Friday, July 25, 2014

Wicker (2000-2014)

Dearest Daughter,
I have just come in from burying Wicker in the backyard – so my thoughts are likely to be a bit scrambled and my emotions more than a little frayed. But I have developed a bad habit of not writing, and Wicker deserves better from me. She always did, though regrettably she seldom got it.
Your mother decided when we were first married that I needed a dog. I told her I didn't.. but you know your Mom once she makes up her mind to something :)  And so early one morning we found ourselves out in the arse-end of nowhere, looking for a breeder down winding, wooded country lanes that bore no relation to either the lines on our map or the instructions your Mom had taken by phone. There were false starts, reverses, close calls, and a very great deal of inventive and heartfelt swearing before we finally, finally found the farm.
I was not in a good mood by then and wandered off sullenly while your mother talked to the dog breeder. And when I looked down, there was a tiny ball of red and white fluff trying to climb onto my shoe. I picked up a tiny cocker spaniel puppy and it looked at me with dark, solemn eyes before reaching out a tiny paw to pat my cheek gently as if to reassure me that everything was going to be all right.  By the time your mom and the breeder came around the corner of the farmhouse and tried to give me the dog they had selected, it was a done deal. I had already lost my heart.
So we took our ball of fluff and headed home.
Somewhere along the way our puppy was named “Wicker.” For years people have asked us why. And for years, I've had no answer. It was rather like the scene in “Harvey” where the doctor asks Elwood P. Dowd why he chose to call his invisible rabbit companion “Harvey.” And the answer was simply “Well, Harvey’s his name.”  Wicker was just Wicker.. and that was it.
She cried all that night in her crate in the kitchen. We tried everything we had ever read: hot water bottle wrapped in a fluffy towel, ticking clock. It was finally the stuffed frog that did it. She snuggled down content and for the next several months, froggy was her constant companion.
Well.. till she ate him.
Wicker never complained about out eclectic household. Not when your Mother brought Duncan kitty home (after I had told her that under no circumstances were we going to get a cat – and she not only picked one out at the shelter, but then got me to go and pick it up). In fact Wicker mothered Duncan, laying her head flat so the tiny kitten could climb up on top and groom her shaggy spaniel ears while Wicker lay immobile with a look of pure bliss. And years later when Duncan was lost in the woods it was Wicker who dragged me frantically at the end of the leash through the brambles till we found her.
Nor did she complain when Simon kitty came into our lives. Early in the pre-dawn darkness while Wicker was selecting the perfect spot to relive herself (a process that could take 15-20 minutes on a good day) a dark gray, homeless cat came out of the woods and approached Wicker carefully. They touched noses gently and then Wicker went on about her business while the cat purred around my ankles. Some sort of silent permission had been requested and granted and we repeated that same ritual greeting every morning at the same time for months until the morning Simon came to us injured and thus became absorbed into the interior life of our home where she lives still.
Nor was Wicker fazed when Pops gave us a domestic rabbit he’d found abandoned on his land (though Simon was terrified of Hetty bunny), and many’s the picture I have of Wicker up on our old bed, dozing intertwined with the other critters (and occasionally you) for warmth and for comfort. In fact your arrival was the only thing that upset Wicker, but only when you cried. She would paw at your crib and whimper until we came to comfort you. And somehow comforting you comforted her.
Every day after I picked you up from daycare, our ritual was to go home and see how many rabbits were in the yard. We’d feed the fish in the fish pond. And we ‘d take Wicker for a run/pee.  Then we would all sit on the front porch - me, you and James Bear, and Wicker dog. And in companionable silence we’d watch the cars go past until it was time for dinner. It was perfect peace – what I call a “snapshot moment”. And I hold the memory close and dear.
The one problem we had with her was her absolute unwillingness to let us know when she needed to go outside. She was the most silent dog I have ever known. On at least one memorable occasion when she was young your mother and I sat on the kitchen floor on either side of her trying to teach her to bark by modeling “proper” dog behavior. So for about half an hour we took it in turns to growl, woof, and bark while Wicker's head swiveled back and forth between us with such a clear look of “what in the sphincter of hell is WRONG with you people?” that we finally became too embarrassed to continue.
And so we lost many, many thing to dog pee. Rag rugs, expensive carpets. At one point the dining room floor became so saturated (she got good at peeing in out-of-the-way locations) that the handsome hardwood turned black. We tried training pads. We even for a time swaddled her in dog diapers (and it was a near thing as to who hated the morning ritual of putting them on her more, Wicker or us). We tried taking her out more and more often, but to no avail. I sat and watched one day, having just brought her in from a good 20 minutes of fruitless waiting for her to pee – only to have her squat immediately on reentering the house and saturate the dining room rug. 
Unfortunately in despair I turned to punishment to try to resolve the problem. There was yelling and sharp slaps on the rump. And as our marriage disintegrated and I turned to drink to dull that pain, I became like - so many drunks - a bully and my bullying focused on my disobedient dog. That is my greatest shame in this life. I hated the son-of-a-bitch I became. I still do.
And so when your Mom left to go live with Larry, it was right that Wicker go with them. Larry was always far, far better and more patient with her than I had ever been. And when on occasion in later (sober) years I was called upon to dog sit, I did my best to make up to her for all the unkindness.
And she was friendly enough. I think I was forgiven, though we both knew I would not be her human ever again. I indulged her with treats and with lots of runs. Lord how that dog loved to run. When we had our country acreage, whenever I got home from work I’d put her leash on and run with her for as long as I could keep up – from one end of the property to the other, tracking rabbits and possums and God knows whatever else her busy nose could detect. She could never get enough running and I’d have to force her to stop and drink before she keeled over. I can still see her in my mind’s eye when we would visit Nana and Pops – the only time when we could let her off the leash without fear of cars. And she would tear off as far and as fast and she could go, great shaggy ears flying out in the air behind her and her sense of pure joy palpable.
And even in age, when she grew infirm and deaf and half-blind, the sheer exhilaration of running seemed to make the years fall away (See the entry "Snapshot").  The very last time that your Mom and Larry brought her to me to dog sit while they were out of town, Wicker and I trotted the perimeter of my back yard as hard and as fast as our wheezing lungs and old arthritic legs would go. Then we huffed our way into the family room and cooled off by eating crushed ice (which she loved as much as I do).
And finally the time came to lead her to her rest. 

Your Mom and were both with her at the end, holding her and stroking her head and telling her what a good girl she was until she slipped quietly away. And then I brought her home. With your Mom and Larry thinking about selling their house, I could not leave her there where she would eventually be among strangers. And so she sleeps now in a sunny spot outside my bedroom window, near where she and I used to run.
I have done what I could for her. Later we will make a small monument to mark the place and plant some flowers.
Enough. My heart is sore. I need to sleep now.