I find myself, less than an hour after I hugged your warm, furry body for the last time, unable to sit still — scurrying, even running, through every room to erase the damning evidence that you even existed. I want you to be a memory! Now! Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, NOW!!! I want my eyes to see nothing that conjures the illusion that you are RIGHT THERE or even just beyond these walls in the next room. In fact, I’m not even sure I want you to be a strong memory. Maybe just a fleeting memory.
I can not… no… I WILL NOT face the discouraging reality that for the last eleven and a half years you have been the glue that has connected me to the rest of this world — that your absence reveals the dirty secret that I used you as a replacement for meaningful relationships with humans – as an emotional shield, protecting me from the sometimes harsh and complex minefield of loving someone again. Had I known that this long suppressed truth were going to be thrown in front of me like a spike strip, I would have held on to you till the most inhumane, bitter, and painful end. If I had known at eleven this Saturday morning what I know now, a few hours later, I would have forced you, in my weakness and fear, to endure unimaginable anguish so I would not have to… so that I could continue living the lie.
Trying to use words to describe what I feel right now is like a surgeon using a pair of salad tongs for brain surgery.
I hurt, buddy.
I hurt bad.
I hurt not because you are gone, but because it was me, ME, who willed you away and because of the way our paths finally, unavoidably parted. The guilt is overwhelming.
The experience at the vet was not what I had imagined it would be even though she gave me exactly what I asked for… the absolute fastest path from pain to peace.
I wish I’d have known.
I wish I’d have known exactly what I was begging the soft-spoken young Veterinarian for. I know why I asked for it and so do you, but I wish, just for once, I had given thought to the reality of what was going to happen in a few seconds. I wish I’d have known that it would take less than one minute for you to go from sitting on your hindquarters, howling lovingly at the Vet assistant, to your soul escaping your warm body in my arms like a silently deflating balloon. I wish it wasn’t so fast. I gently moved your body on the blanket on the floor, softly positioning your paws, but I wish I had stayed longer and ran my hands over you. I wish I had faced you as the poison entered your veins and looked into your loving eyes one last time, like I’d done a thousand times before, instead of avoiding them to keep my own from becoming useless for seeing. It all happened so fast. The last living memory of you is the only one I want to forget. I wish I hadn’t been so weak. I wish our last minutes together were filled with more.
My “Big Boy”.
I wish you were still here.
No sooner had I jumped into the front seat of my pickup, sobbing, barely able to drive, did I start questioning the irreversible decision I just made. A decision that doesn’t have a “take back” and can’t flow like water under the bridge with the snap of a magic apology. Did I really have to end it? Today? Was the pain you were in last night and this morning so brutal that you couldn’t be fixed? That I couldn’t fix you once again, like I’ve done so many times over so many years? We’ve seen some rough terrain, my friend, and every inch of it ended with your Dad doing what you knew he would do: pull out the stops and drive through the brick wall of rationality to make everything right again. What made last night… this morning… any different than those other days?
I may never be fully convinced you had to go NOW, but I know I made it all about ME.
Obviously you had a rough night Friday, right before bed, when half of our perfectly scheduled nine o’clock feeding was laying in a pile in the backyard. You’re right, not the first time this has happened. Uncharacteristically, you managed to sleep through the night, but us moving around in the morning brought it all back. Yeah, I know… this isn’t new for you either – an evening barf followed by a night then a morning with pain. Bleeding stomach ulcers, and certainly the one that we adapted to for almost 2 years brought good days and bad days. What you felt in the morning was not unlike what you’ve felt dozens of times before. But, buddy… I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I ran out of the fuel that super heroes use and I couldn’t watch you go through another day wondering if any one of the hundred different things that determine whether or not you have a pain-free day were lined up as perfectly as they needed to be – as they had been so regularly for the last 2 years. Did I feed you enough in the last meal or too much? Did I make you wait too long for this meal or not long enough? Did I feed you the required 4 times today or did I get distracted and only feed you 3 times? Was there enough rice mixed in with the fat-free specialized food or too much? Did I even cook rice or did I forget that I didn’t have any ready and now you were going to have to wait another 24 minutes? Since you were already showing discomfort, could you make it that long or should I just feed you the canned food now? Did you look like you had been in any pain since the last feeding and should I add the Pepcid to this meal? Did I spread the soft mixture flat and smooth enough in your bowl so that you couldn’t wolf it down in 6 seconds causing more pain from eating too fast, or was it too thick causing you to not get it into your stomach fast enough to ward off the quickly inflaming ulcer?
I couldn’t spend another day watching and feeling the pain you were in as I sit on the edge of the couch holding your hips between my hands and rubbing your back, comfort you sought many times before when you ached not to mention after every single meal, 4 times a day. I know pain that started at night and resumed in the morning didn’t happen very often buddy, but I couldn’t watch you swallowing so hard it looked like it hurt. I couldn’t watch you shift from laying slightly on one side to slightly on the other until settling on “straight-up-and-down”, a position that you’ve told me just kills your 12-year-old knees. I couldn’t sit by, utterly helpless, as the contracting muscles of your little tough-guy body tried desperately to reject the contents of your stomach. You’ve told me, with your eyes and that heart-wrenching stare how much it hurt. Every time.
I couldn’t handle the tormenting thoughts every minute on these somewhat rare days as I wondered if it was “time” or if I was just jumping to conclusions. Again! (You know… like the last time I took you up to the vet with the same intention in mind only to have you completely snap out of what ailed you.) Every day was a roll of the dice for your stomach and with it, my emotions. After almost 2 years I knew you were getting tired of it, and you knew I was getting weary too. You knew I had crossed the threshold between difficult and you-gotta-be-kidding-me when I’d occasionally and briefly snap at you for being in pain, somewhat aware of what the next hour, or the next 12, or the next 2 days might have in store for us but never really knowing until it had passed. I couldn’t do this anymore, buddy. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair for you to feel both like you failed in your duties as a pet while facing no options for the pain in your gut.
Still I wonder. I question if the “end of my rope” was really the end. Did I have more rope to give? Could I have sucked it up… just one more time… and been the comfort you needed for just a few more days till the pain had passed like it always did? It’s been said to me by others well aware of my exhaustion, “I would find no fault in you if you decided to end this struggle.” But, did I use this as an excuse to prove the line in the sand I drew for myself this morning? Was I looking for any excuse, no matter how slight, to stop the merry-go-round, more concerned about my own inconvenience than your well being? I may never know. These unanswered questions will linger in the back of my mind like someone I owe money to, but choose to ignore.
Xearo (“zero“), tonight is going to be hard for me… very hard. I can still feel the lump in my throat and I know it’s getting bigger. I don’t know if I will sleep. It will be the first time I’ve had the entire bed to myself in almost 12 years and I would give it up for just one more night if only the God’s would indulge this one small request.
I will remember you forever my dear, dear friend. Though my soul aches and my heart is in rags, I will remember.
I’ll remember our last night together when neither of us knew it would be our last night, stroking your soft brown fur till my arm got tired and you laying peacefully next to me, all snuggled up in your red blanket… without the slightest concern in the world… falling asleep… safe… content… smothered with love.
I’ll remember the effortless way you’d prop your goofy ass on my hip if I was laying on my side, as if I were a chair bearing your name. Or the way you’d sneak on top of me the same way when I’m on the couch trying to guide you to lay in crux of my bent legs. You were such a sneaky fucker. I’d laugh when this happened and I could swear you smirked when I did.
Of course I absolutely will never forget how you could be fast asleep on your bed next to my desk when I thought I could slip quietly to the bathroom for a shower. How many times did I pull back the curtain after only a minute or two and you’d be standing in the middle of the doorway staring at me and wagging your tail. Of course I already told you how the shrieking violins from the movie Psycho played in my head just before I let out a laugh. I think you did this on purpose.
I will remember how you could turn anything I was holding in my hands into a toy you would lunge for so long as it was attached to me, and how you immediately lost interest the minute I let go. I will remember laughing, running out of air, as you chased and barked at the flashlight on the wall. I will remember how you played in our many big back yards filled with lush grass and how you’d roll over on your back rubbing your nose in the thatch forever or until I started scratching your chest.
I will recall with a smile how you turned into a pogo-stick every time you and Maxine got into one of your many life-and-death play sessions. I think Max thought you were the irritating little brother that wouldn’t leave her alone (which you were) but she always forgot about your ninja-like reflexes when she moved to counter your constant badgering. Even during breaks you’d stand next to her with your snout buried in the back of her neck. Quiet. Still. Waiting. Egging her on to see if she could catch you, so close, one more time. Man! You were good at it and she swallowed the bait every time. It was so much fun to watch.
I remember how gentle you were with those who were a fraction of your size. You were such a good boy. You didn’t whine, gripe, or cry when I’d bring a half-dozen strays into our house over the course of your life and even watched as they ate from your bowl. My guess is you knew they needed homes too, at least for a little while.
I’ll never forget the very first seizure you had and how mortified I would have been to have anyone see my freaked out reaction. That was a tough day too. Remember? We went to the vet after the fourth seizure in 2 days and I rolled my eyes when he told me ‘most dogs who make it past 4 wont be epileptic’. Just our bad luck. Your fourth birthday was 3 days ago. We had bad luck that week. I’m so glad that 6 years from that day, the twice-a-day meds brought only as many more seizures as I could count on your paw.
I remember when you first came to live with me and how your idiot Dad let you get nice and comfy sleeping in the bed next to me. But how could I not? You were so cute and so small back then that you were walking under Maxine without lowering your head. How could I have known that you’d grow so big that one-third of the bed is all I’d see for the next 12 years?
I still laugh at that time you met your first swimming pool. I didn’t see it happen, but I wasn’t far away. I suspect you thought what any dog would think a shiny and placid surface is for – walking on. The only thing funnier than you falling in was my complete over-reaction when I ran to where you were and jumped in with blue jeans, shoes, and even my wallet to save you. Pffft… what can I say, man? I’m a protective Dad. I take a bit of comfort in knowing your senses were probably in shock at the time, so there! That was a fun day.
I will remember the way your ears would perk up as high as you could raise them any time I pushed up both of my eyebrows and looked you square in the face. I will miss this about you, my friend. The way we communicated and the way you seemed so… human. After 12 years, buddy, this I might miss the most.
I will miss how you comforted me and filled me with hope during the most difficult times in my life. When I was laid off, living in basements, making barely enough for gas, and not able to have you with me under the same roof, our scheduled Sunday play sessions kept me sane and made life worth living in ways that only you will remember. It was then that I learned for the first time, that you were content falling asleep in my arms on the couch while I pet you and whispered in your ear. I looked forward to those few brief hours all week-long. That was a tough time for us both. Without you, without your willingness to completely ignore that I had dropped you in a strange place with snow you’d never seen before and other animals you’d never met, and on Sunday’s to act like I was the only thing in the world that mattered to you, like we’d been together all week, without you, I know I wouldn’t have survived. I thank you, my dear friend, from the very depth of my heart. The life I live today would not have been possible were it not for you.
I will remember that night when Maxine got out of the back yard through the wide open gate. Xearo, I couldn’t understand why you didn’t follow her to the high school running track 3 blocks away. I couldn’t understand why, after 15 long minutes when I finally realized that I left the gate open, why you were sitting curiously at the foot of the driveway looking out over the wide open neighborhood with unbridled freedom stretched out before you in every direction? Today I know.
I will remember how you’d snort and whimper and bark and run – hard, fast, and over great distance – when you slept. So many times I tried to catch this on video, but, as always, you never had less than one eye on me at all times. My favorite times you were “sleep jogging” happened when you weren’t perfectly flat on your bed. Instead your legs were tucked under you. When you ran, your ass rocked into the air a good six inches, at least 8 or 10 times, before you eventually woke yourself up. Oh how I would roll and hold my gut once you were awake. Boxer comedy at it’s FINEST!
I’ll remember the Pancreatitis that started your long, slow decent in April almost 2 years ago. I won’t forget how much weight you lost or how worried I was for your future. For my future. Can’t forget the prescribed drugs that were only supposed to have a five percent chance of causing an ulcer in dogs. Why did we have such bad luck, buddy? That was a rough month for us and it seemed to get rougher with each page that fell from the calendar.
I will remember how much you loved a Frosty from Wendy’s and how you licked the side of the straw with that god-awful long tongue. I’ll remember with joy just how goofy you were, and how, at just the right moment, you’d do something so stupid and funny that all I could do was shake my head or laugh. I’ll remember how you used to crawl under my desk to rest your head on my knee while I worked on the computer because you were bored. Your capacity for “play-time” was as uncontainable as your devotion and you let me know often in those early years.
I will remember our walks. How you nearly ran Max over like an offensive lineman to be the first nose on a freshly peed fence post. I’ll remember that one neighborhood route in Scottsdale that had the only hole in the block wall with the only dog in the half-mile route who would talk to you. It was crazy that you’d start talking and barking 300 feet before we even got to that point on the route. Oh how I’d laugh.
You made me laugh. Every. Single. Day. I was blessed to have your friendship, your undying loyalty, and the most complete and condition-free love I may ever have experienced. A better friend, in 43 years, I have not known.
I am grateful for every breath you shared with me. For the laughter, for the sadness, for the tough times and for the good. For the love you gave me for free, asking nothing in return but the occasion pat on the head or tug on your toys. Someday I will heal. Seems crazy right now to think that it’s possible, but I will heal. I will smile again someday. Maybe not because I am happy and not because I want to, but because it’s what you would have expected me to do. You would want to know that your short life with me was more than a pit stop or some obligation I felt bound to not fail. You’d want to know that the Dad you loved can love on his own, without help… someday… again. I may never have another four-legged friend who can touch the core of my soul like yours has touched mine over more than a decade, but know that I’ll be ok. Not soon, but someday. When I can read this letter I write to you now or watch the movie I struggle to make for you without weeping, that day will have arrived. We will roll in the thick grass on a beautiful sunny day again my friend. I can’t think of anything in my future I look forward to more.
I love you, Xearo. I will miss you every day for as long as I live and with all of my heart. Thank you for being the finest friend and companion any human could have hoped ever existed.