Muscle Memory

Scientists have long been fascinated with the concept of “muscle memory”, that subconscious part of our brain that controls movement without us having to think about it. It’s what allows us to do complicated tasks such as riding a bike or typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” without having to stop and say, OK, I need to contract my left hamstring while extending my right quadricep and all those tricky things that go into motion. It’s what allows me to tie a knot during surgery without the laborious thought process that takes place during learning “around the forceps from the front? or the back?” After a while, it just happens.

It’s funny how it pops up in the most unexpected places. For the past 3 years, Kekoa has been my footrest. I literally could not sit in the house without her wedging herself beneath my feet. Now, my feet head toward the floor, expecting a mass to bring them to a halt about 12 inches off the ground. I don’t think about it or calibrate their momentum, they just go with the intent that they will hit fur. Without her there, they crash repeatedly into the floor, each time a jarring reminder of what is no longer there.

It’s odd to me how strong those tangible physical reminders can be. For some reason, I can’t remember the exact timbre of my individual dogs’ barks- and I know they were all quite distinctive- but to a one I can tell you how their heads felt in my hands. Taffy, light as a feather, ready to nip at the slightest provocation. Nuke, needle-nosed and gently, resting into your palm. Emmett, like a solid football, sturdy and reassuring. Mulan, like a brick, wide and solid.

Kekoa’s head was disproportionately small compared to the rest of her body. She looked somewhat like an engorged tick, but in a nice way. She would lumber over and plop on your feet, her manticore tail smacking into the wall with such force you’d think someone was cracking a whip on the drywall. She never seemed to notice. Such was her excitement that she would hover over you, massive, looming, and then with the gentlest motion ease her tiny head into your hands and cover them with kisses. You’d try to push her head away when you had enough but then she’d kiss that hand too, so eventually you’d just give up. Her tail wouldn’t stop wagging the whole time.

She had a terrible wail. A piercing bark so heartbreaking and eardrum-wrenching that she lost two homes because of it. We used our baby monitor to listen in while we were away, and eventually I had to stop because it was too much to listen to.

That sound I can’t bring up. Already, I’ve forgotten it. But the sound of her tail hitting the cabinet, and the feel of her head in my hand- those will be with me forever.

Are there any strangely strong memories you carry with your pets who have moved on?

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Musings, Picks of the Litter Tagged: , , ,
  • Dr. D

    This made me cry!! I lost Puddles two years ago to TCC, and I STILL out of habit occasionally call for her and her brother (I still have him) when I want the dogs to come inside. “Puddles” and “Dexter” just go together automatically in my mind when I want to call Dexter. Puddles always slept with me in bed, in the same spot since she was a puppy… I couldn’t sleep well for weeks after she was gone because she’d always been there for 3 and a half years. Sometimes I still reach to pet her in the middle of the night when I’m half asleep. No Puddles ๐Ÿ™

    • Isn’t it strange? Something can strike you out of the blue and it’s like they never left.

  • Tabitha W

    The smell of Magoo’s fur and the feel of his head resting on mine at night. Some nights I still reach for him. And with Mindy it was her soft tongue on my nose. We recently got a new cat, Barrington, he some home knew all of Magoo’s habits and instantly started sleeping on my head when he brought him home. I still think it was Magoo whispering in his ear telling him to take over.

    • Summer

      I 100% think it’s true about a previous animal’s habits. I had a husky who loved to dig large holes and sleep in them outdoors. He died, and we filled in all of his holes. Two years later I got another dog, and that very evening he went outside and slept where my previous dog’s favorite hole had been. And this was NOT comfortable ground. I fully believe some bit of my old dog’s spirit drew the new pup there.

      • I think so too. What a sweet story.

    • Aw, I love that he’s taking on family history there.

  • Lisa W

    I remember Bailey’s insistent “whispers” when she wanted to go out and I wasn’t paying enough attention. And the fact that I used to find little kibble deposits that she hid around the house (we called them her “snackies” – she would just grab a few from her bowl and go hide them, or maybe just put them in the middle of the floor but in a different place than her bowl). And she would whine like her heart was broken if she had a treat and couldn’t find the “right place” to hide it. All of this while she was the only dog in the house. Before she got too old to jump up on the bed, we would play “gator dog” – I would try and touch her paws while she lay there with her mouth open trying to catch me. And, like you, I remember the feel of her head in my hands and how we looked at each other, communicating love without words. Wow, I really miss that girl…. ๐Ÿ™

    • How funny- my Lhasa used to hide Milk Bones. I don’t know why dogs do that. Sweet Bailey….

  • Summer

    My lab had the terrible habit of howling at passing ambulance/fire truck sirens. It wasn’t just a regular howl, it was high pitched enough where you thought your ears would bleed. And unfortunately, we live on the main thoroughfare for fire trucks to travel in our community… so he howled a lot! We would always cringe when he howled… but for the first two weeks after he died, every time I heard a siren I would burst into tears for the LACK of that annoying howl!!!
    Strangely enough, our dachshund had NEVER howled, and about a month later, she started howling at the sirens. She only does it occassionally, but I like to think that it’s my lab’s way of saying hi.

    • Isn’t it odd how the things that drove you the MOST BATS are the things that hit you the hardest?

  • Sue W.

    Every morning I shared a banana with Eddie the rat. He got his at night, I got mine in my fruit smoothie in the morning. Now, every time I peel a banana to put it in my shake, I think about saving a piece for him. Man, he loved those bananas. I’m sure he has a whole grove of trees where he is now.

    • Aw, he was part monkey!

  • Amber

    I will never forget the feeling of a cat sleeping on my chest. We couldn’t let him in the room at night because he would prick me when he was little and smother me when he was big. We lost him in 2010 (Has it been that long?) when his “breakaway” collar didn’t break. It was heartwrenching.

    • Oh Amber, how awful. I’m so sorry you had to deal with such a traumatic loss.

      • Amber

        It was harder on my now-fiance. That was “his cat”, who had kept him afloat when he was battling a severe depression that ended in a suicide attempt. He split his only food with the cat so they could both live. I felt so awful, as the collar & ID were my idea, and then there he was in my boyfriend’s arms with his little heart stopping and covered in tears.

        But out of the darkness comes light. We took in a stray momma, and were given a pair of kittens for our kindness. The little girl is my fiance’s angel. She’s fiercely sweet and always loving, and the event inspired me to make my own collars for kitties. They don’t leave my studio until they’re tested. I never want anyone to experience what we had to.

  • TwoBarkingDogs

    Oh yeah, I totally relate. My 11-year old black lab “Clover” came down with a mast cell tumor and was gone within two weeks. I miss her tail slapping, her crazy barking, and sitting watching tv with her head in my lap. Its been a tough couple of months. But, on the plus side (if there is one) .. I can now shower in my bathroom because she’s not sleeping in the tub; I can now use the bottom of my main closet, because she’s not sleeping there either. I can sleep in because she’s not barking at the garbage men on Tues and Fri @ 6am. And, I get to spend quality one-on-one time with Cosmo (who is enjoying being an only child.) Hang in there .. it will get better .. I hope!

    • True, there are things that get easier. And then you feel guilty for thinking that and then you get sad and then it’s this big circle of ugh. :/

  • Cleopawtra

    I still reach for my cat Cleo at night when I go to bed. She would always lay next to me and if I was sick she was up on the pillow so she could really keep an eye on me. We now have a new little girl, it took me almost 3 years before I could get another cat. My husband gets on me because he catches calling the the new kittie (Fionna) by Cleo’s name and she’ll even come to me when I call her that. Although she isn’t one that likes to cuddle, (she’s a calico) she does let me hold her for a little bit each night.

  • kychilehead

    I won’t ever forget the feel of Blade’s velvety soft triangle ears. And his talking to me when I would get home from work, he just had to tell me about his day. I have never been successful in teaching Cookie to speak like he did. Thankfully she inherited some of his tricks so I can see him live through her and it helps on the days that his loss is painfully sore.

  • Tamara

    Yes, they stay with us forever, in so many ways. In time, it becomes a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Luci

    I can still hear Chester’s big slow panting. Whenever my hubby and I sat on the couch, Chester would be eye level with us since he was a Great Dane. He didn’t understand the concept of personal space & as such would pant in our faces & want to be petted. Or the sound of his jowls & ears flapping whenever he would shake. And the accompanying slobber….yuck! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • kgseymour

    It’s been a few years since Yuki died, and the main thing I remember is how, if I laid down next to her, she would rest her head right on top of mine. She would just stay there, content, for the longest time. Neither of my dogs do that now — Rudi will snuggle, but only to the side, and Hollie’s just a spaz. I miss that.