Recently I found myself struggling to comprehend the date. Not the day of the week or the month or the month of the year, but the year itself.
How could it possibly be 2019?
It’s 19 years ago this month that our good, big dog Rosie left us to rest and keep heaven under control until God calls her into action again. It is difficult to grasp.
All those years ago when my husband and I realized it looked like this thing might be for real, I placed two chips on the relationship table.
Me: I do not want children.
Him: No problem.
Me: I do want a dog.
We were together around three years when he called me at work to say he had a surprise for me. I met him in the parking lot where he held a dirty white ball of fur with deep almond eyes of an ancient soul.
One of his regulars at the shop traded him a commercial lawn mower blade for the puppy.
“Here,” he poured the filthy, wriggling mass into my arms. “This is for you. Trial basis – so try not to get attached.”
I lifted her muzzle to my face and we sealed our fate with a kiss as my husband drove off in the old race van.
A few days later the white German Shepherd puppy deemed worthless by the breeder would get stuck under the old van brake pedal and it was there, rolling down US 1 she earned the name Rosalita.
We were kids. I worked long hours for a private practice attorney and my husband worked every day except Sunday in his power product and small engine business. It was coastal Florida in the 80s – there was a whole lot of ‘good time’ happening.
Our lifestyle suited Rosie just fine – she happily fulfilled and flourished in her destiny as lord of the house and its perimeter.
In her prime, the “Great White Dog” was a 125-pound-plus vessel of stacked canine authority. A friend dubbed Boo the “Classic American V8” – by comparison Rosie was a Cummins 855 Big Cam.
Beautiful and striking, loyal and intense, Rosie enthusiastically embraced the power she possessed and took much pleasure in the reaction it brought about when she presented it.
I never met a creature more void of fear – and more filled with stoic love.
Rosie was on this walkabout for one specific purpose – me.
I never took Rosie to a dog class or engaged her in any type of work and I never trained her in the classical sense. Rosie always just knew what to do. She set, engaged and enforced the rules of all her relationships.
For all of her indomitable power, Rosie possessed an improbably sweet and silly side.
She had a special place in her heart for both my and my husband’s Mother and she adored my Dad. Rosie would sit on the couch with him, love-struck as he would sing “You Are My Sunshine” to her.
In those days, Sundays that were not race days meant the beach – no one cared about dogs being there, people were more responsible and life was different.
Maybe everyone grows up to say that.
We’d bomb along in the old van, salty and sun-washed, singing It Ain’t Nothin’ To Me at the top of our lungs, my beach sand feet dancing on the cracked, nasty dashboard.
Sunday dinner was McDonald’s we would eat in the van parked at the Port or a public beach access parking lot. Amusement entertainment was provided by Rosie who would ram her nose in shake cups and run around the back of the gutted van like Winnie the Pooh stuck in the honey pot.
We screamed with the hysterical laughter of the insane at her antics as if we were little children.
To this day ‘those times’ remain some of the very best memories of my life.
As they will, ‘those times’ have given way to construction and shadows, condos and rules and restrictions and responsibilities of age.
As we grew older dirt bikes gave way to softball for my husband. At least one weekend afternoon was spent at the middle school down the road where we’d take batting practice. The “outfield” backed up to a chain link fence – beyond it – a sidewalk and the road.
Passers-by and regulars would stand at the fence and watch Rosie – “the softball playing dog” track a high fly ball off my husband’s bat – line it up and catch it.
Her fans would erupt in cheers.
She ignored them.
Spectators were meaningless to her.
Rosie did not return balls.
She spit them out and waited for the next pop fly.
Retrieving was an activity left to lesser, inferior forms of life.
During her fourteen years with us, Rosie protected me from harm – quite possibly saving my life – twice.
She provided comfort through both of our mother’s deaths and the death of a brother.
She persevered the ups and downs of our tumultuous young adult lives at our sides and never flinched.
She demanded that my husband and I remain together – always – for better or for worse – and even worse than that.
She was the tie that bound us together through some very difficult times.
She was and always will be my better angel.
In her last year, Rosie followed sunbeams from room to room throughout the day and on weekends she would lay in her favorite spot on the old cool deck of the pool, content to control her world from there.
She was on call if needed.
When it was time for her to leave, she did so cleanly and with efficiency – the way Rosie did everything.
I was swallowed whole by grief.
In the days that followed Rosie signaled to me that I needed to be patient. That next puppy would come exactly when she needed to. In a dream, Rosie showed me a small black and white dog I would name Sadie. She told me how I would know she was “the one.”
Eight months later my husband and I were stunned as the events that led us to our Sadie unfolded just as Rosie had told me.
I often sense Rosie brush against the back of my thighs with her high, strong back – so lightly – as if she were a feather. When she was on this walkabout, she would do this to let me know she was there – that she had my back. She still knows when I need her.
Very often when I feel Rosie, I look down to find Boo sitting in that compact, tucked in little way of hers, staring up at me with wide brown eyes. When our eyes meet, her ears go flat to the point they disappear and her entire body wriggles even though she doesn’t move from her spot.
Boo senses the Great White Dog’s presence and I know she knows just who Rosie is.
I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Sometimes I do both.
It was Rosie who taught me that each life has its place – and her place then and will always be – right here at my side.
“That shape is my shade, there where I used to stand…It seemed like only yesterday I gazed through the glass, at ramblers, wild gamblers, that’s all in the past.”
– Donald Jay Fagen/Walter Carl Becker