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That Rosy Cheeked Child
I remember the very day Hannah was born. It was a typical fall day, and the promise of winter sharpened the already crisp air. Still, you could tell by the way the wind picked up in excitement that something special was happening. I paced back and forth, my nails clicking on the hardwood floor and my heart racing in anticipation as I waited impatiently for her to come home. Finally, I heard the garage door creak and groan as the old green Volvo came rumbling in. I skidded to the door, my long ears flapping wildly and whined impatiently as I waited for them to bring in the new child.
When the door opened, the sound of a gurgling baby filled the air. The mother brought in the rosy cheeked child, and the first thing she did was look down at me with those big blue innocent eyes. They seemed to understand exactly what I was thinking,and feeling. For a long time we just stood there, the newborn baby and the old family dog, but at last she smiled her toothless smile and the spell was broken. From then on, we were inseparable. Maybe that's why even when I went to heaven, for that's where I suppose I've been all this time, Ive always been watching her, and maybe that's why I never gone to the rainbow bridge.
When Hannah turned three, my back started to ache constantly, and the parents took me to the vet weekly. One day, while I was in the vet's office, the doctor in the neatly ironed white coat, walked up to me with a large needle in hand. A few nurses in polka dotted scrubs lifted me onto a table as cold as ice. I shivered and the doctor stroked my aching back. He inserted the needle and my eyes widened in shock. Soon, my eyelids began to droop closed, and when I woke up, I wasn't anywhere. I was simply drifting, floating through bright white nothingness. I sighed. Either this was a very odd dream, or I was dead. Soon though, I could make out a face floating in my void of nothingness. It was a girl, rubbing her eyes as tears rolled down her rosy cheeks and dropped on a mound of brown. With a shock, I realized, that mound was me. She was standing over my lifeless body, her bright blue eyes watery with tears, and her golden hair hung down concealing her grieving face as I floated above.
Eventually I grew accustomed to my floating void and settled down to watch Hannah. A few years after I passed away, the Foster family decided to get a new dog. My heart wrenched painfully as thoughts of my replacement filled my head, but to my great joy, Hannah was outraged at the thought. She wailed at the idea of having a dog that wasn't me, and I smiled, happy that she still loved me. Still, I couldn't lick her hand comfortingly when she was sad, or hurt. She needed a living dog to do that. So eventually I warmed up to the idea of a new dog in my house and began to think of myself as it's mentor. When they did get a dog, she turned out to be a beautiful golden retriever named Sadie. I saw Hannah's face light up when she saw her and was glad I had warmed to the idea of a new dog.
When Hannah was five, I watched as her family packed up and drove to their new home in Dexter, Michigan bringing Sadie along with them. She sighed and followed her parents around, bored. Even Sadie couldn't keep her occupied for very long. But a few days later, she heard squeals and laughter coming from outside. She stood on her little toes and craned her neck to peer over the windowsill to see two little girls laughing and splashing water at each other as they jumped over a yellow sprinkler in flowered bathing suits. Hannah smiled and wrenched the door open, running to meet the little girls. The moist grass tickled her feet as she ran and she smiled in delight, her eyes lighting up happily. She stopped when she reached the two little girls and smiled shyly as she took in their dripping brown hair. She had just made her first friend.
Hannah made new friends and did well at her new school, but her older brother Nick didn't do so well. He was just starting high school and was trying to fit in. The drastic change wasn't too easy for him. When he got his license and learned to drive, he went out with his friends and found himself in an awkward position. I watched, appalled as they offered him first a cigarette, then beer, then drugs to get high. He went home woozy and disoriented, swaying and stumbling as he walked into the house. His words were slurred and his voice too loud. Hannah was scared and confused, she didn't know what was going on, or why her parents where yelling at her brother, who had always, always been there for her, always did the right thing, and was always there for her. Hannah climbed into her bed that night, and let loose her feelings that had slowly built up in her chest. Shaking and sobbing, I watched as her tears slowly seeped into her pillow. That was the first night I visited her. I peered through my void, wanting more than ever to comfort her, she didn't deserve to be put through this torment. This little girl whose blue eyes entranced me needed a hug. So I slipped through a window of air and spent the night with her, my front paw resting on her hand, and her angelic head placed on my stomach with a halo of her golden hair surrounding us.
A few years later, when Hannah was nine, she received news of her remaining grandpa passing away. My heart twisted and painfully and tears came to my eyes as I watched her collapse into her father's open arms, tears pouring down her cheeks as she sobbed and whimpered with sorrow. She barely saw her grandpa, because he lived in North Carolina, but some of her happiest memories were wrapped in his large beefy arms, engulfed in the scent of leather that seemed to resonate from him. The death of her grandfather hit her painfully, and as she peered into the open casket, she felt the overwhelming urge to reach in and hold his now cold and lifeless hand once more. Instead, she turned away, crying and I watched as the spirit of her grandfather reached down to wrap her in a large bear hug once more before soaring up into heaven to start the new adventure that waited for him there. I've often wondered what it would be like to cross the rainbow bridge, and run joyfully in the rolling hills of green, my tongue flapping wildly behind me. But then I snap myself out of my reverie, reminding myself that there will be plenty of time for running joyfully when my job watching Hannah is done.
I watched Hannah lovingly through the years as she grew taller, her white-blond hair to darkening to a golden brown, and her body slender and become long and tall. I watched, tears springing to my eyes, as she was called to the stage of her sixth grade school and was presented an award for integrity. She smiled, surprised at her award as her peers and teachers clapped for her, the sound of their thundering applause resounding throughout the echoing halls of her school. At that moment, I wished harder than ever that I could be with her one last time, jump up and lick her smiling face as she laughed, and reached down to rub my dark brown fur. I sighed from my void up above, and at that moment my ears pricked up. Did Hannah just sigh? Was she missing me as much as I missed her? I supposed she had, because from the moment we first saw each other, we were instant friends.
Over the years, Hannah's brother, Nick, had been admitted at countless treatment centers and boarding schools to get rid of his awful addictions. Nothing worked. He was sent to Montana, Louisiana, Tennessee, and far too many other places. Finally, he finished high school and was enrolled at Kalamazoo College. Hannah and her family were ecstatic! Kalamazoo is one of the very best colleges there are! They took tours, and learned about the very exciting trip Nick was to take before college officially started, to Canada with his new school. However excited they all were, I sometimes noticed Hannah looking up at her brother's glum face.
"Aren't you excited?" she would ask.
"Wha-? Oh. Yeah." he always replied.
She couldn't help feeling that maybe college wasn't where he really wanted to be. As it turns out, she was right. A few months into college he dropped out, to the disappointment of many family members, and took up a position in the army, training to fly helicopters. His real father, Buck (Nick is Hannah's half brother) was in the army and Nick grew up hearing about the amazing adventures he had had, dodging flying bullets, and leaping out of the way of a grenade. I must say, from a male perspective, that joining the army was a very masculine thing to do, and I am impressed by his courage. Hannah, on the other hand was devastated. She couldn't stand the thought of her brother going into war. Every night before bed, she prayed that all of the wars everywhere would stop and that there would be no need for any armies. From her point of view, Nick may be out of a job, but at least he's not about to get blown up. While Nick joining the army was one of the hardest things Hannah had ever had to go through, it did have its upsides. For one, the harsh structure kept Nick on task and eliminated his previous habits of blowing things off, and for another, the strict no drugs, alcohol, or smoking policy finished off Nick's addiction problems.
On October twelfth, twelve days before she turned twelve, Hannah stood in the basin on the little stage at the front of her church dressed in white robes and standing in warm water, Hannah's father (a minister) smiled, trying to keep the tears from his eyes, and tipped her body back into the water. When she rose, crying and baptized, I watched in awe as a shimmering white light appeared around her. It seemed as if it was radiating from her very soul! The light, so pure and magnificent, cast a holy glow all around her and where ever she went all day. I will never forget the moment Hannah, once a rosy cheeked infant whose eyes searched my soul, rose from the water clean and purified in God.
Although I smiled happily at the thought of a new puppy keeping Hannah happy, I didn't think to take into account the factor of the dog's possible death. As it was, Sadie, my little apprentice died the December after Hannah's baptism. I remember watching Sadie, bouncing around happily in the garden, and then, suddenly collapsing to the ground. I can recall every detail of the events after that. The sickening, torturous minutes that crawled by, as Sadie lay there, hidden partially in the undergrowth. Then I remember the neighbor taking his afternoon jog, and gasping as he took sight of Sadie's motionless body. He ran to their front porch and rang the doorbell, when Mr. Foster came to the door, the neighbor explained every gruesome heart wrenching detail, and Mr. Foster hurried outside. I cringe as I recall them hoisting up poor Sadie's limp, lifeless body, and laying her gently in the back of the car. Mr. Foster ran into the house to tell Hannah, waiting, confused on the couch what had happened, and told her he was taking her to the vet as soon as possible. For what seemed like hours to Hannah, she sat there, motionless, as she listened to her father, speeding down the road and the neighbors heavy footfalls, slapping the paved road, the sound resounding through the neighborhood, as he continued his afternoon jog. I remember later that day, Hannah standing over Sadie's empty body, tears rushing like waterfalls out of her puffy eyes and dripping onto Sadie's fur as Sadie and I watched from above in our void.
Sadie and I have made our home a little bit more comfortable. We've found that if you wish for something, such as a downy dog bed, it will simply appear. However, there is one catch to this little treat, if you wish for the living, nothing will happen. You will simply feel lonely and abandoned, even if you are sitting right next to your apprentice. I long the day when that rosy cheeked child walks into heaven, I'll be the first one she sees, waiting for her to search my soul with those innocent blue eyes.