprinted straight up to her, with his long golden brown floppy ears and wagging tail. Although the dog had responded to both names, in Bel's mind, he would always be Brownie to her. Jack was equally surprised at their chance encounter. He had passed the dog park right after their last visit at the cemetery. Max had barked continuously to get his attention until he was forced to stop at the side of the road and then discovered the dog park. They had frequented the dog park ever since.
Bel and Jack watched in silence as Brownie/Max interacted with the other dogs. Bel and Jack watched with shared pride as the mixed Beagle-dachshund quickly established himself as a leader among dogs much bigger than him.
That began their weekly meet at the dog park. Over time, the desultory conversations gave way to an easy companionship. The wariness had lifted and in its place came friendship.
One day, Brownie/Max decided for whatever reason to abandon play time with the other dogs. He stationed himself between his two masters as they sat on the bench. Bel automatically reached over to pet the dog, at exactly the same time Jack did. It was just an innocent contact, but Bel was shocked at the intensity of emotions that washed over her. Confused on why she felt like a hormonal schoolgirl, Bel laughed to cover her confusion and to bide time to regain her composure. Brownie/Max, oblivious of the undercurrents, demanded attention by running to a corner to relieve himself.
One week later, Max traveled out of state on business; he worked as a business consultant for a major engineering company. Three days later, Bel received a call from Jack. Her heart did a funny turn when she heard Jack's voice. As always, the talk centered on the many antics of Max. Then Jack cleared his voice and said, "I miss Max." After a short pause, he continued, "I miss you too."
The unexpected declaration flustered Bel; she thought she heard it distinctly but convinced herself that she just misheard. Not knowing how to respond, she pretended that she did not hear the loaded sentence and quickly changed the subject. They made plans to meet in the cemetery.
Bel felt uncertain about her growing feelings for Jack and thought that her attachment to Brownie opened her vulnerability to the attentions of a handsome man. At this point in her life and having just surfaced from the deep sadness brought by Mike's passing, she did not want any complications. She did not want to explore a future beyond just living for the moment. She acknowledged that her loyalty to Mike's memories had chained her to a solitary life, but did not want to change the status quo. "Not yet. I'm not ready.", she told herself.
Two days later, Bel stood in front of Mike's grave. The Spring air smelled clean with the freshly-mown lawn. Signs of new life brightened the cemetery; new budding leaves reasserted themselves from the trees. Bel bent down to touch the purple crocuses that had sprouted from the ground. There was still left-over snow on that patch of ground but the bulbs that she had planted a month ago rose in defiance and provided a bright contrast against the whiteness of the snow.
Yes, Spring had come... a time of growth, of new beginnings.
Brownie barked behind her. Bel turned and faced a smiling Jack. Man and woman against the backdrop of their respective spouses' graves. The sun shone brightly and somewhere a robin chirped. The scene evoked a sense of rightness; as if the changing season brought blessings of renewal and regrowth. The snow had melted. One look at Jack and the promise in his eyes melted the frost in Bel's heart.
"Bel, I meant what I said on the phone. I missed you."
Jack reached out and held Bel's hands. Brownie rushed Bel from behind and made her fall forward, straight into Jack's arms. Where it was warm and safe. Where there was the promise of love.
Bel and Jack stood in front of their former spouses' graves. The couple paid their respects the day after their wedding. They were headed to the mountains of North Carolina in a cabin in the woods to celebrate their new lease on life. With their best man, the dog.
Life had grown full circle; the seasons had changed. From profound sadness to grateful appreciation of love's healing touch.
The summer breeze brought the fulfillment of the promise made in spring. A riot of honeysuckles, lupins, dahlias, and asters competed for attention under the aspen tree in a picture-perfect summer scene. The sun dazzled as it bathed the cemetery in its warm embrace. Even the lowly dandelions flourished and stood tall while butterflies flitted happily around the grave markers; unlikely and incongruous at best, but somehow, the blissful view reaffirmed the hope for second chances.
Love found its way, in an unexpected place, surprising the reluctant lovers brought together by a dog. That same dog strutted around the grave in his customized tuxedo from yesterday's wedding ceremony. Brownie/Max had eluded the newly-weds' attempt to divest him of his favorite suit. The dog had looked mighty impressive for a canine with his newly-groomed and silky brown fur. And now, it looked as if he was enjoying his upgraded status to Best Dog. He was basking with a sense of self-importance.
Somehow sensing the solemnity of the moment, the dog stopped pacing and faced the couple who had bowed their heads in silent commune with their departed loved ones. Their love is in full bloom, and they wanted to share their happiness with Mike and Barbara. Bel and Jack held hands, each one promising each other's departed to nurture the love that was cut short by tragedy. There was no sadness, because there was the joyous realization that their union was blessed.
In true fashion, Brownie/Max broke the reverie and claimed his masters' attention by licking the couples' joined hands. His eyes were bright, his tail thumped happily, and then he smiled.
"How did you know
I needed someone like you in my life
That there's an empty space in my heart
You came at the right time in my life"
Part 1- http://jcerrudocreations.blogspot.com/2010/12/moving-on.html
PS. Our own Brownie had been a delight and a treasure since he came into our lives, but now, we mourn his passing. We miss him so much. 9/8/2012