I dream I’ve been working in some capacity with a smaller beast and go looking for the big tiger. I open the door to what looks like a high school gym. The tiger appears through an opening on the left. He walks toward me, his gaze fierce. He growls. I stop walking, slowly turn my back. I stoop over, overwhelmed, I think, or about to faint. When I realize what I’m doing, I remember not to be prey, and I straighten. I walk toward the door, and he does not attack. Outside, there is a dog who knows me at the bottom of the steps. He sees the tiger behind me. “No,” I say. My voice is quiet but vehement. I don’t want him to be killed defending me. He quivers but stays still. The tiger takes my right hand in his mouth. I can feel his teeth press against my skin, but he is gentle. He releases me, and I keep walking. I don’t look back until I’m a short distance away. The dog and the tiger are standing beside each other watching me go.
My dog Sanji died 31 years ago today. She was born in 1976, part Great Dane and part German Shepherd, the runt of eleven. A woman I worked with then at the secret shopper spy job told me sanji means female bear in Tibetan. I don’t know if that’s true, but I liked the sound of it. I used to say she was part deer and part fish. She had a tender spirit, and she loved any kind of water, would leap with pure dog joy into the swimming pool. She loved going to the beach in Alameda when we lived in Oakland. After she died I wished I’d taken her there more often. She chased the seagulls along the wide sandbar, ears laid back in the wind, big grin on her beautiful face. It seems impossible she’s been dead so long. I can’t believe I’ve been dogless for three decades now. If a psychic had predicted this, that 27-year-old me wouldn’t have believed another word she said, convinced she was a fraud. And to think I’ve spent such a big chunk of my life without a dog seems unbelievably sad. But life unfolds as it will, and this was all about the timing.
Sanji and my cat Trair and I made this little family. When Sanji died Trair and I were left alone together. I knew she didn’t want another dog. When Trair died 12 years later, my landlord wouldn’t let me get a dog, so I got Sofia instead. Doglessness continued from there until now when both Sofia and Sable have so newly left me catless, too. I still cry now and then when I think of Sanji, but after all this time they are grateful tears more than anything, the memories dreamy and good. I remember our back-house cottage in Highland Park where she died of cancer and how she and Trair and I used to hang out together in our little backyard there. I would sit between the bougainvillea and the lemon tree on the small patch of grass I cut on rare occasions with an old rusty hand mower. Trair would land in my lap as soon as I settled in the chair, my joint resting unlit with a box of wooden matches in the clean blue enamel ashtray, my Marlboro Lights and my ice cold Corona beside them. When Sanji got tired of fetching, or more often when I got tired of throwing the slimy green tennis ball, she’d sprawl beside us on the grass. I marveled over our sweet little family of three. If you paid attention, you could hear traffic a block away on the old highway 11. But in our tiny yard tucked away from the world the three of us would rest together in a different kind of quiet, bask together in a deep and lucky peace.