Some days I look at my dog’s loving, expectant face and I know I will let her down.
Jackie O loves with a purity straight out of a Brita filter. I sometimes forget about her because she is four and a half feet shorter than I am and she doesn’t speak. She hardly barks; instead, she does most of her communication by licking people or trying to bore holes into them with her eyes. Her eyes are black, like stuffed-animal button-eyes with depth. But sometimes, in photos, they are a flat golden color, like sunlight hitting a mirror at noon.
Jackie O lives in an urban apartment complex with no yard. She wears a sleek black and white coat that would have been suitable for her namesake. She is neither large nor small — a mid-sized sedan — is mild mannered and, as such, fairly well-suited for city life. She has an energy that can only be characterized as anxious because she spends most of her life sitting on top of it, commanding it to hold still, to not leak out, like she commands her bladder on afternoons when she’s waiting for someone to come home. Perhaps this is how the former First Lady felt on nights when she waited for JFK to return home. Jackie O was made to run, to work, to give. Jackie O was made to love, and she will do so, no matter how confined her world is.
She defecates while wearing a leash around her neck, and someone behind her always picks up her feces with a plastic bag. Once she followed me to the bathroom and watched me through a crack in the door while I finished my business. I was sure I heard her thinking, “You don’t like this any better than I do, do you?”
But I’m also sure I was wrong in that thought — because really she followed me to the bathroom simply to avoid being alone, or out of a bizarre, simple fascination with me because I put Disney-brand Old Yeller kibble in her dish. Jackie O is like so many people on this planet; she sees it as wrong to be without company. She pulls on her leash when she sees a potential friend on the street. She pulls hard enough to make me fall forward in high heels; my marathon-running aunt has a hard time keeping up with Jackie O when dogs are within sight, even in running shoes.
Jackie O is a mutt who is a decided carrier of cowdog genes. She was made to chase herds of cattle in expansive spaces, but instead she chases garbage trucks down cul de sacs. Sometimes, if she takes off on her own, the garbage trucks hurt her when she gets too close, scraping the side of her face, nicking her paw. But she always runs to them; she is not wary of large machines.
However, she is wary of large men, of passersby who reek of alcohol, of feet dropping near her face, of loud voices — no matter how innocent their intentions. She was once a shuddering pup found by our friend in a shelter, and the shaking returns on occasion when we have been gone for most of the day. She yelps in her sleep, shudders under the kitchen table, and refuses to bark unless she senses grave danger. Sometimes it seems her stare is trying to tell me: “I remember people before you, before the others. I remember hands and feet that were not loving.” And three seconds later she is burrowing her head in my leg, forgetting she ever had reason to fear people.
And today, again, I have patted her head, filled her belly, walked alongside her quick feet and let her mark her territory on the neighbor’s lawn. She saunters away from my feet, into the next room and I feel a tinge of rejection as well as relief that she has stopped staring at me, that she has taken respite from reminding me that my love for anything — even for my own self — could never be as great as hers. That I fail to match her heart.