It is a beautiful sunny California morning and Scruffy and I are out for a walk. Scruffy, as usual, has chosen our route and we are at the elementary school at the end of the street. It has a large parking lot and there’s a lot for him to sniff at.
He is a sniffer, this dog.
I’m waiting patiently while Scruffy sniffs down a hibiscus bush. A man carrying a baby is crossing the parking lot towards us. The baby is in a Baby Bjorn, facing outward, and as soon as he sees Scruffy he starts waving his arms and legs. Scruffy in turn wags his tail and we bound over to greet them. Now that Scruffy is close by, the baby flails with even more excitement.
“He seems happy to see your dog,” the man says.
“My dog seems to be happy to see your son!” I say.
“Oh, he’s not my son. He’s my grandson,” he says.
“Wow, you look awfully young to be a grandpa,” I say. He does.
The man beams and says thank you. We say goodbye and continue on our walk. But the baby shrieks every few feet and his granddad turns around so he can get one more look at the four-legged furry wonder that is Scruffy. I wave at the baby each time and his arms and legs flail with glee. He looks like the happiest half of an octopus.
Another dog comes our way and Scruffy is elated to see him, but this dog seems to not even notice us. Scruffy whines and tugs at his leash. I let him approach the other dog but still, he ignores us. I encourage Scruffy to come on, and he does, but keeps looking back longingly at the other dog, whining and wondering why, why, why….
We’re almost home when we meet a woman walking in the same direction with her dog Jake. She asks how old Scruffy is and I tell her he’s eight. Which I think is pretty close to the truth. When she tells me her dog is fourteen I exclaim, “Wow, he’s in great shape for fourteen!” She nods but tells me that lately he’s starting to show Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. I ask what that means and she says that sometimes he just stands in the middle of the house and seems to be confused about where he is and where he’s going. Then she goes on to say it reminds her of her dad, who had Alzheimer’s. She said he would sit in front of the clock and ask over and over again, “What time is it?”
“Wow, I can imagine that’s hard to see your dog go through that, and to have those reminders of what it was like with your dad,” I say.
And then we both stop walking, and we stand there on the street corner for a minute in thoughtful silence.
Then she looks up and squints into the sun. She gives me a faint smile and asks what my name is. I tell her I’m Melanie and I reach for her hand, and she shakes it warmly and says that she’s Nicki. And we wish each other a good day, although I think in reality we are wishing much more for each other than a good day.
I am wishing peace for her.
I wonder what she was wishing for me. I’m not sure.
In a few more steps Scruffy and I are home. At his home anyway, and for the summer it is also my home.
I unleash Scruffy and untie my shoes and decide that I will give Scruffy credit for the song we just wrote together during our walk.
We're still working on the lyrics but we have the title.
It’s going to be called “It’s Okay to Look Back”.