There’s a chihuahua-shaped hole in my heart that I really don’t know what to do with.
A friend who recently lost a beloved pet told me to write something down so I am going to try. There’s no more tears physically in me left to cry so I figure I can write so that I’m doing something. What can I do with all the sadness? I don’t even understand the strength of this emotion. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Of course, when I realize this, my first thought is what a fortunate and privileged life I’ve had so so far in terms of death. I have never suffered a loss as sudden and close as this. I’ve lost elderly grandparents after slow battles with illness and steady decline. I’ve lost childhood pets who were older and had lived good lives. I’ve never lost a best friend at such a young age, so suddenly.
I don’t even care if it makes someone roll their eyes to hear it, but Pokey was one of my best friends. And she was my daughter. I’ll never forget that first day I held her in the palm of my hand. Husein and I had gone next door to introduce ourselves to our neighbors in Huasteca Canyon, Mexico where we had just moved. They welcomed us with open arms, all hugs and smiles and offering tecate and snacks, a huge family of great-grandparents, grandchildren and the generations in between. Sandy, who had the loudest laugh of all and a new baby named Andres, noticed that I kept petting the little dogs that ran at our feet and begged for food, so she casually said, “Uds quieren una perrita?” (do you all want a puppy?) and I said “Sí!” while Husein said “NO!” and the whole family laughed. So Sandy winked at me and went to the backyard, where her little black chihuahua, Negra, had dug a hole to have her to puppies: one black boy and one sandy colored girl. She brought me the nearly white, sand-colored, 2 week old pup, eyes still closed. I just held her in the palm of my hand in awe of how miniature and perfect she was. Husein was still skeptical. Since she was only 2 weeks old, she of course had to stay with her mama, so I had a few weeks to work on Husein. I whispered to Sandy that the dog was mine.
So for the next few weeks I would go over every few days and visit with her, Husein all the while saying we were NOT getting a dog and we did NOT need the inconvenience and burden and blah blah blah. I never engaged in an argument, just kept going over to visit the little puppy, knowing things would work out.
Then, on the evening of September 13, 2011, I asked Husein if I could go next door to get my dog. I don’t even remember how I brought it up or why he said yes, because we never had a lengthy conversation or even an argument about it, but I think he just messaged to me that the dog would be MY responsibility and he was just going to say whatever. I practically skipped next door I was so, so happy.
We had absolutely nothing that one should have for a pup, nor internet in the canyon to google “What should a puppy eat?” so I put down a bowl of milk for her. Found out the next day that’s not what you’re supposed to do, by the way. She slept in a box with a bunch of blankets in it right next to my bed. I kept my hand in there so she wouldn’t cry. We named her “Poqueta” because she was small enough to fit in our pocket — and poqueta was the hilarious Spanglish word that Husein invented for “pocket” and used frequently, thinking it was a real word, making our Mexican friends roll with laughter. The next day I took her to school with me so that I could take her to the vet after school. She hopped around my classroom and I hid her in the closet when students came in (I was a resource teacher at that point and only had kids in and out intermittently, mostly spending my time in other rooms). My friends/co-workers would come and fawn over her cuteness throughout the school day. I took her to the vet after school, where they picked about 100 ticks out of her ears (she had been living in a hole outside with her mom up until this point) and gave her some initial vaccinations. Got hooked up with actual dog food and a crate. No collar was fitting her at that point so we didn’t even try.
She soon had the nickname of Pokey (or Poke-Poke, or Pokey Bear, or Poker face, or Poquetina, or Hokey Pokey) and she spent A LOT of time in my classroom those first few weeks. My friend, Sarah, who taught across the hall, could probably fill an entire photo album from her photo shoots with Pokey whenever her class was at gym or music class. Both she and Doug, my freinds and co-workers, became like surrogate parents and babysitters to Pokey. As she got bigger and stronger, I would leave her during the day with her other surrogate parents: our neighbors and friends, John and Jenn. They had a bunch of big dogs and a big love for Pokey. John would go on long hikes through the canyon with his huge dogs and Pokey, prancing along behind them, not missing a beat. She truly thought she was as big as those other dogs, even though she never grew larger than 4 lbs.
Hus and I started off following all the “rules” of being good pet parents and had her in her crate at night and only eating dog food or meat. However, John would change all of that. He spoiled her during the weekdays and when he and Jenn would babysit her for weekends, so we had no choice but to spoil her too and soon she was in our bed and getting food off our plates. I think John taught us how to make Pokey one of us, part of the family, and not “just a pet” – and she filled that role perfectly. She thought she was a human, even putting her little head on the pillow next to mine and getting tucked in at night. For warmth as the night would go on, though, she would end up deep under the blankets, in our crotches (a favorite location of hers) or at our feet. She didn’t even mind the inevitable kicking that would surely occur each night. Since she was so tiny you could truly forget she was in bed with you.
One thing I loved about Pokey was how terrifically lazy she was. I hear stories of other dogs insisting to be let outside early in the morning, barking at the door. Not Pokey. She never ever wanted to get out of bed. In fact, when you shifted the blankets and started to get up she would give you this look of disdain, big bulging brown eyes saying, “Are you freaking serious?” So we would throw the blankets back over her and let her sleep in for hours.
There was nothing better than owning a chihuahua in Mexico. We could take her everywhere, no questions asked. And we really did. She continued to spend lots of time in my classroom and became the homeroom mascot. I shifted into the role of homeroom teacher by October and had a particularly spirited group of kids. Since Pokey was so tiny and fragile, my students knew they had to be calm for her and always were. She trotted around during morning meeting, all of us sitting criss-cross at the perimeter of the carpet, while we threw her toys back and forth. Then she’d curl up in her bed under my desk while we did our Math, Reading and Writing, a great reminder for the class to stay quiet and calm.
The following school year we moved to Sayulita, Mexico, which was initially hard on Pokey. She was a year old and all she had known was her vast, wonderful, Huasteca Canyon, full of big dogs and humans that she had bonded with. The oppressive heat and humidity of Sayulita in August was even a bit much for a chihuahua. She was panting constantly and eating very little at first. However, she eventually had the whole town of Sayulita mapped in her head and loved walking everywhere with us, encountering other dogs without leashes who she quickly sized up as friend or foe. She knew to stay at our feet and never ran into the street. Everyone in town seemed to know her. In fact, the one time she did get truly lost from us by following her nose at the busy Sunday market, we ran around as everyone in town emphatically pointed us in the direction she went, knowing that she was ours and that she was looking for us. We were able to figure out the long path she took when lost the day, weaving down along the beach then back up to the bridge where she started to head towards our home. But we found her on the bridge and scooped her up, our hearts full of relief.
We would bring her to the beach with us often and after running her initial frolicking circles in the sand, she’d curl up with our clothes and sandals while we swam in the ocean, watching us swim and never leaving her post. She would watch us emerge from the ocean with her ears back and tail wagging, running towards us. She always came with us to restaurants, either walking table to table capturing the hearts of others (and begging for food of course) or curled up in our laps. At Aaliyah’s they would put an entire raw steak on the ground for her and she’d eat it up. Once I was sitting outside of a cafe in the plaza, talking to my friend Cameron on Skype since there was wi-fi at the cafe and not at our house. A few of my students were in the plaza and kept coming over to harass Pokey while she was trying to bask in the sun. While I wasn’t looking she disappeared and my heart dropped. I quickly signed off of Skype and started looking around. She was nowhere in sight. So I walked back home and, of course, there she was, curled up at our front door. She just wanted to come home and get away from those pesky kids.
She had defied the odds a couple times while in Sayulita, too. While visiting a sea turtle refuge, she was sniffing around on a second floor balcony and fell off. She yelped and ran right towards me, then collapsed, breathless in my arms. I thought we were losing her. I called the vet, who was closed since it was a Sunday but met me there and opened the doors, then gave some shots to prevent swelling and she was miraculously fine. Once on a budget airline flight back to Monterrey they made us put her soft crate down with the baggage in the belly of the plane instead of under out feet. I was in tears the entire flight, imagining how terrified she must’ve been, or how the baggage was moving around down there and possibly injuring her. She came out with the baggage onto the baggage carousel. It was horrifying. But she was, once again, miraculously fine.
During my journey to get pregnant with Hafiz, Pokey was my biggest source of comfort. She was the only one with me when I got the positive pregnancy test, and I’ll never forget cuddling with her while I waited those few minutes before checking it, talking to her about my anxiety and how I had to be at peace with either seeing a line or no line. Husein happened to be out of town at the time, so after seeing a line appear, I threw Pokey in the car with me to drive the 45 min south to see my doctor in Puerto Vallarta. I got blood drawn and then played with Pokey on the beach while waiting for the results.
And the road trips we took her on! Back and forth between Mexico and the United States multiple times. And all over Mexico. That little dog has walked the streets of Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Guadalajara, Zacatecas… and places I don’t even remember the names of at this point. She cuddled up with her blankets and Mr. Bojangles toy in the backseat or nuzzled her way behind my neck – she oddly loved laying there – or in our laps of course. She was a great traveler. Even on airplanes, tucked underneath the seat in front of us, she would stay quiet the entire time. Other dogs might bark or whimper, but not Pokey. I’d just talk to her through the mesh window and she’d lay down.
Our move back to the states wasn’t too hard on Pokey at first. It was summer and she loved my family and the luxuries of their house. She had her little cushion on the back porch where she perched for hours on end. There was always a lap to cuddle in, which was what mattered most to her. When I went into labor with Hafiz, she wouldn’t get near me though. I kept wanting to sit on the couch and cuddle but she bolted away. It was as if my energy was way too intense, or she knew that her life was about to dramatically change and was not a fan.
Two or three days after Hafiz was born, home from the hospital and overwhelmed with post-partum hormones, I took Pokey on a walk outside and just sobbed convulsively over the change in our relationship. I saw betrayal in her eyes and couldn’t handle it. I know it was mostly the hormones but it felt very real. In those early days, she was always cuddled up with me while I sat around for hours learning to to nurse Hafiz or with a sleeping baby on my chest. Husein, Hafiz, Pokey and I were all co-sleeping at night, and Pokey would curl up underneath Hafiz’s toes. As Hafiz became more mobile, she was mostly terrified of him and ran away when he would get close. His grabby, curious hands were too much for her. It is actually fairly recently that he truly learned “gentle touch” and that she stopped being nervous around him and started jumping on him to give kisses the same way she does for the rest of us. Hafiz adored watching her run wildly back and forth in the house, and would scream “RUN POKEY RUN!”
I just always expected Pokey to be in our family forever. In fact, that’s where the guilt comes in. I realize now how much I had been taking her for granted. Cuddle time with Pokey was not a priority, with working full time, parenting an active toddler and being exhausted by pregnancy. I know our whole family adored her and showered her with love, but I was her mama. I really was. And I should’ve devoted more time and affection to her.
Upon arrival at the vet, seeing her laying there, eyes closed, unresponsive, tubes everywhere… all I could do was scratch her behind the ears and on her head and tell her how much I loved her and that I knew she could make it. When we moved her little body into a cardboard box to transfer her to the hospital, she had a moment of alertness. Her eyes opened, she craned her neck up to look at me, and tried so hard to chirp her happy little barking chirp, but then her neck just collapsed weakly and her head fell. Then her eyes were closed again for the entire car ride there. Until Husein’s voice came over the speaker phone, again her eyes opened and she craned her neck up looking for him and let out a weak little bark for him. I never saw her eyes open again.
But she fought. She fought for two nights in that hospital. I know they tried everything. The second night I sat with her and though her eyes didn’t open, I just scratched her head and her ears and pet her and talked to her and told her she could do it. She could make it. And that I loved her.
I love her so much. I am angry that she only lived 4.5 years. That is not a long enough life for such an amazing little soul. She had so much more love to give, I just know it. And I don’t understand where all of that goes. Where does that love go? That love she had left to give? I don’t have a specific religious or spiritual belief about death, but I feel like I really need one to cope with this. Her soul is somewhere. Maybe if I’m lucky it can enter the baby in my belly, and this baby can be a ray of sunshine just like Pokey was. Maybe this baby will know how to love unconditionally from the start. How to always be extraordinarily happy to see the people he or she loves. How to always find the warmest and coziest spot in the house. How to appreciate those small moments and look people they love in the eye. How to always wake up with a good stretch. How to show joy unabashedly and run around like a maniac and chirp and, hey, even pee on the floor with happiness.
I hope I can come out from under this cloud of depression and be present for the new life that is inside me right now. And for Hafiz.