Delilah sits in a place of honor on a shelf in my bedroom. She lives in a mahogany box now, her last heart-shaped name tag threaded through the clasp to keep it locked up tight. Part of me will always be locked up there too, cradling the soft bag that holds her ashes the way my hands cradled her soft, heavy head the night she left. I take her down occasionally, kiss the top of her box and tell her I love her. I feel her loss keenly. She has been gone for two years.
Half Pit Bull, half Chow, Delilah should have been around 30 pounds, but she grew to over 70. She was sweet, patient, timid. Afraid of little children but in love with other dogs. The seizures started when she was just over a year old, and worsened over time. Epilepsy. She never had one, but clusters that sometimes sent us on trips to the emergency vet to stop them and left her dazed for the better part of the next day. One regimen of medications, then another, and another, until finally we had maxed out her treatment plan and a decision was made that with the next seizure I would know the time had come to let her go.
Over a year passed without incident, but then, in the middle of the night, it happened. My selfish nature fought with my protective instinct until peace for her won over peace for me. I sat down on the floor with the two other people who loved her the most, and we stayed with her until she was gone. The void she left was bigger than my heart and every feeling in it. I brought her ashes home. I had her portrait commissioned. I breathed and worked and existed. Anyone who has ever said it's just a dog has never loved a dog. Of that I am certain. Losing Delilah was losing an integral part of my life.
I have never been one to sit still with my feelings for long, so Foxy came along soon after. A tiny Dachshund mix with the same dark muzzle and crooked tail as Delilah, she was shuffled in with 8 other puppies in a pen at her foster home, and she needed me. I adopted too quickly, maybe, but I've never regretted it. Sometimes I think I rescued her so she could rescue me, broken and rudderless as I was with no one to care for after Delilah died. Foxy refuses to wear bunny ears and only half listens to "sit". She's a pistol. Delilah would have loved her.
I adopted Oliver last week, another rash decision made because I felt like Foxy needed a playmate. He is essentially hers, as small as she was when I brought her home. Like Foxy, Oliver is a Dachshund mix, just over 10 weeks old. He is all puppy breath and sharp teeth and potty training and Snoopy noises. I am sleep deprived, but I love all of it. I still dream about Delilah.
I started packing a month ago, and now all that's left is my bed, the bedside table, and the things I use every day. And her, there on the shelf in her place of honor. I can't bring myself to pack her in cardboard like an object, like a thing that never breathed and ran and endured every costume I ever dressed her in, for the sake of a cookie. I have to keep her with me. In a week, we're moving to a new apartment, and when I take Foxy and Oliver, she'll come too, taking a ride on the front seat, just the way she liked it.