This is a bittersweet fucking story to write. Only this far in, my eyes already filled from flipping through, trying to choose the first photo that I’ll use. She was unlike any other that had been in my life before that. My previous a Labrador / Pit Bull mix that came to be known as Pup, forever memorialized in the black and white of my Fairytale and now this little one will be, too.
I never expected that I’d ever want someone small.
I drove an hour east of L.A. that day, my clammy hands clenching Deborah’s little GT, telling myself over and over,
“And don’t just pick one because they’re fucking cute because they’re all gonna be fucking cute, all right?”
The den of a McMansion in an upper middle class suburb— their Mrs. Darling ushered the litter in and then another, older dog, a dog the young ones had never met before. All but one whimpered and cowered in the corner and that one was the small, fearless someone that I chose.
“What are you going to name her?”
Their Mrs. Darling looked at me quizzically before we flew on our way. She and I starting the first of many long journeys back together.
It was the week of Thanksgiving, still in our business of show days — animation production with another class of Lost Boys. The lone grown up in the office, our studio minder was gone on vacation, so with me to the office my little Stuart came. Her first day spent sitting atop my desk, tiny and new at six weeks. The second passed from person to person, cubbie to cubbie. She met a lot of people that week, as she would throughout her life. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, I imagine she must have been somewhat annoyed, coming to know her the way I did. She just really preferred everything be on her terms.
It was her first week home, too, that I’d almost lost her, thought I did, at least. I’d stepped out to check the mail, check on the laundry, I don’t even remember now, but I’d been back in my place for a bit and I hadn’t seen her around.
“Whatever, she’s small,”
I thought. Peeking around, under my desk, under my dresser,
Under the table, then, to myself,
“Where is she?”
And a rise of panic,
“Oh, Jesus Christ, no.”
And then frantic,
I didn’t even want to step outside to look. Because to step outside meant that I’d probably never find her again. I told myself,
“You have to.”
Open the door and there she is, sitting on the welcome mat looking up at me. Fucking six weeks old.
Our lair at the time just east of Downtown L.A., Ktown — one of many lives I’ve lived, you see. Alexandria Avenue, just off of Sixth and lined with palm trees, Koreatown rapist era. Then onto Dewey, just off of Olympic, a little bungalow behind a cut up Craftsman. Behind a crackhead, too, but that’s another story. Lived in the Hills of Hollywood together, but that’s another story, too.
It was always interesting to me, to see who she loathed and who she liked. Of course, she’d never show her cards to the person in question, she was always proper, always polite. I could tell, though, evidenced by the little curl in her lip that only I could see forming — very Anna Wintourish. My ex’s mother comes to mind. She would coo and carry on in one of those voices,
“Who’s a pretty little girl?”
“Oh, what a beautiful puppy,”
That sort of thing. And then would form the curl. Stuart just never really cared for the fact that my ex’s mother took the liberty to smoke inside of our house whenever she came to visit us, which, let me say, was rather often. That dog fucking hated smoke and I loved her for it?
When she loved, though, Stuart LOVED. She had close friendships in her life, besides me, and I loved that — Ronnie, the most recent. Our former neighbor here in Berkeley. Seven months pregnant during her senior year at Berkeley and her cat died. We had gone downstairs to check in and visit for a while. And when it was time to go? Stuart wouldn’t leave her side.
I guess it really is true — some creatures among us are so small their bodies are able to express only one feeling at a time…
We had the sort of shorthand that develops only with time and in living great adventures together. She came to know the things I would say out of anger, out of sadness, and joy, and would snap to reaction accordingly.
Once I began my studies at Berkeley I was introduced to a level of stress I’d never felt before. And lashed out accordingly, either throwing books across the room, crying, or some combination thereof, Stuart would come running in as the other pets often hid, looking at me as if to say,
“Can you please hold it together. This is embarrassing. And beneath you.”
We’d not been in Berkeley long, she’d been having these ticks, you see, facial ticks. They got to be so frequent that I could tell when they were coming, this restless way she’d get about her. A blood test later and we had our diagnosis. She was given three to six months and I began to count the days. Thirty then sixty then ninety and,
“Well, there are always exceptions.”
It was our golden age together, along with the time I spent at City College. Lots of time spent home together, she lazing about while I read or sat at my desk writing. She watched and helped me become.
That was five years ago, January.
Two years ago this last fall I’d received the news — the man who called himself my father died. My first thought,
“please not Stuart, too. Not yet. Please just a little more time.”
And one year ago, January? It was Stuart, the thought of her and her alone, that stayed ideation, preventing its evolution from into something more, and in doing so, quite literally, saved my life.
Her time finally came this past December. It came as no surprise. I knew. Though I tried in vain to tell myself otherwise. Even talking to her about a dog carrier backpack I’d found, so I could take her on hikes in the woods. Deep down, though, I knew it would be our last journey back. And it was. I cried all that day. And when I sat at work the next day, I questioned if my life even had meaning anymore. It was always Stuart and I. I walked home that night, crying, lamenting my loss, kicking myself for all of the things I thought I could have done differently. Deep down, though, I knew she wouldn’t have left if I hadn’t been ready.
And that’s when I came upon a green satchel with yellow lettering, laying there upon the just rained upon sidewalk. A look around and no one there, I snatched it up and stashed it in my bag. I’d emptied the contents out when I got home: a quarter ounce of top shelf marijuana, gram of hash, along with a sweet little pipe.
I have no doubt that was her.
She’s been gone now just over three months, my life has gone on, of course. It wasn’t long after that my bird landed — my Stuart, my faithful little fairy had brought me my Wendy.
It wasn’t until I began writing this piece that I realized what it was about her that drew me to her — she had no fear. It wasn’t until I began writing that I realized, too — she reflected the very best parts of me, strong and loving, before I was able to see them in myself.
Stuart Elizabeth Ellington
1st and Sole Empress of the House of Ellington