Our dear friend, Mary, of thirty or more years came to see us yesterday. For twenty-seven years, we lived two doors down from her and her family on 34th Avenue in the West Highlands neighborhood of Denver. Five years ago, we moved up the mountain, and haven't seen Mary since until yesterday.
We watched her two children, Oliver and Antonia, grow up on 34th Avenue. Mary's husband, Gregg, was the go-to person on the block for suggestions and assistance on everything from lawn care to carpentry to electrical to vehicle maintenance to a thousand other things for which those of us less skilled in the practical arts of life sought guidance. As one of our neighbors put it, Gregg was Google before there was Google.
In January, 2019, Gregg died in his bed, in the house on 34th. He was only sixty-four, but had gone through two heart surgeries over the years, and had recently completed treatment for prostate cancer.
Perhaps to assuage the pain of her husband's death, in February Mary got two wee dogs from a rescue group, Muffin and Maggie, both Chihuahua mixes. To get away from the house for a while, she took her wee pups to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for a few days. She stayed in a cottage there, and when she opened the door for a bellhop, Muffin rushed outside, never to be seen again. A forest borders the Broadmoor grounds, and Mary did not have to be reminded there were coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears roaming the countryside. Her pup's fate was probably sealed the moment it scampered out that doorway.
Since losing her husband and one of her dogs in a span of two months, Mary still fought the lingering pain of those losses by rescuing another wee dog whom she named Lucy, a Chihuahua/Jack Russell/?? mix who would be Maggie's new companion.
Fast forward to yesterday when Mary arrived up the mountain with Maggie and Lucy. We spent an hour or so inside, catching up on the lives we'd led over the past five years. Mary brought us-up-to date on what has happened on 34th Avenue, while we, David and I, provided insight on what it's like to live in the forest.
After a while, we all went outside--Kuma, our Malamute stayed inside--and the wee pups scampered about our side yard that was erected for Kuma, a 105 pound dog, and not for Mary's little girls. And the inevitable occurred.
Lucy dashed for the gap in the gate, got outside the fence and headed out into the forest where, yes, just like the area surrounding the Broadmoor, there are coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears.
Mary followed Lucy into the tree line and down the steep hill on the northwest side of our property. David followed her, as I stayed in the side yard with Maggie who was frantic to get to Mary and her buddy, Lucy. I couldn't get close enough to snap a leash on her. Again, the inevitable occurred. Maggie slipped through the same gap in the gate, and she too was lost to forest, but in the opposite direction Lucy had gone.
As Lucy explored the forest with Mary close behind, Maggie disappeared down our access road. After about forty-five minutes, Mary managed to lure Lucy to her, slipped a leash on, and brought her back to the house. Now, the search for Maggie was on.
Luckily, I'd gotten pictures of both dogs while we were in the side yard, and quickly posted a notice and picture of Maggie on our mountain community Facebook page. I also sent the same information to our HOA for an email broadcast. Then we began searching for Maggie, both driving and walking, heading in the direction she was last seen. We notified our neighbors, and told hikers we came upon to be on the lookout for a small brown dog. For three hours we searched for Maggie without a single sighting. Maggie was gone.
We couldn't quite believe what had happened. For Mary, my thought was just how many times can a heart be broken and still believe the pain of loss can somehow, someway be assuaged. Mary interspersed comments with sobs, and, after three hours, she decided to head back to Denver, leaving Maggie's small soft crate open on our front porch just in case she found her way back. When Mary went inside the house to use the restroom before she left, I was in my study trying to find another lost pet site in our area, when David shouted from the front porch: "There she is. I saw her!"
"There," David said, pointing to a power pole at the head of a hiking trail near the entrance to our access road. "She was right there!"
David and I knew we would only scare Maggie if we approached her, so Mary walked alone to the hiking trail while we watched from the front porch. When Mary got to where David had seen Maggie, we watched as the wee brown critter ran circles around Mary. Mary attempted to pick her up, but soon realized Maggie was too excited to be corralled, and she simply started walking back to the house with Maggie still running circles around her feet. Finally, Mary was able to pick up Maggie, walked to a small sandstone bench just beyond our porch where she sat, hugged Maggie and quietly cried.
I don't know if there is always a reason some things happen, but if there is I suppose the answer to the question I'd earlier asked myself might apply: Yes, once a heart is broken twice, it begins to heal because a third heartbreak is not allowed, not in the cards. And just as you're about to suffer that third heartbreak, the planets align, the angels sing, Mother Earth smiles, and, yes, the enormity of the opportunity for healing presents itself. I suspect Gregg had something to do with it too.
2019 was the cruelest year for Mary, and certainly for her children, Oliver and Antonia. I do believe the future is bright... with one caveat: Wee doggies and the forest are not compatible. Wee doggies in the forest secured with leashes is a happy adventure for all concerned.