I Miss Lucy

By Deborah Linder
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, October 10, 2005

Iam away from home and I miss my dog. While I have a husband, two children, an enviable number of friends, a few colleagues and too many neighbors -- none of whom are with me on this trip -- it's my dog Lucy's face that I most long to see.

Before you form an impression of Lucy, she's not one of those pampered pooches. An ordinary black Lab, Lucy doesn't sleep on anyone's bed, wears no rhinestones on her collar and has never been fixed a special dinner. (Except for Thanksgiving, when I squeeze a smelly packet of turkey chow onto her usual dry kibbles.) In truth, our family's attention to Lucy borders on the neglectful: She goes months without getting a bath and nearly as long without anyone remembering her heartworm pill. And while it's true that I love Lucy, I also know that she's just a dog.

The reason I miss her is simple: Lucy misses me. Now that the kids are older, calling home means that I spend less time exchanging information and more time cajoling them into talking with me. These conversations usually start with one of them answering the phone with his mouth full. Now I can't be sure, but I'm willing to bet it's jammed with foods that never appear at our house unless I've traveled to a different time zone. After answering, I'll hear my son struggling to swallow the audible evidence. "Oh, um," chomp, chomp, "hi Mom?" he'll say, sounding as if he's having difficulty remembering who, exactly, I am.

This is a Good Thing, I tell myself. I should be happy that the children have managed to become so well-adjusted. Certainly I wouldn't want them to suffer in my absence. And of course they understand that I will return home, sooner rather than later, and probably with gifts. While I've heard alarming tales of the house rules that take effect whenever I leave, I know that kids and husband will be just fine. Even if Wild Cherry Pepsi is served at the breakfast table and no one bothers to say "excuse me" after burping.

But it's different for dogs. They're more like young children: bereft at departure, incapable of imagining a return. In my mind, Lucy stays fixed in one spot, wondering where I could possibly be. I once heard someone say that dogs have no sense of time; that for them, a week is no different than an hour. I don't believe this at all. When I'm away, Lucy is surely pining.

I've noticed that the dogs I meet all remind me of Lucy. Not physically, of course, but in their eagerness to please. This, too, is different than the rest of the family, since every child I see does not conjure up the image of my sons' faces, nor does encountering another man thrill me like seeing my husband. (This is probably another Good Thing.) Now, away from home once again, I place the call.

Yes, of course, everything's fine, my family assures me. No, nothing's new, unless . . . er . . . do I know if we have any carpet cleaner? The kind that takes out stains?

My husband reports that Lucy seems a bit glum. I wait for details, but he has no time to chat. They're dashing off to the movies, he says, or is it to the new Japanese restaurant? Busy, busy, busy.

I love you, I tell them, but they have already gone. And so I stand here in my hotel room -- miles and hours away -- trying to envision the chaotic trajectories of those other lives. But only one picture comes into focus: that of Lucy, the canine Miss Lonelyheart. So here's what I'll do. I'll wait a few minutes, and then I'll redial. "Lucy," I'll say, speaking loudly into the answering machine. "Are you there? Lucy?"

And if she were able to respond, if she could manage just once to formulate words, I know exactly what she'd say. It is, of course, what I imagine all of them saying.

Just four little words:

"Wish. You. Were. Here."

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