Absence Of Her Jingling Bell
Angela D. Valdes
Layla has been dead for five months now, although it seems like much longer and I can hardly remember her greetings in the mornings with the sound of the little bell on her collar jingling as she shook, stretched, and yawned her way out of her little bed in the corner. She was my friend, my companion, my confidante.
I still remember the day my mother sent her to me as a present to cheer me up from my mundane life. My brother’s ex-wife, Heidi, had driven down to Texas to bring my nephew Tanner to visit during the summer of 2005. She protested bringing a small rat-like Chihuahua back with her, but I am sure my mother insisted in a way that she couldn’t get out of it.
I met Heidi at the end of the driveway that night. “Here, take it, she pissed all over me and she has fleas.” I saw a little pink nose, reddish blonde fur, and dark eyes shivering in the moonlight. I fell in love with her instantly. She was so little. She only grew to be three pounds although she fluffed herself up to be bigger whenever she thought I needed protection. She had the strangest personality. Sometimes I think she thought she was a cat. My mother had sent a little cat bed with her that had a fluffy blue ball attached. She would attack the ball and grab onto it biting it and swatting at it. When it was time to go outside and potty, it was like a circus act sideshow. When she would pee, she would completely lift up both of her back legs and walk forward.
A dog that small had no business up in the northern woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In the harsh winters, I would have to go outside and shovel a path for her to piddle. She would follow behind me as I sifted the snow out of the way. If I had put her out without completing this process, she would have been lost in the knee deep fluff. In the summer, I had to watch out for hawks that could swoop down and carry her off for lunch.
I would have done anything for this little wonder. I was such a lonely woman in a loveless marriage with no children. I would dress her in sweaters before taking her outside in the cold. She would just look at me in humiliation as if to say, “Here we go again, let’s just get this over with.” She didn’t like very many people and she was absolutely terrified by children.
People often say that animals have no feelings and no souls. I don’t believe this to be true at all. She showed every emotion I can think of. When I bathed her, she was angry for a while and wouldn’t even look at me. When I scolded her, she would tuck her tail between her legs and cower often going and hiding under a blanket. When I said the word “cookie,” she would go crazy with excitement. But probably the most memorable thing I can tell you about Layla is that she comforted me when I was at one of the worst times of my life. Divorce. My ex-husband was of cold German descent and often cheated on me. I dealt with it for years telling myself that we would work it out. That didn’t happen.
The first time he cheated on me that I can confirm was in the winter of 2006. I would often check his MySpace page because there were questionable comments by women I didn’t know. I don’t remember how I caught him, but he began making frequent trips on his motorcycle to the town that was nearly an hour away from where we lived. I don’t know how long it went on; all I know is that I badgered him enough about it until he finally confessed to sleeping with someone else. I do remember him saying, “It felt good to feel close to someone else.” This broke my heart entirely.
I forgave him and began trying to morph myself into the idea of what he thought I should be. I did all his laundry, folded it, put it away, cooked dinner and tried to keep up with the dishes all with a full time job myself. He was beyond the word frugal so I wasn’t allowed to spend money on anything he deemed “unnecessary.”
We lived in a small 150 year old farmhouse that had been in his family for generations on the 200 or so acres of land they owned. I wasn’t allowed to hang things on walls unless there was a hole from a previous nail that something had once hung on. All of the furniture was still in the house from his dead relatives that occupied the house before us and it looked like it was from the 1950’s. All of the things a wife wants to do in a nesting period were stripped from me. It was like living in someone else’s life surrounded by their things. When I had what he felt was ‘too many clothes,’ he would remind me of his great aunt marching me upstairs, “See, all she had was this small closet, and she was happy to have it.”
“Well, I’m not Irene. She didn’t work; she took care of the household, cooked, and cleaned all day. I have a full time job, and this isn’t the early 1900’s.”
“You are just a spoiled brat.”
In the summer of 2009, we were working in the same fire suppression manufacturing facility when he decided to get involved with a co-worker. I was already suspicious because he would chat on yahoo messenger or MySpace late at night. One night I asked him who he was talking to. He said, “It’s Katherine, from work.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Work,” he said.
“Hmmm, that’s interesting, it is 10:30 at night, and doesn’t she have a husband and children she should be tending to?”
“Whatever Angela,” he replied and kept on focusing on his laptop screen that seemed glued to his legs at all times.
I walked upstairs with Layla for the rest of the evening and settled into bed. She never left my side. She would follow me up the stairs and sit at the edge of the bed whining if I didn’t carry her up there with me.
About a week later, an angry phone call came in from Katherine’s husband. I recognized the name on the caller I.D. when I answered the phone. I gave Mike the phone and watched him sweat. He stepped outside on the front porch and sunk down to sit as he tapped his foot and fiddled with his hands. I watched for a while out the side door window. I decided to sit down in the rocker/recliner with Layla and wait.
When he came back in the house, I said, “I already know something is going on, I’m not stupid, so you might as well tell me.”
Katherine’s little girl found an inappropriate conversation between Mike and her mother on her mother’s MySpace account. The rest is a blur. This one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew it was over. I just could not live in a marriage like this anymore where I was just the controlled roommate that had to sit and watch while my husband had extracurricular activities.
I was the one that had to leave since nothing surrounding me belonged to me. The next few weeks I began to look for an apartment in town. One afternoon, I was sitting in the living room making calls and Layla was laying close by. “I have a very small Chihuahua; she’s only three pounds and is really no trouble.”
Every potential landlord I talked to turned into an evil voice on the other end of the line when I told them I had a dog. It didn’t matter to them how small she was, they wouldn’t budge. I began to cry. I refused to get rid of my dog. She was like a child to me and I couldn’t imagine giving her away to someone who didn’t know her and wouldn’t properly care for her. I would look at her and say, “It’s ok, we’re ok, we’re going to be ok,” kissing her on the forehead as she looked at me.
About a week later, I finally found a place that was willing to let me keep Layla. I moved into the place two weeks later. I kept her near me most of the time when I was home. I was often scared by unknown noises and wasn’t used to living on a city street with people talking outside and walking by. One night, I began to cry and cry uncontrollably. Layla looked at me, walked ever so slowly up onto my chest, licked my tear soaked cheeks, and laid on me tucking her head under my chin.
After the divorce was final, I thought it best to flee that place and leave all the awful memories behind me. I came back home to Texas. I think all the moving around took its toll on Layla’s little frail body. She often began to have seizures and sometimes I had to attend to her ever growing needs. All her teeth never grew in so sometimes she had a hard time eating. She lost a lot of her spunk often walking around looking at me as if to say, “What now? Are we done with all this yet?” I had fallen into a deep dark depression and it seems that she fell into it right along with me.
The final move she made with me was to my new home with my boyfriend in February of 2012. She seemed so happy here. Her spunk came back. She would pick up her little miniature giraffe toy and throw it around the way she used to. Sometimes she would even get down on her front paws with her butt in the air wagging her tail wanting to play. I loved every minute of it. She seemed to become a puppy all over again.
In celebration of a new home and a new life, I decided to buy her a new soft little bed. I put it in the corner of our bedroom with a little fleece blanket on top. A lot of nights, she would come walking into the living room looking at me and my boyfriend as if to coax us to come to bed. Every night when we settled into our bed, she would come and settle in too. Some nights I would hear the little pitter patter of her feet walking around with a little frustrated sigh. I would get up and realize that she was mad because her blanket had fallen onto the floor. “Come on, I will cover you up.” She would get back into her bed and circle round until she was comfortable as I covered her up with her “security” blanket.
I knew she was getting more fragile and would hear a little cough and wheeze in her chest from time to time. I ignored it and pretended that she had at least another year or two in her. One weekend, we had to go out of town suddenly to visit my boyfriend’s sick uncle. He was rushed to the hospital and they found him riddled with bone marrow cancer. His family thought he was going to die. Often times we would leave Layla at home for a day or two if we had something to do. She was trained to use a puppy pad to piddle and we would leave plenty of food and water. In this instance, it was only for a night. We left at about four in the afternoon on Saturday, Labor Day weekend. We got back home about seven in the evening the next night.
“Layla,” I called from the door. She didn’t come. I kept calling but she didn’t respond. I came into the bedroom. She was under her blanket in her bed. I called her name again and she looked at me through half opened eyes. I could tell something was wrong. She hadn’t touched her food or water. I instantly picked her up and got some Pepto Bismol to give her. This would help when she had an upset stomach. I always had to put it on her nose to get her to lick it off because she hated the taste. I put her down and she really couldn’t walk. She would melt into the floor. I picked her up again, held her close, and this time I could smell her decaying body.
“She’s dying,” I said.
“No she’s not she’s fine,” my boyfriend responded.
“No, she’s not. I’m telling you she’s dying. She smells rotten.”
I went and put her back into her bed and covered her up. I went to bed hoping she would bounce back as she always did.
I woke up suddenly about six in the morning and sat up in bed with a gasping breath, “Layla,” I called out. Nothing. No noise, no jingle from her little bell. I got up, uncovered her and tried to coax her out of bed. She didn’t move. She looked stiff and her eyes were half open. I touched her and she was cold and felt different. I went into hysterics.
“Layla’s gone, she’s dead,” I burst into tears.
“What, no she’s not.”
“Go check on her, I can’t do it.”
I came back in and saw something I didn’t notice before. She had expelled her bodily fluids. I lifted up the corner of her bed and it was soaked through to the floor. I had no idea where I was going to bury her or what to bury her in. I called my mother breaking down into tears trying to tell her what happened.
My boyfriend came out of the back bedroom with a beer box to put her in. I had a meltdown at that point. “I’m not burying my dog in a beer box. How can you even suggest that?” I got up and remembered a small Rubbermaid tub that I could put her in. I picked up the whole bed as the idea of trying to peel her body off her bed was too much. Very gently, I placed her into her carrying kennel and headed out the door to my car not bothering to wait for my boyfriend. The weight of the kennel was double what it usually felt like. Dead weight.
My granny had died a few years prior so her son now inhabits her old house. I called him outside the locked gate to tell him the situation and ask if he minded if we bury her there. My mom was already on her way to meet me there.
“No it’s fine, do you want me to help?”
“That would be great if you don’t mind.”
He came out to find some shovels and my mom pulled up. She got out and walked a little past the fence line and started to dig.
“I don’t want her buried there mom, it’s too hard to get to and animals might dig her up.” I looked at my Uncle Randall through tear soaked eyes and whispered, “Help.”
He jaunted back to where she was and coaxed her closer to the edge of the road just before the ditch. “Judy, it’ll be easier to dig a hole here without so many tree roots. Back up, please and let me do it.”
My boyfriend called and asked where I was and said he would meet us there also to help.
As they shoveled the first few scoops of dirt over her, I freaked out. “Wait, wait, what if she’s still breathing, what if she isn’t dead?”
“WHAT?!” They all said in unison.
“She didn’t move when you called her, right?” My mom asked.
“No,” I sniffled.
“She’s dead. She’s gone.” My mom said.
The place we buried her is fitting. She was born at my granny’s house and now she rests here. Some wise words were said to me to comfort my grief by my boyfriend who is now soon to be my husband.
“It was time for her to go, she knew that you were in a safe place now where you are taken care of, you are loved, and she can rest.”
I know she is still with me. There is a desk clock that hasn’t worked in months. The battery is dead. The desk sits just to the left of the place where Layla’s bed used to be; every once in a while, the alarm goes off in it. I like to think it is Layla saying hello in the absence of her jingling bell.