Watching From the Shadows

Missy and I had been sitting on the couch when we heard the jingle.

“Shhh,” I said. “I think she reappeared.”

I set my tablet down, looked behind the furniture. Sure enough, a pair of small eyes gleamed back. After a long day of invisibility, Cupid had deigned to show herself again.

Well, sort of. You can’t rush a lady.

Cupid is the visiting cat of a visiting relative. A grand-and-tiny feline of 13, she’s also a new adoptee, greeting her changed environment with a mixture of curiosity and uncertainty. That especially includes our muscular English Labrador Blake, who has greeted the new arrival with a mix of enthusiasm (“Hey! New friends!”) and jealousy (“Hey! This is MY house!”). She in return has greeted him with a mixture of concealment (“I’m not here …”) and ferocity (“…. but my claws are, buddy, so don’t come any closer, OK?”).

Note to self: When a 95-pound dog tries to mix it up with a tiny puff of fur, don’t bet against the puff of fur.

This is familiar ground, though it’s been quite a while. When I was a kid, my sister Leslie introduced Twinkle Lumas Rochat to our home, named for the blaze of orange between her eyes that matched a mark on her mother, Starface. Twinkle remained in the house as an uncrowned queen for 17 years, learning the arcane secrets of paper bag, bits of ribbon, and Christmas tree tinsel.

And, of course, Max.

Max was the newer arrival, a bearded collie who loved the world. It was a match made in … well, somewhere. Like most beardies, Max had never heard of personal space; like most cats, Twinkle believed the entire house was hers.

On the first day Max came home, Twinkle disappeared into my sister Carey’s closet and refused to leave.

The script started out as Upstairs, Downstairs – as in, Max hadn’t yet mastered staircases, so upstairs and downstairs were the perfect places for Twinkle to hide. When he made the breakthrough, it became the biggest shock in Twinkle’s life and the start of a new episode, straight out of the old Road Runner show: one bark, one yowl, and two furry bodies streaking up or down the steps in hot pursuit. (Anvil not included.)

It took a long time, but things eventually reached a detente. And then some. It wasn’t uncommon for someone quietly entering a room to notice a certain pup and a certain kitty sleeping within paw’s length of each other. Once they realized they’d been seen, of course, official relations resumed, beginning with a high-speed chase, but we all knew the truth.

Each had made their peace, without compromising who they were. And they’d made something better doing it.

That’s not an easy thing to do for anybody, furry or not.

We live in a world of changes. Not all of those changes are comfortable. Some we welcome, some we fight, some we try to accommodate if we can.

But the one thing we can’t do is ignore them and pretend they’re not there. Oh, it’s tempting. And there can be a bit of helpful respite in pulling back to reassess, recover, and figure out what to do next. But as Twinkle discovered, hiding out only works for so long before the change finds you anyway. Then you have to figure out what to do next.

That doesn’t mean surrender. But it does mean understanding what’s happened, and then working out what the next step needs to be.

Meanwhile, we’ve got a guest to attend to.

Somewhere around here, anyway.

Get The Picture

My sister and brother-in-law sounded shaky. After I put the phone down, I did, too.

It was that kind of news.

“We have to put Quaccia down.”

For as long as I knew him – and I only knew the ol’ guy for a small part of his 14 years – Quaccia was the poster child for the idea of “Family Dog.” Big. Friendly. A little clumsy sometimes, a little slobbery sometimes. But with fur that was made for comfort and a heart made of solid gold.

The name, pronounced “Qua-cha,” came from a minor league ballplayer. That was the only thing minor league about him. The whole family could tell you that.

Funny thing, though. When I think of Quaccia, or Q as he often got dubbed, one image keeps coming back to mind. A picture taken right after my nephew Gil was born. The baby asleep,  Q curled up alongside his rocker, totally comfortable, totally protective, the message clear as crystal.

“This is my buddy. Mine. You want to get to him, you’ve got to get past me.”

Somehow, I know that’s the Q that’s going to stay with me.

We do that a lot with those we love, it seems. Somewhere along the line, a picture gets set in your brain – maybe an actual photograph, maybe just a strongly-held memory – that seems to epitomize someone, to crystalize all your memories of them in one place. A thought that captures a life.

If it seems strongest with pets, it may be because they compress so much love into so short a time, leaving behind those pictures to last a lifetime. I know that my own mental photo album holds a lot of loved animals, both here and gone, caught at a moment that says “Yes. This is me.”

Our rescue dog Duchess, grinning in the mountains, free of anxiety for the first time in too long.

The eyes of our cat Twinkle, gleaming from behind the headboard of a bed at night, waiting for a finger to be dangled down.

Our bearded collie Max, charging a guest at full tilt in love and excitement. Or the cautious orbit of my folks’ dog, Hailey, a distant background presence taking the measure of a stranger – for days, sometimes.

Each one just a moment in the life. Each one as true as if it had happened yesterday. Each one real, in a way that any velveteen rabbit could understand.

There’s a danger, of course. Sometimes we become too reliant on the shorthand, let the reality fade as the picture replaces it. But usually, I find, it’s the opposite. Like a bookmark in a novel or a shortcut on a computer monitor, that single image unlocks an entire story. By holding on to the tip, you can suddenly raise the entire iceberg.

That’s a comfort. Even a joy.

It makes me wonder what pictures I’ve left in others’ minds. Maybe I’d laugh. Maybe I’d cringe. Or maybe it’s just enough that they’re there, lasting and defiant in the face of time.

As solid and real as a big ol’ dog by a sleeping baby.

Thanks for that, Quaccia.

Thank Q very much.