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My Dog's Death
Stupid dog. Why did you have to play so hard? Why did you have to spend the entire day digging? Why did you want to leave us?
There was a knock on my door. A loud one. It shook me from my sleep, but left me disoriented in the dark of my room, wondering what was the matter. The door was thrown open, yet it caught as it always did. Instead of kicking the door furiously, the intruder tapped it with his hip, willing it to open gently.
My dad was in the doorway, his silhouette outlined by the light from the hallway. “The dog’s dying. Mom’s at the vet. Com’on. Get dressed. Let’s go say goodbye.”
Goodbye. What did that word mean anymore? What could I say—what could anyone say—that made it any good at all?
I tried not crying. I didn’t want to feel the burn of the tears as they streaked down my face. I didn’t want to feel the dryness in my mouth as I gasped for air. I didn’t want to feel the heaviness of my head as I tried not to think.
I cried my first tear sitting in the family room. It jumped from my eye like a thief in the night and slid down my face before I could even move to stop it.
Outside, it was warm. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and I remember thinking, “It’s warm for four thirty in the morning. I should need a jacket, but it’s so warm out.”
I cried my next two tears all at once. One, two. I thought about how the stupid dog’s playmate, best friend, and sister would deal with this. One, two. Just like that. One, two.
The road was long and lonely. There were no cars to be spoken of. It felt like every stop light was trying to save us from our fate, turning scarlet red the moment we pulled into its view. They couldn’t protect us forever, though. They had to send us on, whatever the outcome.
Tear four was as we pulled into the hospital’s parking lot. There were three cars in the lot: my mom’s, the vet’s, and the vet’s assistant’s. Each car was dark: black, brown, and midnight blue. It was as if someone had cast a cloak of darkness over the once happy scene.
When I saw the vet’s assistant, her red face ashen and crow’s feet fluttering from her eyes like wings, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. She said hello, keeping the door open with a stiff, sad smile, and I couldn’t respond to her. My throat was thick. My tongue was too big for my mouth. And I sobbed.
My mom met us in the lobby, hugging me close. The vet brought the dog into the room, carrying him because he was too frail to walk. He had a bandage wrapped around his right leg. He was shaking and his eyes were half closed, like he was already halfway gone.
It was twelve hours since he had played, since he had gone outside, since he had moved on his own. Twelve hours later and he was still panting. He was still out of breath. He was still in pain.
I cradled my face in my hands, too weak to hold it up. I felt my insides pulling apart, but tried to make it better. I didn’t look at him, just thought of him chasing ground hogs and cornering voles. He had a happy retirement, I told myself. His hard life was left in the past. We were able to undo so much wrong that had occurred before us. Undo almost all the wrong, as if it was never there.
Yet there was some left and that wrong was killing him. Each labored breath carried him closer and closer to the last.
“I’m sorry, guys, I’m sorry,” Mom kept saying, like it was her fault. Like she had caused his pain and our pain and the world’s pain.
I felt like vomiting. I took long deep breaths, but the feeling wouldn’t pass. I drank water, paced, rubbed my stomach—nothing. The pain wouldn’t leave.
The vet came back. He explained what would happen, that the dog may shake, gasp for air, even release his excrements. I couldn’t listen. I just wanted him to go away. I stared at his stupid balding head and held onto the dog’s neck, stroking him in his favorite spot. It felt different this time. Too thin, as if it were missing something.
It was at that moment I wished my hardest dogs had a heaven. A place were dog’s could go to chase birds, dig holes, and take naps in the sun. A place where treats were always available and there was always a hand for petting. A place where signs like, “No dogs allowed” and “Dogs on leashes” were non-existent.
I knew, at that moment, as I held him as close as I could, my finger tips touching the air as the shallow breaths crept into his lungs, he was dying. For real. Not later. Not in a few days, months, years, but now. At that very second.
And then his head went limp and his eyes closed for the last time.
I stroked his neck, his back. But the life was gone. I whipped my hand away, staring at it like I had just brushed fire. I was afraid of stealing away the last of his warmth.
It was so cold outside. I didn’t remember it being so cold before. The air bite at my bare arms and legs, making Goosebumps march across the bare surfaces of my white, white skin.
I tried not crying. I didn’t want to cry anymore. I cried too much. I hurt all over from all the crying. But, when you want that momentary lapse from reality, when you want just one moment to be blind and deaf, that’s when reality hits you the hardest. I blinked my eyes and the tears cascaded down my face.
Stupid dog. Stupid dog! Why did he do this to himself? Why did he play so hard? Why couldn’t he fight to recover?
But through all this—all this pain and all this hate and all this sorrow—one thought remains. My dog, my puppy, my friend, is dead.
What do you say when a dog dies? Do you have a eulogy? Do you say, “He devoured lettuce and cucumbers like they were a juicy steak and he ate more than I did”? Do you say, “He bit every dog in the neighborhood and both the UPS man and FedEx man were afraid to come to the front door because of a twelve pound dog”? Do you say, “He loved to play, but hardly knew how. He hopped around like a kangaroo, trying to pounce on the ball instead of catch it”? Do you say, “He was the only dog in the world who hated walks. He used to hide anytime he heard the click of the leashes”? Or, could you simply say, “I loved that stupid dog”?
He was a good boy. He was eccentric and he bit, but he was good. He played hard, always wanted a scratch, and, when he sat with you, had to sit practically on top of you to be close enough. He had a hard previous life, but he lived to the fullest extent to make up for it. And he was happy.
He was a good boy. A good dog. My dog.
I loved that stupid dog.