I knew Ashley loved me, but I didn’t realize exactly how much until after she died.
Ashley was my roommate’s dog. A five-time cancer survivor, my roommate had petitioned the Cancer Society to allow her to adopt Ashley as a service/companion after she found out the dog’s original owner had decided not to take it with her when she began preparations to move out of her apartment and into her new boyfriend’s home. He was highly allergic.
Ashley fit in perfectly. A West Highland Terrier, she was small, white, and wiry with a pink-colored stripe of fir down the center of her back, giving her a kind of Mohawk type of look. It was her original owner’s decision to cut and dye her fur like that, which my roommate continued doing even after we adopted her.
My life changed once we got that dog. During the day, my roommate, who didn’t work because she was on disability, would take care of the dog— walking her, feeding her. But once I got home from my advertising copywriting job, Ashley would act as if my roommate didn’t exist. All she wanted was to be with me.
It would start the moment she’d hear my car pulling into my parking space. If my roommate allowed her, Ashley would come charging out of our apartment, her little legs pumping away like humming bird wings, until she’d get to where I’d be waiting by my car. Then she’d show her happiness at seeing me by jumping up and down and shaking with excitement all over.
Once back inside the apartment, she’d stay at my side while I’d eat my dinner, hoping I’d sneak her tidbits of whatever I was eating. Later, we’d go for a walk so she could do her business, and I could work off my meal. Even before I’d start eating, Ashley would often show her affection for me by hopping onto my lap and begin licking my face all over. This included licking the insides of my nostrils. I don’t know what she found so interesting about my nose, but you would think she was trying to find “gold in them thar hills,” the way she would go at it.
Other times, if I wasn’t eating, she’d either lie at my feet, or on top of the covers of my bed—a favorite spot of hers. But if she was feeling a bit frisky, she might get one of her doggie balls and drop it at my feet, waiting for me to toss it so she could retrieve it.
I hate to admit it, but Ashley got to me, which made her death particularly hard. But if it was hard for me, it was absolutely devastating for my roommate. She really loved that dog and so when Ashley died from a neurological seizure (sometimes common amongst her breed), my roommate went into an emotional tailspin. She spent hours and hours just lying around the apartment crying. For the first couple of days, she wouldn’t even get out of bed to take a shower or cook a meal. I had to bring her food from the outside, which she barely touched. Eventually, she began to return to, at least, a semi-normal state of mind, while my life went from its usual condition to—in a kind of supernatural way—completely off the rails. That’s because, as crazy as it sounds, that’s when Ashley decided to return from the other side.
The first time she made herself known to me was one evening while I was sitting at my computer going over some brochure copy we needed at work for a new client. That’s when I felt something bump up against the side of my shoe. When I looked down, I saw it was one of Ashley’s tennis-size balls. What the hell!? I knew my roommate had kept most of her stuff, but how did one of her balls get into my room? I thought my roommate must have kicked it by accident, sending it rolling down the hallway. But then I remembered my roommate was outside somewhere talking with one of the neighbors.
Then I thought that maybe the ball had been sitting on the kitchen counter, and somehow fell off and rolled down the hallway into my room. So after picking it up, I tossed it past my bed and into one of the other corners then went back to typing on my keyboard. A minute or so later, I felt another bump against my shoe. When I looked down, there was the ball again.
I’ll have to admit, for a fraction of a second, I thought the ball was alive, but then it dawned on me; no way was the ball doing this by itself! There had to be only one other explanation—Ashley! But could it be? I’d always believed in life after death and even ghosts, but could this really be Ashley’s spirit?
Slowly, I leaned over and picked up the ball. Then with my heart racing, I sent it bouncing down the hallway toward the kitchen of our two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Immediately, I turned back to face my computer. Something told me that if I tried to watch, the ball wouldn’t come back. Sure enough, it did. That’s when I thought for sure Ashley had returned from the grave. Actually, it wasn’t the grave so much that she had come back from. After she died, I paid to have her cremated and her ashes split between the both of us. We each had tiny urns with some of her ashes inside.
At this point, I was about to toss the ball again when I heard my roommate come back into the apartment. “I just talked to Jenipher from the office,” she said, coming into my room. “And she said the complex is going to have a bar-b-q on Saturday down by the main pool. You planning on coming?”
Instead of answering her, I said, “You are not going to believe what just happened!” That’s when she saw me holding one of Ashley’s balls.
“What are you doing with Little Bit’s ball?” Little Bit was a nickname my roommate had given the dog.
“You’ll see,” I said then tossed the ball out the door and down the hallway. My roommate looked at me strange-like. “Don’t look at the ball!” I ordered her. “Just keep your eyes focused on me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” she asked.
Once again, I said, “You’ll see.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, I felt the ball bump against my shoe.
“What the hell?” I heard my roommate say. When I turned around, she was staring at the ball as if it had suddenly come alive.
I smiled. “It’s not the ball,” I told her, “it’s Ashley’s spirit.”
She looked at me, her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
I repeated. “It’s Ashley’s ghost. She’s returned and wants me to play with her.”
What my roommate said next was not exactly what I would have expected her to say. “Show me!” So I did.
Twice I tossed the ball down the hallway and twice it came back. But when my roommate tried it, the ball did not return. This got her a little miffed. “Little Bit,” she said, turning her head this way and that, as if trying to talk directly to the dog. “Why don’t you want to play with me?” We both waited, but, of course, the dog didn’t answer. Pouting, she asked, “So what now?”
I shrugged. “I guess we go on with our lives, and see what happens next.”
What happened next was the dog refused to play with my roommate. While I was at work, several times she tried tossing the ball around the apartment, but it never came back to her, and yet, whenever I did it, the ball always returned.
“That’s not fair!” my roommate groused to me one evening.
I shrugged. “You always said that once I came home from work, Ashley became my dog and not yours.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
After that, we didn’t discuss it much, but we did try a couple of things, like leaving water in her bowl to see if she would drink it. In the morning we found most of the water gone, so we left some of her dog food. Once again, we found a good portion of the food in her dish gone.
“I wonder if she also poops?” I said to my roommate, as we both stared down at her nearly empty dish. Whether or not she could, I continued with my evening walks and even asked her ghost if she wanted to come along? Of course, I didn’t know if she did, but I was able to tell whenever she’d lie down next to me at night in bed; I could feel the weight of her ghostly body pressing down on the covers.
Then came the day I could actually see her for the first time. It wasn’t like she was solid looking or anything; she was just a vague ghostly image of what she had looked like (pink-stripe and all) when she was alive, which I could see, but my roommate couldn’t.
Once again, she sounded miffed. “That’s not fair!” she complained, her bottom lip pushed out in a pout.
“I know,” I said to her. “But maybe you’ll be able to see her one day soon for yourself.”
“I hope so,” my roommate replied despairingly.
Eventually, she did get to see Ashley, but not until after she succumbed to the diseases that had been ravaging her body for a number of years.
I know you’re not going to believe this, but these days, I get to hang out with the both of them a lot.
It’s really nice.