On a bitter February night, my husband and I stopped at the light at the corner of our street, en route to an acclaimed Iranian film called The Past. Glancing to the right, we saw a frightened little dog darting in and out of traffic. I jumped out of the car and called out; the dog spotted me and clambered over the snowdrift, but then scurried down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. I called again, and very hesitantly, the tiny white dog with huge brown eyes approached, cowering.
I instinctively reached into my pocket, and there, two years after our old dog’s death, felt a forgotten biscuit, a memento of a long-ago walk. When I held it out, the dog came forward to sniff. I cautiously touched its head and gradually put my hand around its belly. And she—as she turned out to be—let me pick her up.
I sent my husband on to the movie alone and walked home holding her, shivering, her belly covered with ice crystals. From that point on, my family and I had a lot of questions to consider. How would we find the dog’s owners? What if we didn’t find them? None of us wanted another dog. Not yet.
Even in the sad early days, everyone wanted to know – if, when, and what kind
Ever since our sixteen-year-old dog Shucks had died, two years before, people had been asking when we’d get another dog. Even in the sad early days, everyone wanted to know – if, when, and what kind. They persisted, even after my husband and I repeated, “We’re not ready and may never be.” We didn’t always explain why. As Shucks’s health had deteriorated, we agonized over when to end his suffering. We’re not good at making decisions, my husband and I, and Shucks never gave us those clear signals we’d read about. He never stopped eating, and he never ‘let us know’ it was time.
I feared that if we got a new dog, every day my mind would wander ahead to the dog’s eventual decline. This preoccupation is unhealthy, of course. I should live in the present. I should also vacuum the refrigerator coils and cut down on sugar, but I’m not likely to do those things either.
All this time, we were resisting naming her, though friends asked us constantly, as though our keeping her was a fait accompli
In the subsequent weeks, therefore, I knocked myself out to find the little white dog’s owners. We posted on Facebook, called shelters and the police, posted fliers and talked to local people, and searched websites. We had no luck. In the meantime, there was much to be said for our still unnamed guest. Over the first few days with us, she’d had a few accidents in the house, but she was clearly housetrained, and we soon got our signals straight. She was sweet and obedient and playful. If she’d ever been abused, she showed no sign.
All this time, we were resisting naming her, though friends asked us constantly, as though our keeping her was a fait accompli. We bandied names about, of course, and kept a list of ideas on our refrigerator. My daughter suggested Olive. My choice was Rosie, and my husband’s ideas ranged from the non-starter Thumbelina to the better prospect Lily. ‘Doggie’ and ‘Puppy’ worked in the interval, and she more or less answered to them all.
Finally, one day my son suggested ‘Rocky’ and the dog, sitting on my lap, perked up. We took turns repeating ‘Rocky’ and each time she turned her head to the name. We tried all the other names under consideration: no reaction.
While I was working on letting go of the past, I still hadn’t seen The Past, that Iranian film we had set out to see, before the storm blew a tiny white dog into our lives
“Rocky’s a boy’s name,” my husband said. “How about Roxie?” The dog swiveled her head in his direction. So, Roxie it was. At last we had a name, along with a bag of dog food, some dog treats, a few toys, a vet bill, and a little white dog perched on whatever lap was available. It seemed that we had, and have, a dog. While I was working on letting go of the past, I still hadn’t seen The Past, that Iranian film we had set out to see, before the storm blew a tiny white dog into our lives. When the movie came back to town, I discovered a rich, ambiguous exploration of how the past inevitably informs the present. In an interview, the director, Asghar Farhadi, said, “In real life nothing ends—no story ends. . .[Endings] are unbelievable to me.”
Now, on mornings when I don’t have to go to work, Roxie and I play a game. She makes the rules, and I just follow along. She rolls around in the bed covers, burrowing underneath the blankets, while we tussle. She gently gnaws on my hands. I always say, “I don’t get the point of this game.” She never explains, but jumps off the bed when she’s had enough. She heads down the stairs, ready for a new day, and I follow right behind.