Summer 2017

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Illustration by Anna Parini

Neddie and the Jets

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H.D. Motyl ’90 MFA is a filmmaker who teaches media production and writing for TV at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill. He works in documentary, narrative and, occasionally, experimental film and video. Motyl wrote this essay last summer after Lola died.

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Pooch Lola leaves an indelible imprint on alum’s heart — but plenty of room for little Ned.

Lola, my crazy and adorable canine companion of 12 years, stopped breathing on July 13, as she was lying beside me on my bed. She used to lie in the backyard too. She’d lie out there a lot during her life with me, and especially near the end, when her hind legs were almost useless and her energy waned.

We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, and for a week or so before Lola left, I hadn’t cut the grass. After she died, I found myself in the backyard, in that too-tall grass, and I could see still where she had lain in it, matting it down. I could almost see her on the crushed grass — the dark green blades pushed over to expose their lighter green undersides and her blond furriness contrasted to it. I could almost see her gazing up at me with those eyes the color of root beer barrel candies, her puppyish face framed by her floppy, velvety-soft ears.

Lola was a mutt — a chow mix, I was told by the shelter where we found each other. She could be shy, hiding under my bed for hours, or fiercely protective. She was a one-person dog: She tolerated everyone else; she loved only me. 

Seven weeks after Lola’s death, the lawn had remained uncut. At first I didn’t mow it because I didn’t want to see her grass shadows go away. I used the rain as an excuse too, and the heat. Too wet, too dewy, too hot, too sunny, too tired. Too sad.

The grass kept growing. Sometime between then and now, her grass shadows began to fade.

After Lola was gone, my house felt very empty and seemed much too quiet. I wavered some before adopting a new dog, a high-energy black-and-copper 1-year-old beagle mix I named Ned. That was 10 days ago, and I learned pretty quickly that Ned likes to run. A lot. But the backyard grass had grown so high that the tennis ball and the stick-as-long-as-he-is would sink into the lush lawn, and little-legged Ned had trouble finding them. And he wanted to find them. He wanted badly to find them and bring them back to me and fight me for them before he let go — let go so I could throw them again. And he could chase after them again.

Lola was not a fetcher. But she was an amazing and beautiful lawn loller. Yesterday morning, while playing with Ned in the backyard, I realized that her shadows in green, where she had lolled her last days, had completely disappeared.

I mowed the grass this evening. It took much, much longer than usual because it was so high. Ned wanted to be out there with me, but he barked furiously at the mower and got way too close to it for my comfort, so I put him back inside. I made note of Lola’s favorite spot, under a bush. And as I passed over another spot, I remembered this was where I had picked her up on her last day. I had picked her up from the grass, too long even then, and I knew instantly it was going to be her final day. She peered up at me. I kissed her through my tears. I told her I loved her and that it was OK to go.

With the mowing finished, I let Ned, the mower hater, go back out. He sniffed around, he scampered a bit, and he seemed pleased. He could manage this length much better: easier for running, for walking, for fetching.

I found the ball we’d left out there this morning and lobbed it across the yard. Ned, delighted, galloped to it, grabbing it in his teeth as he turned back to me. He dropped the ball at my feet, and I tossed it again.

On one of my throws he sped toward the ball and then ran past it. He made a wide U-turn and sprinted to the other end of the yard, making circle after circle on the freshly mown lawn, running past and over Lola’s favorite spots. He didn’t realize they were special, didn’t know they had held her weight. He didn’t understand this was Lola’s sacred ground.

I laughed as he ran and ran — circling the lawn, the garden and me — and I thought of a new nickname for him: Neddie and the Jets. He finally slowed down and loped up to me. As I crouched down to him, he put his front paws on my thighs, peered into my eyes and gave me some kisses. I laughed some more and thanked him before he slid off my legs, trotted away, decided on a grassy spot and plopped down into it. He looked happy. He looked like he might like lolling on this lawn too.

And suddenly I knew, then and there, that this lawn would become his sacred ground too.