One True Love
She was more than a friend. She was my guardian angel, my muse, and my reason to get up every morning. Anyone who has known me for more than twenty years knows all about her. In fact, her legend lives on in my marriage. She brought my husband into my life; she helped me teach children with behavioral and learning issues; she comforted me through some dark times; and, she loved me unconditionally. She was Bonnie Jean, otherwise known as B.J., my loyal, steadfast Golden Retriever.
Like any one true love of our lives, no other could come close to the bond B.J. and I shared. My first husband and I brought her home as a four-month-old “toddler” because the original owners weren’t sure they could give her up. She was the last puppy left. However, when we arrived at the home to meet her, it was evident B.J. was meant for me. Once she was in my arms, I couldn’t let her go. And, of course, she was the perfect puppy- potty trained in one day; didn’t destroy the house; easy to train; and, so, so smart. (In her obedient class, B.J. stayed in sit the longest.) I’ve never had my own children, but my instant love for B.J. gave me a glimmer of what a mother must feel for her own baby when she sees it for the first time.
B.J. thrived in the ranch lands of Park City, Utah. She romped beside us in the snow when we cross country skied; she ran beside us when we jogged with the first buds of spring until the last leaf of autumn fell. She grew up loving the great outdoors. When we moved to Nevada City, California, looking for new jobs, B.J. had to learn to be a regular dog in a fenced in yard. She made the transition well because she continued her runs with us through the Sierra foothills every evening. She would go anywhere or do anything we wanted. She was our perfect child.
A few years later, our world fell apart. The marriage no longer worked. My ex-husband was more than fair; he insisted I have full custody of B.J. His job as a smokejumper took him all over the west where he lived like a nomad. He knew his life jumping out of planes would never be conducive for a canine child. Besides, B.J. knew it was her place to keep me safe and loved. She let my tears dampen her soft coat every night while she put her own sadness aside for me.
We kept up our nightly runs even though they were bittersweet. I even brought B.J. to my special education classroom because I didn’t want to leave her alone all day. (The truth is that I needed her to be by my side with her rock solid love and support.) The children grew to love her as much as I did. When they became frustrated or angry, they laid on the floor with B.J. She never wavered. She weathered their tears as she had mine countless times before. I later published an article in a middle school journal about B.J.’s healing effect on children with disabilities. I couldn’t have survived that year without her.
A few relationships came and went; however, I always put B.J. first. She traveled with me, she went to work with me, and she even slept with me. She was totally mine. During a visit with a friend in Topanga Canyon, California, above Malibu Beach, a pack of canyon dogs approached me in the garage carport as I was doing my yoga. B.J. instinctively stood between me and the interlopers. She stood so firm and regally proud that the other dogs knew she would fight them to the death if they crossed that invisible line between canine and master. They slowly turned and walked away when B.J. didn’t blink. They understood her role as my guardian angel.
During B.J.’s 11th year on this planet, she stopped enjoying her food (the thing she most loved after me). I knew in the pit of my stomach that something was deeply wrong. After an emergency removal of an infected spleen, it was finally determined that B.J.’s organs were failing, one by one. It was my turn to be her angel. I shared a futon on the floor with her because she was too weak to get in my bed. I cried with her when she whimpered in pain throughout the night. I held her weak body up when she had to pee. I never left her side.
But as Mother Earth often does, she turned up her last cool breezes that year just before the summer equinox arrived with its invasive heat. Mother Earth gave B.J. one more romp. On May 1st, 1994, B.J. and I were walking to the car after a brief walk in a grassy field. We were enjoying the colorful kites that dotted the blue sky on that glorious day. After rolling up his kite, a dark, handsome man with long black hair saw us. B.J. and I stopped walking as he slowly approached. B.J. perked up and playfully tugged at the leash as if she already knew he was meant for us. Before I could say anything, my future husband said, “What a beautiful dog.”
Glenn and I spent the whole summer with her camping along the breathtaking northern California coastline. B.J. received blood transfusions from U.C. Davis to keep her spirits up- they gave us only five precious more months to love her. She adored this new man in my life. I hadn’t seen her that happy since her daddy left years before. What a joy it was to watch her swim in the waves and roll in the sand as if she were young again. She never kept her eyes off of either one of us.
On November 20th, 1994, just five days before we were married, a tired, frail B.J. looked up at me with sad eyes that said, “It’s time. You are finally happy, mom. I can rest now.” Glenn carried her to the back room of the vet hospital after I cried into her silky coat one last time. I couldn’t go in. When he returned to the car, Glenn said she died peacefully in his arms. This stoic Japanese American man who accepts life on its own terms allowed his tears to freely fall. He simply said, “I feel like I have lost my best friend.”