The life of a graduate student is arduous and stressful. I worked ceaselessly, and sometimes I even envied the laborers who worked on the Harvard grounds. A graduate student has no holidays, no weekends. The responsibility to study and to excel blots out all else in life. At least that’s how it is for many a student. I was feeling as if I had no friends and no life, when a tiny, tawny creature entered my life.
A neighbor, who must have been in his eighties, had a Lhasa Apso female and a Pomeranian dog. The male was at least eighteen years old at the time, so the man thought it impossible for him to breed, but he did.
The man offered me a tiny female puppy. I didn’t have the time, but I took her anyway. I named her Tigran. She loved me. She waited for me to come home everyday, and cried out in bliss when she saw me. I fell in love. I carried her wherever I went, whenever I could. She slept next to my face and licked me awake in the morning. One day, when she was a puppy, I felt her tongue and became convinced that she had a fever. I rushed her to the vet, and there I learned that dogs have a higher temperature than humans.
I read every book I could get my hands on, learning passionately about dogs. I taught her how to give me her paw for a treat. Then I taught her how to give me two paws. I was so foolishly proud that I brought her to my advising professors to show off her skills.
As she grew, she became ugly and lanky. I wanted her to have long hair like the Lhasas in the books I read. Her light golden blonde hair stood out straight, but I loved her all the same. Little did I know that in three years, she would be the picture of Lhasa perfection, although she was a half-breed. Her hair was magnificent, and I took altogether too many pictures of her.
One day, while returning from study, I imagined how hopeless I would be if she ever left me. I cried, hiding my face from people.
When Tigran was two years old, the elderly man next door had another brood of puppies from Tigran’s mother and father. I wanted one, but the man refused. He was selling them to a pet store. On the day after Christmas, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it to find a crumpled paper sack containing a tiny soiled puppy. Apparently, one of the puppies had become gravely ill, and the man had left it there. As it was below zero that day, it was a good thing I was home. Many vet visits later, Pompom, Tigran’s brother, became part of our household. He grew up to look like an elegant red Pomeranian, but his flopping ears gave his Lhasa half away.
He was so tiny that I used to keep him in the pocket of my coat. He needed a lot of attention, so I used to smuggle him into the huge Harvard library in my pocket. I obtained a box for him, and I used a piece of pine branch to entertain him as I studied. I would wave it and he would chase it like a kitten. Of course, I stayed in a deserted area, not wanting to be kicked out of the library. As he grew older, he began to leap out of his little box to confront any intruders. Soon he barked at people, and I knew his Harvard library days were over.
When I walked them in Cambridge, they looked like two matched ponies, although they were so different. Tigran had long, blonde hair and a rich tail she carried over her back, while Pompom was so red, with the thick hair a show Pomeranian would envy. They were alike in all other respects. They were the same sizes, and their faces were remarkably similar. They had huge, soulful brown eyes and similar voices.
These two saintly souls supported me in the long, cold evenings and lonely nights I spent during my graduate student days. When we got our Ph.D. they were there to celebrate and to take those first, hesitant steps into what people call the “real world.” They were there through the trying days of work, and they greeted me everyday with happiness and unflagging love.
We had birthday parties for them, and opened many gifts of toys and bones.
One day, when she was thirteen-years-old, my lovely Tigran dragged the bed I had gotten her for Christmas off the low shelf where it was kept. She wanted to be held. Her little soul departed as I cried and prayed to the gods to keep her well for me. The ancient texts of which I was now a scholar say that if you feed a dog with love every day that it will wait for you by the Bridge all souls must pass over. It will greet you and lead you across, even if you have been a little sinful. I prayed that she would be there for my poor, wretched soul. I missed her so much that I could only weep, while Pompom did his best to comfort me.
We lived together, Pompom and I, and I resolved that I would give him all the love I wanted to give Tigran. Pompom was so special. He loved sweets. He would watch me with great attention for any sign that I might sneak a bit of candy or nuts. He liked Jordan almonds, but he would wait for me to suck the candy halfway, then it was good for him. Similarly, he liked Raisinettes, but they had to be from my mouth. He had his own seatbelt, and we would travel long hours. He hated driving, except that he would be excited when we stopped to pee and get gas. He always knew they sold beef jerky at the gas station.
He was my comfort for the next two years, but then he had a seizure. I was terrified, but although the vet said he had to be put to sleep, I nursed him back, feeding him with an eyedropper and holding his weak body as he tried to walk. He recovered and I was so happy. For the next year he had a few fits, but he seemed happy. I delighted that he was able to be his sassy self, barking and kicking his back legs at me when annoyed or just happy.
On the night before Easter, the epilepsy returned with a vengeance. He began to cry loudly. I roused the vet and we sat over him for a few hours until the medicine began to work. On Easter morning, he began to cry again. I rushed him to the vet, who told me there was nothing more he could do. I said goodbye to the friend who had shared so much of my life with me. I put him in his usual seat and petted his velvety ears as we drove home one last time. My heart broke as I picked out some fine cloths and made a shroud for him. He was fifteen. I buried him next to Tigran. Now both my angels are in heaven, and I live with the hope that they will be there at that fabled Bridge, wagging their bushy tails in greeting. Until then, I remember you, my dear friends.