Last night, around 2 AM, I woke up to the sound of my dog growling.
“Emma, stop,” I begged in half-sleep.
She continued growling. And then she barked. The loudness startled me into an upright position.
She wagged her tail and jumped back on to the bed, on to my stomach, on to my face, and then, eventually, on to the pillow next to me.
An hour later, I heard a growl. Low and soft, I assumed Emma was warning my cat against leaping up towards my headboard. Again, she barked.
I always wonder, for half a second, if Emma Louise is growling at an armed intruder. In that brief moment I imagine that my 40 pound dog is ready to leap against a much more powerful assailant. And then I remember: my dog is insane.
After several more pleas, spaced out between the hours of 3 and 4 AM (estimates, of course, because I’m too tired to know when I’m actually being woken up by my nut job dog), I finally sit up, fully awake.
“What. What are you growling at.”
And then I see. Emma: hunched forward, hackles raised, growling and then yelping at the offending object(s) in front of her. I lean forward to see my sister’s boots. I groan, get out of bed, and move the boots to the hallway. Emma Louise gets back into bed and curls against me for the rest of the night, happy to have rid our room of such a foe.
Emma Louise doesn’t like shoes. She really doesn’t like loud shoes. She really, really doesn’t like the loud shoes my sister wears.
A lot of the time, Emma Louise doesn’t really like my sister.
My dog is a strange, strange dog. She is afraid of everything. She barks at things that don’t exist. In her dog mind, my identical twin sister is very different from what I am. We’ve tried to analyze the ins and outs of dog jealousy and owner identity, but we usually come to the same conclusion: “Weirdo! She’s just a weirdo!”
Emma Louise is a weirdo. And she’s the most wonderful weirdo I’ve ever met.
When I can, I wake up at 6 in the morning to walk Emma. My alarm goes off and I reconsider every decision I’ve ever made. A tail thumps against the bed and a snout appears in front of me, tongue out, eyes smiling (really, they do).
I almost always walk Emma Louise at 6 in the morning. If you knew her, you’d walk her too.
We walk to the park and I let her off her leash. It’s dark and warm out and I stand underneath a street light as she races through the grass. I am afraid of the dark, but, here, standing on an empty street before the sun rises, I feel safe. My dog races through the park. She leaps, really, through the patches lit by the opening of the sky. My dog is scared of everything, but on these mornings, she is far more free than I ever see her. I call to her, “Emma!” and she runs towards me, stopping, silently, so that I can put her leash back on.
Emma is a good leash walker. In the midst of the chaos of my life (please see: flat tires, forever hangovers, empty bank accounts, wrinkled work clothes, aches and pains–physical and emotional, and other shit that happens when you’re 23), the fact that my weird dog walks perfectly on a leash is a dream.
“You’re such a good girl,” is my refrain. And I mean it. Emma Louise is such a good girl. But more importantly, she is my good girl.
I sit down to write about my life and for a couple of months I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Everything’s been okay–not great, not bad. But I’ve gotta say something, right? Surely my life has something worth writing about, no matter the circumstances.
And it’s just my life. My life is a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense. And then it’s my dog. I love my dog so fucking much. Is that terrible, to use that kind of language in a proclamation of love? I do. I really do fucking love her.
No matter what happens–if I come home from a wonderful or terrible day, I have Emma Louise. I pick her up from daycare and she runs to me and we sit in the car for ten minutes and she can’t control her tail wagging. I come home from work and she jumps up from my bed, shaking with excitement, because, maybe, she didn’t think she’d ever see me again.
My sister stands in my bedroom doorway, watching these reunions. She smiles and nods. She doesn’t mind that Emma Louise loves me the most. She’s just happy to see such a strange dog so happy.
Today, I had a kind of bad day. I went by a gas station on my way home and picked up a bottle of wine and some crackers (dinner). I came home and poured myself a large glass and took Emma Louise outside. She sprinted through the courtyard and picked up several leaves from the Magnolia tree. As I headed towards the front door, I felt in my purse for my house keys. I felt coins and a hair clip and I remembered that I hadn’t been remembering; no keys.
And then Emma Louise and I made the hour round trip walking journey to my sister’s restaurant.
It was 8 PM, so I was less scared than usual, but it was still dark. (I imagine that anything terrible that has ever happened in the world, has happened in the dark). Emma and I walked through parts of town that she’s never been through at night. King Street drunks reached out to her: “Dog! Hi!” I smiled and continued, as Emma cowered against my legs.
I waved at my sister from her restaurant’s stairs: “Hi! Locked out!”
She returned with keys a few minutes later and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, “We can talk about it when I get home.”
Emma and I made it home. She raced to my bed (her forever spot) and wagged her tail from behind a few pillows.
“You’re a good girl. Thank you for coming with me.”
I sat down on the edge of the bed, exhausted from the effort of making it through the day. Emma leaned in close and licked my face. She backed up, wagged her tail, and did it again.
I know that at 2 AM Emma Louise will start growling. I’m not sure what she’ll be growling at, but I know, for a fact, that it will be something a lot less scary than an armed intruder. She will growl and she will bark and I will remove something from my room. Emma will jump at my face and paw at my chest. She will show her gratitude in the kinds of ways most people would find annoying. I will pull her closer and kiss her head and thank her for protecting me, every night, at such an ungodly hour.
I’m sitting at my dining table and Emma’s lying next to me. Her ears are perked because my cat is on the fridge behind us. Emma doesn’t know that, but she will pretty soon. She gets up every few minutes to nudge my leg. She wags her tail and licks my foot and settles down happily next to me. I just set my alarm for 6 AM. I don’t really want to wake up that early. But I will.
It is so hard to know anything for certain. We strive to work things out in our minds, and in reality, we end up working out nothing at all. I wish I knew what my future held. I wish I knew much about anything. I know, for sure, that I will wake up tomorrow. I will, against every fiber of my tired being, walk my dog. She will be happy. She will nudge my leg. She will lick my face. She will wiggle out an “I love you.” I’ll whisper, “I love you too.” I know this for sure.