That Circle of Life business is total crap, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. The idea had always bothered me in a vague and distant way, up until the day I lost my mother, then it slapped me hard, straight across the face, leaving a mark that never entirely went away. I was pregnant with my son, Chase, and I knew with exquisite clarity that no matter how much I loved this new little boy, and love him I did, he could never take the place of my mother. It would be asking an apple to become an orange, something nature doesn’t allow.
I’d like to introduce Widget and Sprocket, two teacup Yorkies belonging to my sister and her husband, Roni and Matt, but don’t get too attached because they are most assuredly taken. Widget came first, smart as a whip and happy to be carried in your purse. She had plenty of time to wind us around her delicate paws before the dawn of Sprocket, a tiny little mouse dog who could sit on the front of your shoe. It’s probably a felony for a tiny mouse dog to be anything but adorable, but then there was this growing bit, growing and growing, 8 lbs = Widget X 2 + 4X Energy – Half the Brains. I admit, I was skeptical for a while, but over time I realized that what he lacked in brains, he made up in hearty good cheer, adding a full 8 lbs to the sweetness of the world. He also gets so excited at the arrival of a friend, or the suggestion of a walk it sends him right over for a celebratory bite to eat. You might call him an emotional eater, I totally relate.
Widget is four pounds soaking wet, intelligent and reserved, a perfect foil for Sprocket’s wild antics. She sleeps in a circle, and loves to wiggle into small spaces, an unrepentant hider in shoeboxes and sleeves. She was originally Matt’s pet, an unusual black and brown Yorkie with the recessive trait of floppy ears that fluttered as she walked. Before he married, she sat under his desk every day chewing pens to pieces, and exploring through the office, once taking a shine to a co-worker and crawling into his backpack, a stowaway nobody discovered until he was nearly home. Roni says she may very well have married Matt for his dog, which is a fairly astonishing claim from such a sensible girl, but such is the power of Widget.
Years ago, my Uncle Chad brought a gift to his mother, my Grandma Messer. “I don’t wownt no dowg!” she declared in her emphatic Tennessee drawl. But Chad handed the dog over anyway, and she was done for. My grandma didn’t cook for herself, but she cooked for Buttons, to keep him from getting a skin condition, she said. Buttons had a stroller too, and every one of her expensive purses had a grease stain inside where she’d spirited a Buttons-sized treat out of a restaurant. I’ve heard of sociologists giving elderly people small animals because they found that an older person may be too worried about the bills to turn up the heat for themselves, but they will turn it up for a beloved pet. I made fun of Buttons’ stroller, thinking that if your dog had a stroller, you might want to rethink your life choices. “Dogs are good company,” grandma said. I didn’t really understand until Widget.
When we first returned from China, we hadn’t intended to stay more than the summer. Then came my cancer diagnosis and everything upended. Suddenly our six weeks in Matt and Roni’s basement stretched into months as we house hunted in a very tight market, and seemed to meet obstacles on every hand. Matt and Roni welcomed us so lovingly, and I spent the first months of my heaviest chemo largely on the couch in their basement family room. I was wiped out, and had lost most of my sense of taste, except for salty and spicy, so in my long hours alone my comforts included chips and salsa, and Widget.
Matt and Roni had installed a wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and from the basement I would hear Widget chirping like a bird. If I didn’t come up, the chirping would be followed by a jingle, her metal tags tinkling together as she took a mighty leap, clearing the gate and padding down the stairs where she would cuddle in next to me. It was the equivalent of me sailing over the wall of my office, which wouldn’t happen even if my house was on fire, so I’ve got to give her credit. Sprocket couldn’t begin to make that jump, what with being an emotional eater and all, so he let us know he missed his friend, and very much wanted in on the action. I think Widget was happy to take a break from Sprocket’s high-octane play, but she also recognized my need for peace and comfort, and every day she was there to give it to me. Grandma was right, dogs are good company.
Widget has always liked all things girl, including clothes. My daughter, Abby, has spent significant time searching out gifts for very small Yorkies, and made sure Widget had a red qipao dress from China, and a pink argyle sweater to add to the store of fun supplied by Matt and Roni. This last Christmas, Abby sent Widget’s and Sprocket’s photos to an artist in Russia who painted them in watercolors, and the year before she mobilized all of us to collaborate on an illustrated storybook which somehow morphed into Widget releasing all the pets from Petsmart, and burning the building for good measure. No offense to Petsmart, we like them fine, but Widget categorically objected to their unfortunate penchant for cutting her hair and nails.
My cancer and a nasty divorce managed to twine together, and our family suffered tremendous shockwaves of upheaval slamming all at once, then rearing back and slamming again and again. Somehow, in the eye of the storm sat Widget and Sprocket, small and nonverbal, powerless to steer the giant feet stomping around them. Yet, in that time of great trouble, these small creatures made an impact, especially on Abby, who shares her Aunt Roni’s tender love of animals. In a time of pain and turmoil, Abby reached out to care for the dogs in ways she was too overwhelmed to do even for herself. At the terrible moment, they were simply there, radiating pure, and unconditional love. Widget always had an uncanny ability to recognize a wound, no matter how well concealed. She would go to that person and snuggle in, crawling onto a chest, or into a jacket, or finding a crevice between a thigh and the couch. She knew, even when the humans didn’t, and she gave the only thing she had. She gave herself.
Before we get too sentimental, I should point out Widget’s world class talent as an escape artist, not unlike a cockroach picking through a nearly solid wall. She’s been fished out of the inner workings of their recliner couch, and when we took the dogs on vacation to Las Vegas, the fence proved no obstacle to multiple neighborhood reconnaissance missions. She even sneaked into Matt and Roni’s car while they were gone, shimmying into the garage, onto the hood, and somehow making it through a window that had been left cracked open. The name Houdini would not have been amiss.
On February 12th Roni opened the door, and Widget, who was in heat, shot the gap, escaping out the door before anyone could stop her. Roni ran straight after, and couldn’t have been more than two minutes behind when she rounded a corner and found Widget on the pavement, very quiet and subdued. She’d been bitten by something, possibly a large dog. There had been no sound, the only evidence a pair of teeth marks, and Widget’s broken pelvis. Matt and Roni rushed her to the vet who performed surgery, putting in a very tiny metal plate to shore up the shattered pieces. Another family came in at the same time, but there was nothing the vet could do. Their poignant and obvious sorrow only magnified our sense of gratitude, showing us how easily it could have gone the other way. We eagerly brought her home as soon as they could let her go.
Widget required a great deal of holding after that, clingy and quiet as her bones slowly knitted, receiving some of the comfort she’d been doling out for ten years. But Widget is Widget, and far too soon she was up to her old tricks, terrifying us by trying to jump off the couch and making sure Sprocket remembered exactly who was alpha, all four pounds bristling into action. If mischief had been made, or dirty underwear dragged out to the backyard, Sprocket would get the rap, but Widget was most likely the mastermind. We were so relieved to have her back.
On Sunday, April 5th, Widget took a turn, vomiting and diarrhea. Roni stuck close to her, thinking she had eaten something that disagreed, but then she seemed to rally round and feel better. Two hours later she fell into a sort of unresponsive stupor. Frightened, Matt and Roni rushed her straight to the vet, their car speeding down the freeway. But a speeding car is no match for a spirit flittering out of reach, too fast for the eye to see. Her final escape.
I warned you not to get attached.
I have tears in my eyes as I write this, and if you want to roll your eyes, I won’t be offended. I’m fully aware of the extravagance of mourning a dog during a pandemic, when so many people are struggling to breathe, or facing the loss of jobs, or worse, family members. A dog is not as valuable as a human, and yet a tally of the past shows us wonders. Widget helped bring Matt and Roni together, she brought comfort to the sick and afflicted, and carried joy and love to two families and our nieces and nephews. Without a word of speech or a college degree, she fulfilled the measure of her creation, which is the highest any of God’s creatures can reach. She was not a human, she was a dog, and she filled her role so brilliantly that she left a Widget-shaped hole in our world.
At the end of the month Matt and Roni will pick up a new teacup Yorkie puppy so poor, mopey Sprocket will have a friend. Little Miss Gadget will be blonde, and her ears won’t be floppy, so we can’t forget and accidentally expect her to be Widget. I’m sure we will love her for herself, but like I said, the Circle of Life is crap. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.