My Little Tulip
March 13, 2018
I curl up with my journal, my favorite black gel pen firmly in my grasp. The music that flows through the headphones is steady, unlike my heartbeat. My lip slightly quivers as I hear the distant shouts and angry tones that float up from downstairs, my parents once again going at each other’s throats. I shut my eyes tight as I hear a thud, then the crash of glass shattering. The screech of the chair being moved, the clang of jewelry being ripped off and thrown in fury, the gut-wrenching sobs of my mother…her betrayal slicing through my music.
I feel my eyes begin to burn, the acidic tears that seem to fall everyday, beginning to fall without hesitation. The shaking of my fingers as they tighten around my pen causes the line to quiver slightly. I pull my hand away from the worn book, closing it for a moment as to not waste any of my ink on scratches and misspelled words. I take a quivering breath as I lay my head back against the heavy wood of the frame, the deep mahogany comforting me as it always has. I absent-mindedly run my hand through the short fur of my dog, Tulip, and she wags her tail in sleepy appreciation.
I’ve had Tulip ever since I found her in an alley, abandoned, about a year or so ago. She was so tiny, just a fragile piece of glass in a room full of shaking shelves. Yet, if you saw her now, in all her glory, you’d never even think she had been malnutritioned. Her being a Boxer, and a female, she’s not supposed to be that big anyway.
But now she is healthy and happy, and she is my favorite thing in the whole world. I love her too much for words to even describe. She’s the only thing I have that really loves me in this crazy world we call home, and by the way she looks at me, the feeling is mutual.
Her rough tongue licking my writing hand breaks me from my thoughts, and I smile down at her, pulling my music out of my ears after pausing the song. “Why, hello, pretty girl,” I coo down to her, her tail causing her whole body to shake from her excitement, “did you enjoy your nap?” Her tongue flops out of her smiling muzzle and she nuzzles her slightly wet nose into my chest. She and I both flinch at the loud bang that shakes the house. I scratch her behind the ear lovingly, trying to calm her still jumpy nerves.
“You wanna go for a walk?” Her jumping off my bed is all the answer I need. I grab my journal, pen, and phone with headphones still intact, and open my bedroom door.
We both creep down the stairs, our mutual agreement not to draw the tense attention of both of my parents simply understood. We move like church mice as we silently stalk over the floorboards towards the back door, seeing as my parents’ fight is being held in the living room. When I wrap my still slightly shaky hand around the handle, the quick scream snatches my breath away as I wait in bated breath for recognition from the adults in my life. When their yelling doesn’t falter, I let out a shuddering breath.
Deciding to not prolong it any further, I fling open the door, which luckily doesn’t continue its solo concert. When I close the door behind Tulip and I, I again let out a relieved breath, shaking my head free of my momentary terror. Tulip snorts to get my attention, and I realize that I’ve just been standing on our back porch, lost in thought. I giggle at my own strangeness and step off of the wooden steps towards our comforting treeline– my safe place.
I smile once we are completely shrouded in the comforting hug of Mother Nature, the closest I’ve ever had to a “true” mother. I run my hand across the tickling needles of the pine trees I pass, my feet crunching on the already fallen leaves of Autumn. The balance of bright and hued colors have always made Autumn my favorite season by far. I’ve always loved just the smell of Fall, the pumpkin and cinnamon that twist and dance through the air always bringing a smile to my face. Yet the smell of fallen leaves, pines needles, and the little bit of grass left always calms my nerves, no matter what.
Tulip agrees with me as she seems much more relaxed than she had been in that volatile house. It’s funny: Her brindle coat causes her to almost completely disappear in the fallen leaves, all except for the white tips on her paws, both ears, chest, and belly. She must’ve felt my eyes on her, because she looks up at me, her pace never faltering.
I finally make my way to my favorite spot in the forest: the Meadow. The Meadow is about 100 feet of grass and flowers, yet at this time of year it’s shrouded by the fallen leaves of nearby trees. We sit almost in the direct middle of the small patch of emptiness. I’ve always wondered why that one spot was a blank page, when the rest of the forest was filled to the brim. I’ve written many poems because of this spot, just the mystery suffocating it has always left me wanting. Wanting what? I don’t know.
Tulip curls up basically in my lap as I pull the cap off of my pen. I unstring my leather-bound journal and flip to the next available blank page. A smile tugs at my lips as I press “play” on my music, skipping until I find a slower, more appropriate song for the moment. I sigh in contentment as I press the ink to the crisp, white paper, and just let my feelings flow out of me like a steady river around a stone. I let the words wrap around my slightly slumped being, and let the water flow around me, accepting what my heart writes and my clouded mind rests. I never falter as I slide my scrawl across the page, a small smile tugging at my lips as I begin to develop a story, raw and real.
My music shutting off breaks me out of my thoughts and I am suddenly aware of how dark it has gotten around us. I try to turn on my phone, just to realize that it’s dead. Great. As I softly tap Tulip’s head, effectively waking her from her slumber, I stand and stretch once she moves from my lap. My legs slightly shake from being inactive for so long, until the numbness dissipates finally. I sigh, realizing I will have to go back home to my shattered family.
“Well, Tulip,” I sigh again, “might as well get this over with.” She barks up at me in agreement. We begin to make our way slowly through the quickly darkening forest, until I feel eyes watching my every move. I slowly turn in the direction of the eyes and am met with a brilliant amber gaze holding mine. My fear is present in the ragged breathing that is constricting my lungs.
“T-Tulip?” I whimper. I don’t know why I spoke, I am just terrified out of my mind. Honestly, I don’t think we’re getting out of this and my fear is tripled when an all of a sudden, a shadow-black, massive wolf steps confidently out of the growing shadows. Its growl shakes me to the bone, the shiver going from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
I try to will myself to move, to run, escape…do something. Yet, my heavy fear freezes my entire body, and nothing could possibly move me even the tiniest inch. I am snapped from my blinding fear by a feral snarl and the flashing of stark white teeth in the darkness. I can just make out the wolf as his hackles begin to rise, and I can almost feel his anger as it suffocates the air surrounding us all. The tense silence is broken by another snarl, yet this time, it’s not the wolf-it’s Tulip. I snap my eyes down to her in surprise; she’s never been violent around me before. Then, as if hit over the head, I realize she’s protecting me from the wolf.
“T-Tulip?” I stutter, shock freezing the blood in my veins. Her hackles are raised as she steps in front of me as the wolf tries to get closer to me. The warning growl that thunders from her small chest makes me calm, knowing that she sees me as a pup. I am ripped from my thoughts as the colossal beast of a wolf lunges for Tulip, and she side steps around him, keeping him from me.
She stays to the side of him, continuing to dodge his failed attacks. He may be stronger than her, but she’s smaller and faster, and she knows it. I watch in awe and pride as she leaps to his back, jumping to his throat. She’s only lodged on for a moment before he shakes her off, launching her into a tree near us.
“Tulip!” I scream, tears threatening to spill. The wolf, seeming to remember that I’m there, turns his snarling muzzle towards me. “H-help!” I stumble back from his ferocious eyes. I am his prey, and he is undoubtedly the predator.
Suddenly, the wolf whimpers and stumbles slightly in his advances. I see a flash of light brown brindle and white, then the welling up of blood. Tulip rips the flesh from his back right ankle, the tear audible even from where I stand. Her muzzle is blood red and dripping as she scratches at his eyes when he turns towards the threat. His whimper is released from his thick throat, and while he’s momentarily distracted, Tulip latches onto his throat, looking for the kill.
She gets a better latch on him this time, yet she can’t set it in far enough. She still rips more bloody flesh from him, his flowing blood covering the steadily darkening leaves underneath. The sun has almost set, yet my eyes have adjusted just enough that I can still make out their two forms. The wolf’s knees buckle from the blood loss, and she growls again before making her way towards me, seemingly at peace after her vicious battle for my safety.
Neither one of us see the wolf get his footing, nor do we notice when he begins advancing towards us again, albeit slower this time. We are too absorbed in the moment of relief that has shrouded us both. We only notice once he grabs onto Tulip by her back haunches, dragging her yelping form back towards him. I see the true terror in her dark eyes as they meet mine. I scream in fear, the sound falling on deaf ears as they are drowned by the scrapping of dead leaves and deadly snarls.
The darkness shields his slippery black fur, yet I can just make out the bloodshot in his eyes. Just before he crumbles to the ground in a heap of bloody flesh, he bites deeper into Tulip’s fur, causing her to scream her plea for survival. When the wolf’s body falls to the ground, all that is heard is the thud of his body mass, and then the helpless yelps from Tulip.
“Tulip! Oh god, please be okay!” I scramble towards her, not caring when I scrape my knees on the hidden twigs and rocks underneath my feet as I slide down beside her. With frantic eyes and shaking hands, I stare down at my best friend, now bloody and seemingly broken. I choke on a sob as it racks my entire being…she has to be okay, she just has to.
“T-Tulip?” I whimper, my eyes blurring from my painful tears.
Her own whimper answers me, and I whip my head up. I find her dark, pleading eyes, and without thinking, wrap my arms under her trembling form. I tuck her under my chin, and begin to make my way back towards my broken home. I am practically sprinting and leaping over fallen trees and bushes like a deer escaping the icy grasp of Death.
My tears softly pitter-patter on top of her light-brindle fur, and I feel a rough tongue lick my arm. Even when she’s slowly dying in my arms, she’s still trying to comfort me. God, I can’t lose her, I think to myself, pushing myself even faster than before once I see the light of my house in the distance.
I finally reach my back porch, and I get a clear view of her fatal wounds. Her heavy bleeding is staining the little white she has on her chest, her eyes are bloodshot, and her back haunches are completely enveloped in dripping blood. I have to swallow a sob as I frantically search for a phone to call the vet.
“Where have you been young la-dy…” my mother’s voice dies off at the end once she sees Tulip’s fragile and shaking form. “Oh my god…what happened, Lizah? Are you okay?”
My lip trembles, yet I don’t let the tears fall as I stare at the woman I used to consider my mother. I haven’t had a mother or a father for five years, and I won’t allow her to try and become one again now.
“Tulip protected me, she got hurt, and now I’m trying to call the vet. So please, leave me to be with Tulip,” I tersely growl at her.
She seems taken aback by my anger and the betrayal that drips from my words onto the floor around us. The air is thick as she takes a faltering step back, followed by another, before she stops, shocked.
“I only wanted to make sure you were okay,” she barely whispers under her breath, yet loud enough that I can hear her.
I snort as I begin to dial the number. “For the first time, you actually cared about someone other than yourself? Shocking, truly. You and Dad only ever care about who wins the next argument. Nothing else.”
The other end of the line picks up, and I quickly tell them what happened, not even remotely caring that my “mother” is still in the room. I relay my address, and then hang up the phone. I’ll have to wait ten minutes for the vet, yet something inside of me knows that Tulip wouldn’t make it that long.
“Why are you still in here? Don’t you have an argument you and Dad are both late for?” I sneer.
Her retreating footsteps are all the answer I receive. I crouch down beside Tulip as she continues to shake, and I wrap a kitchen towel around her bigger wounds that are still slowly dripping thick blood. “You’ll be okay girl, I promise. I’m right here.” A tear lands on her cheek, and she opens her eyes just enough that I can make out the swirls of light brown in the muddy pools of almost-black brown. She seems to smile up at me, her tongue slightly poking out of her still-bloody muzzle.
I begin to stroke her damp fur, trying to take some of the pain and worry away with each pass. Her eyes meet mine before they begin to close slowly, until finally, her breathing evens out, her final breath fanning around me like a heavy puff of smoke. The sobs are choking me, the tears are never ending, yet I don’t move to wipe them away, knowing that more will replace them. I sit like that, her head in my lap, the blood slightly pooling around her lower body, as I shakingly stroke her soft fur for I-don’t-know-how-long.
One week later
I sigh as I place her cremation case on my bookshelf, her collar and a picture of the two of us resting on top of the dark mahogany. I used all of my money to buy this, money I had saved up for years, yet I had no problem using it this way. I lay my hand on the corner and feel the familiar push and burn of tears as I think of everything I could’ve done to prevent this from happening. Even though I know that I am just torturing myself, I can’t stop the images of that fateful night.
“Love you, Tulip,” I whisper as I lay the small origami blue tulip I had made inside of her pastel blue collar. I turn to walk away from her final resting place, and reaching the light switch on my bedroom wall, whisper as the darkness envelopes everything around me, “Forever and a day.”