The old woman realized she has been staring out her hospital window for quite some time. Her gaze returned to the television, suspended from the ceiling. Though the TV was small by today’s standards, it was still bigger than the one she had at home. Home. A sad smile came to her lips.
She closed her eyes and began to think of her house. It was modestly furnished as most of her funds had gone to many years of the care of her dogs. But it still held everything she needed. And it had known more love than any home she had ever been in. For as long as she could remember, her home was filled with rescue dogs. Her smile grew wider. Her dogs. The thought of them, brought her even deeper into her thoughts.
She remembered the wall in her living room. It was the centerpiece of her home. For on it, was a picture of every dog she had ever saved. Some, in black and white, as they were so long ago. Her eyes went to the first ones. The ones she had found as a young girl. Her parents would not let her keep them. And it was explained to her that a lost dog belonged in a shelter. The very word conjured up a warm, safe place, where there were people whose job was nothing else but to care for these lost dogs. It sounded like the right thing to do, at the time. Her smile disappeared for a moment… for she knew better now what happens to dogs that enter these places, and are never claimed. She wondered about those early dogs on her wall. What had become of them? She somehow felt responsible for their outcome, though she was so very young.
Her gaze went to the next picture of a little brown mix. She first saw this medium-sized dog when she had gone to the supermarket. There, by the front door, stood a man, with a sign that said “Free to a good home.” Her eyes went down the leash to the dog. Her eyes reflected her feelings. She was heartbroken, as if she knew, even after all her love and loyalty, she was now being betrayed. Why?
The woman felt her heart sink. After speaking to the man, he handed her the leash and just left without even a look back. The brown dog’s posture just sank. She turned around and brought the dog home. The ride was silent. The dog quietly looked out the window, undoubtedly wondering what was to happen to her next. The woman pulled into the driveway, and spoke for the first time to the dog. “We’re home, girl.” The dog turned, and for the first time, looked the woman in the eyes. There was more sadness there than she had ever seen in a dog. With that look, the woman made her a promise, that she would make it right.
The woman tried to think of the dogs name. Her memory was failing quickly. Such happens when you have lived so many years. But how could she forget the one dog that would be by her side for all those years. Helping her with trouble dogs, destroyed both physically and mentally. That dog was the best partner she ever had. She thought to herself,
“This is ridiculous! Now what was her name, again?” Her memory receded deeper into a haze.
The next thing she realized, she was surrounded by nurses. “She’s coming around,” said one of the doctors.
“You really gave us a scare there, Hon!”
The woman realized she had had one of her episodes. Her heart was failing faster than her memory. Her whole body felt incredibly heavy. She had been dealing with her failing health for a very long time. Always foregoing doctor visits, as she always had one dog or another to take care of. It had now caught up to her. She knew she was dying.
After her rest, she thought about her predicament. Her family had always thought she was crazy.
“When are you going to stop with this rescue thing, and start dating again, settle down and start a family?” they would ask. How could she? Her dogs needed her. But there were times, when she wondered, had she given up too much. What would having children been like? Vacations to exotic places? Had she squandered her life? Now she lay dying, alone, no one to be with her in her last days. Her family told her this would happen. Were they right all along?
Her thoughts returned to all she had done with her life. The broken and shattered lives she had taken in. These dogs were all gone now. She had been with them in the end. Comforting and holding them. Who would be there for her?
She would tell them they would meet again. For she wanted to believe there was a special place in heaven where their spirits would wait for her. It was silly. But it gave her solace from the loss of yet another loved one.
She had never felt alone in her life. The little brown dog had remained with her till the dog years took her. She was a friend to the woman, a confident, a protector for many years. “What was that dogs name????” She could still see the dogs eyes… filled with love and appreciation for not giving up on her like her first owner. Yes, she was a good partner, and the woman still missed her very much.
Night fell. The woman felt exhausted. It was enough remembering for one day. She slowly closed her eyes, and fell off to sleep. It would be for the last time.
The woman had passed quietly in the night. But her journey wasn’t over. She had crossed. And it felt like no other feeling in the world. She felt frightened… a little. And then it happened. A familiar feeling … then another… then another. And she was suddenly surrounded by the feeling of countless loving embraces. She looked closely and began to recognize, one by one, the faces she had known for so long. They were the faces of her dogs…. ALL her dogs. Joyfully greeting her as they had always done. Her heart swelled! Even the ones, who she had tried to save but could not, were there, for they had known that she had tried, and had grieved when they passed. They were ALL there…. Except… where was the little brown dog ?
Beyond the crush of love that still swarmed at her feet, she saw her. Waiting, patiently, like she had always done. Knowing, the rescues that came after her, needed her human more at that moment. And she could wait. For she had come to trust, that this woman would not leave her behind like before.
The woman smiled at the dog… and then, in her heart, she “felt” a small, soft voice… it was the little brown dog’s.
And she said, “We’re home, girl.”
The woman’s smile turned into realization…. THAT was it!!! That was the little dog’s name!! Homegirl!! The name had stuck after that first ride home from the supermarket. The name became the woman’s promise to her, that she would always, ALWAYS have a home there.
The woman smiled back at the little brown dog, that held her heart so gently, and said,
“Yes,…. we ARE, Homegirl. We are definitely home.”
For everyone who believes in a special little place, known as Rainbow Bridge