I became an adult the day my dog Ghanima died.
Ghanima had been a 3 month old stray when I found her on the Rez. She was the starving runt of a mixed litter. She had fleas, was covered in mange and had the most beautiful emotional eyes I had ever seen in a dog. I knew she was meant to be with me.
Ghanima was a fierce and loyal friend who preferred life out under the stars to the warmth of our home. She gracefully made the transition to over six different houses, as my husband and I struggled to find our place in the world, and she learned the property lines of each. Her self-assigned position was border patrol, which she excelled at.
The day she died was the same as the day before. We met our neighbors at the bus stop. Ghanima smiled and wagged her tail, greeting each one of us in turn with a lick and a quick rumble of hello from her soft black and white throat. She crossed the road to run up the hill, chasing a scent that eluded her. I let her go; my first child....the child you have before you have children. The one who teaches young couples how to care for themselves, how to care for another, how to be reliable and trustworthy. The one who teaches you how to be a parent. I let her go, remaining innocent to danger, tragedy, circumstance.
I heard the truck approaching. There was a deep rumbling that bounced off of the valley walls and traveled on ahead; around the blind corners. This was not a regular day. The schedule was wrong. Maybe the driver was running late? Maybe he was ahead of schedule and humming happily.
I became aware of my children; analyzed their patterns of play, wanting to keep them away from the road. I looked across the pavement to see where Ghanima may be, hoping she was still on her wild goose chase through the forest high above. However, during my visual search Ghanima and I locked eyes which only drew her closer to me.
I began to yell...what could I do? I could not leave my children; I could not reach my dog ahead of the approaching truck. As she edged her way down the hill toward us, I yelled for my sweet girl to stay there, to sit, to stay. The panic in my throat convinced her that she must be in trouble and she began to come to my side to make amends. We locked eyes again, mine pleading with her to wait. Please wait, please wait. I knew there was not enough time for her to make it across the road. I was paralyzed....helpless and afraid.
The distance between life and death was minute. She made no sound. She looked at me, confused, and then was gone. Her body lay still. Silent, alone on the cold, black ground. I ran to her wailing, maybe moaning, but I could barely hear myself. The soft brown eyes that I had known for nine years did not move. Her body was warm. When I lifted her, I felt the ribs shift under her skin. Her blood on my black jacket ran hot and red. It stained my jeans and covered my hands as I carried her body over to the shoulder and gently lay her on the gravel, safe from further assault. I had never in my life experienced this sensation....the bitter loss of love right before my eyes. I lay my head on her chest to be closer to her and began to sob. I buried my nose briefly in her fur and inhaled her sweet dog scent.
In the distance, my children were screaming. I drowsily came to my senses and made my way back to them...my hands still stained and sticky, my jacket dripping, the puddles on my jeans spreading into a coppery, dry stain. I grabbed hold of my children and pulled them in tight. We held each other and I calmed them the best I could. The three of us distractedly made our way down the driveway to our house. I barely remember saying goodbye to my neighbor and her child as they continued to wait for the school bus. I barely remember putting my children in the car and explaining that we needed to go rescue the body of their beloved pet. I ran up to my room looking for anything I could use to cover the body, to gather it up and transport it to....where? I found a clean white sheet in the bottom of the pine chest next to the bed.
On the way out to the road, we passed another neighbor. He must have heard my screams from earlier because his eyes were crinkled with concern and mild curiosity. We passed by with barely a wave of the hand.
I drove the wrong way down the highway to the place where Ghanima’s body lay and jumped out with the sheet. I wrestled with her limp body and for the first time in all of her life truly felt her weight on my arms. My small frame could barely manage to move her sturdy, muscular body into the car.......
She is buried in our yard now, amidst the fruit trees and berry bushes. From where she lay, there is a view both to the north and south along the length of the canyon. It’s the place where the sky is large and where she can still see the boundaries of our property. We still talk about her in present tense. In the mornings my son and husband often walk down to visit her and wish her good morning.
The day Ghanima died was the day I realized that there was no safety net between myself and the violence of the world. I became that net for my children. I hope my love is strong enough to catch them when they fall.