As I write this, it is late for me—after 10:30p.m. I am sitting on the floor, my laptop wobbling on my crossed legs. Actually, I am not sitting on the floor directly; I'm sitting on Sgt. Thomas Tibb's dog bed, which is on the floor next to the couch. When he is really, really frightened, he leaves his sanctuary in my office to curl as close to the couch as he can get. Tonight he is so terrified by the ongoing explosions outside, I crawl down onto the floor to sit next to him, and this boy who never offers his affection curls against my knee, panting, every muscle in his body tense as he waits for the next bomb to go off.
My neighbors have been detonating illegal fireworks—cherry bombs and M80s—for weeks in the run-up to the Fourth of July. The antics begin every evening around 8:00 and continue for a couple of hours. As I write this it is Saturday night, and I guess we're into overtime on blowing things up because it's the weekend. Thomas and I endured the same routine last year—from June until a week or so after July 4th—only last year he would not stay in the house. He was so frightened, the only place he felt safe was in the back seat of my truck. So for all those weeks, I never went anywhere at night unless I rode with someone else so that he would have a safe place to hide. This year, he has at least recovered from his First Life enough to stay inside with me, for the most part. I have taken to sleeping on the couch, though, because as long as I am close, he will at least lie still (instead of pacing, panting and drooling as he did last year).
Tonight he is exhausted, having been in this state of hyper-vigilance for hours, but just as his head begins to droop against my thigh, another boom resounds through the neighborhood, and his head jerks up as his tongue lolls out with his panting, drops of saliva dripping onto his blanket.
I will stay here with him until it is over, until he can finally relax and sleep. We're buds. I've got his back, just as he had mine some weeks ago.
It's still hard for me to believe how far this dog has come from the emotionally broken shell he was when I brought him home just over a year ago. In January, I posted about his progress. In March, he added a new trick to his exuberant joy by including a complete 360 degree spin to the ecstatic figure eights he races when I come home from work each day. What a difference from the days when I would have to go find him where he was hiding in the side yard and put him on a leash to bring him inside against his will.
In April, I became suddenly and seriously ill with pneumonia. I spent the first horrible days coughing and moaning on the couch, and since I was stuck at home, I left the back slider open—just in case Thomas decided to join me. This has been one of his idiosyncrasies; though he had become comfortable trotting in the door at night to go to bed inside, he still preferred to be outside during the day. Until I became sick. On the second day of my couch incarceration, he came inside of his own volition after I'd had a particular violent coughing episode. I know that he was checking on me, and it nearly made me cry. He curled up nearby, and eventually we napped together that day, initiating a habit that continued, day after day, even when I returned to work. Because it took so long to recover, I was exhausted by the end of each work day, so I left campus as soon as I could, returning home to sleep for hours before dinner. All I had to do was call Thom after he'd finished his happy dance in the yard. We would both adjourn to the office where I would collapse on the spare bed and he would curl next to it. To hear him sighing contentedly as I drifted off contributed, I'm sure, to my healing.
But lest he receive all the credit, I must include this part of the story: The antibiotic regimen that cured my lungs destroyed my intestines, and despite my best efforts (yogurt every day without fail), I ended up with an excruciating case of C. Diff. In the first, horrific days of that onslaught, I was often doubled over in agonizing pain. During one such bout, as I gasped and sobbed, Purrl suddenly appeared, jumped onto the counter next to me, then slowly, carefully climbed onto my back as I sat hunched over, clutching my abdomen. I started to tell her to get down, but realized she was offering comfort in the only way she knew how. She laid down quietly on my back and stayed there until I finally calmed down and my breathing returned to normal. Then she just as carefully stood up, stepped up to the counter and jumped down to the floor again.
For Purrl, this is her reciprocation for my similar attention to her in February when she suddenly became gravely ill. I spent hours just sitting next to her then, stroking her fur and willing her to pull through. Her illness lasted a week, but she finally rallied. And she has recovered in a big way; before her illness, she weighed in at twelve pounds. Now she is a voluptuous fifteen pounds, and I have had to cut back on her bedtime treats. She still loves Thomas with all her heart, and he still just tolerates her for my sake, but I know he's starting to come around.
What would I do without these two plus Sugar Plum, who now on these warm nights instead of cuddling against me stretches her body the length of my arm so she can sleep with her head resting on my hand? They do depend on me for food and shelter and safety, but we depend on each other for comfort and care. So this time spent on the couch—or on the floor, as I am now—with Thomas is no great sacrifice. My good boy deserves it. And as I type these last words, his head is finally resting on his blanket. The terror from the explosions has subsided, and he sleeps... as I will soon as well.