Sayonara: A Covid Story

Mark Stern

About three years ago a young woman from Japan, living away from her friends and family in the USA while studying as an undergraduate at U. Mass. Boston, walked by my family’s yard from her apartment two houses down the street. She stopped to say hello over the fence to my two dogs (a Siberian Husky named, “Isis, I Had The Name Before They Did, Have No Goddesses Before Me” and a Golden Retriever named “Roxanne”) who were hanging out and playing in the yard.

I noticed her and asked if she wanted to come into the yard to see the two dogs, and she happily accepted my invitation. She spent the next half hour petting the dogs, and the girls obviously loved the attention, particularly Roxy. I told her she was welcome to come by to see them any time. She returned the next day, and told me what a comfort it was to visit the two girls. So I told her she could make it a regular thing, and she did, pretty much every day the weather permitted, after school and before her dinner.
I was once asked an “infant occupational therapist” what an infant’s occupation was. She said, “Play!” I think that holds true not just for puppies, but grown dogs. But now, my wonderful dogs, whose primary activities were talking back, digging holes in the garden, running around the yard until the grass was all but gone, and stealing food off the counter, now had a useful occupation, being therapy dogs. And they were great at it.
And I bought a case a dog cannot open, and filled it with treats for her to give to them. We never brushed them, but our neighbor started to do that on a regular basis.
In the summer she went home to Japan and said she missed the dogs so much, she returned to Somerville earlier than she had planned. And the girls were waiting for her.
Then came COVID. The first spring and summer the rest of my family spent a lot of time at our home in the country, and I was in Somerville by myself five or six days a week working from my home office. I would often sit outside with her and the dogs. And we started sharing stories of her family, whom she now could not visit, her school, my work, and a million other things.
Our neighbor was not attending school remotely, and I was working at home alone, running with the dogs, and otherwise leading the solitary life COVID imposed on most of us. But virtually every day I could count on an exception to how even more limited my social life had become. I love to cook and was now mostly cooking for myself, so I started bringing dinner to her some days while she visited. And she would at times bring me cuisine from her homeland.
Eventually Icy, who always has something to say to everyone, would go every day late in the afternoon to the corner of the yard nearest her house and howl to our neighbor that they were waiting
When my family returned to spend more time in Somerville, they also started spending time with her while she visited. Being more conversational than I, my wife and daughter started spending more and more time with her, as COVID dragged on. And my neighbors’ youngest child, started visiting with her and the dogs as well. It was always a joy to see them playing together in the yard.
Several years have not passed, and just recently our beloved Golden passed away. Before she did, I made certain our neighbor and the children next door knew her time was near, and got to say goodbye to her while she was declining. When she passed, only the more indifferent of the dogs, Icy, remained, and Icy was seriously grieving. Icy, resembling the scene in “One Hundred and One Dalmations,” like the Dalmation parents, called to all the dogs in the neighborhood to find Roxy and bring her home. Our neighbor continued to come, now also grieving the loss of Roxy, and comforting the Husky.
Our neighbor will be graduating at the end of June, and moving back to Japan. Learning that was a bittersweet moment. She is ready to move on, but I am going to be terribly sad when she does. Still I am grateful she came into my life/our lives when she did and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. Sayonara my friend. May you find other comforts at home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.