We were unsure from the moment we walked in. She cowered in the corner refusing to make eye contact. And talk about shaking like a leaf! She must’ve shed a full coat of fur in the five minutes it took the vet to give us the few known details of her situation.
Jon slowly and gingerly approached, reached down his hand for a pet, and she promptly peed on herself. A big puddle on the cheap laminate flooring.
But, oh, was she beautiful. Clear eyes, blocky head, black coat. Hard-headed as a brick but soft in all the right places.
We led her outside to the small patch of fenced grass to see what she would do. The vet said she’d warm up but we weren’t yet convinced. They’d been calling her Susie Q. She’d come to them unnamed and unclaimed. “She’s been layin’ at my feet all day,” said the gal who worked the front desk. “We haven’t put her in a kennel ’cause she’s so sweet and calm.”
Yeah, calm as a bump on a log, I thought. She barely moved, this dog. We eyed her closely as she slinked behind a bush to relieve herself. (Guess she didn’t get it all the first time). When she emerged from her hiding spot I picked up her leash from the ground and took off at a trot to see if she’d match my stride. The leash snapped taut at my sudden movement and she barely budged.
And that tail. She kept it clamped shut into place. Between the legs. No lift. No sway.
We left her overnight, enjoying a meal and a hotel room before seeing her again the next morning. It was at a fair for rescued labs that we decided to bring her home, but it was not without hesitation. Would she bounce back? Was it too late? Had love been withheld for too long?
Using a baby name book, I found one we liked whose meaning was significant. Healer. Maybe she’d be the balm for our broken hearts after our first dog, Abby, was hit by a car. We shortened it and, by adding our last name, we made it official. She was now a Livingston.
After a full-perimeter sniff of the house, Lexy remained cautious and tentative but, soon, days turned into weeks and she began to make herself at home. She bonded with our then one-year-old, finally stopped hiding behind bushes while pooping, and didn’t move a muscle three years later when our next toddler reached deep inside her mouth to retrieve a toy while my mother silently freaked out.
She later kept vigil while our family suffered painful losses and, still later, made company on the floor everyday with Baby Boy while his sisters were at school and he perfected the commando crawl. Meanwhile, I worked at keeping the dog hair off our clothing and a decade’s worth of family ticked on.
We paid too much money to repair a tear to her ACL only to open our wallets again–this time through tears–when a tumor was discovered. The surgeon’s bill bought us another three years and those X-rays gave us an unexpected peek into her former life. The bullet on the film raised our curiosity about who she’d been before she came to us and, while we’ll never know her back story, we deemed her worthy of a new one. Little did we know when we first met her she’d become such a big part of ours.
I’ve come to realize written word reaches deep down into my soul like none other. Brings the water pouring forth and, sometimes, on a day like today, that’s just what I need. So, Lexy, this one’s for you…
Today I woke up to no you. No shaking of your jowls, no stirring in your bed, no nudging at my knee saying I’m hungry. There was no you lying on the bathroom rug while I showered and the walk down the hall to the kitchen seemed longer without you leading the way.
It’s an awful feeling. Too quiet and too still.
I opened the cabinet to grab a mug and there sat your pill bottle still holding the medicine to ease your pain but there was no you at my feet to give it to. And if I hadn’t had to take the kids to school I may not have gone outside. There was no you at the back door needing to be let out.
For the first time in ten years, I watched the mailman approach and there were no paws pounding down the hallway, no skidding toward the front door. No reason for me to shush you like I did so many a day when a baby lay sleeping in a nearby crib. And I stood at the sink washing dishes when it hit me: never again will I see you through the window sunning on the warm concrete. I can’t bring myself to wash out your bowl.
There, in the dryer’s lint trap, I found evidence of you. You’re not here but you’re here. You’re everywhere and, for the first time, I don’t want to brush you off my clothes.
When our friend dropped cupcakes at our doorstep and I ran out to greet her, my chin snapped sideways to make sure you weren’t devouring the box. And when I brought a ham home from Costco there was no you for Daddy to give a scrap to and I could tell he felt cheated and lonely without your expectant face at his knee.
I laid down for a nap and my gaze turned toward your bed like a magnet to metal. I fully expected you to be there, always a step ahead of me, and it was wrong on so many levels that I didn’t have to worry about you snoring and keeping me up. It was restful but not right.
And when the kids returned from school and I let them in the front door, there was no you lying there, tail thumping the rug, having been awakened from your doze, looking extra happy to see them. I dragged the vacuum cleaner out from the closet but it still stands upright in the middle of the room, waiting to be used. I’m not quite ready to suck up the trail you left behind.
When we first brought you home you were a question mark but over time you became our rest stop. We watched you morph from Corner-Cowerer to Continual-Cuddler. You grew taller under our touch even though you came to us full grown.
It’s not lost on me that yours is a story of redemption and I like to think that, when I asked God all those years ago to send us the perfect dog for our family, He chose us for you as much as He chose you for us because He knew you’d be redeemed as you lived in the middle of our love.
And, Lexy, we’d take you in again. Buy you back from fear and bring you home to live with us for your pleasure and our delight. I suspect you blossomed here inside our home just as we flourish being hidden inside Jesus; tucked in him within the shelter of the Father’s love. You stepped out of the stench of urine and neglect and took on a new identity. Your aroma became one of beloved and belonging.
Today I laid out the meal and my eyes stung with tears when I remembered I didn’t need to tell the kids to guard their food. A lot of things have changed in this new era of No You and I just want to tell you that I miss you. We all miss you terribly.
I keep thinking back to a moment a few weeks ago when I came home a ball of nerves, anxious for no good reason, and buried my face in the scruff of your neck and felt the Lord whisper Look to her and you’ll see Me. Constant Companion. Fiercely loyal. Always happy to see you. Ever present…except for escaping to chase after cat poop. Okay. I may have added that last part.
Laying beside you I felt my pulse slow, my fears ease and my heart come to rest. You reminded me that I AM is eager to be with me too.
Not much will change around here. Except for everything. We’ll go on without you, doing all the usual things. Speaking to one another more sharply than we should, laughing at our own jokes, dancing hard like we always do. The only difference will be there’s no you in the corner pretending to sleep through it all and I need you to know, we miss you Lexy Girl. You will always and forever be a part of our family’s story.
And, between you and me, most mornings I’ll still come to this couch, same expectancy, same Book, it’s just that, now, there’s no you at my feet to share in these dark mornings and I find myself hoping I’ll see you again. May it be so, Lexy. May it be so…
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Author’s Note: I’ve learned since first posting this that Georgia Lab Rescue (from whom we adopted Lexy) spun off into Labrador Friends of the South and Atlanta Dog Squad. I’d originally linked to Atlanta Lab Rescue, who also rescues in that area. And to all rescue organizations everywhere: we sure do appreciate what you do!!
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