Because writers write when we feel intense emotion. Right now I feel relief, sadness, nostalgia and pain. Relief because I’m no longer a witness to suffering and I don’t have to clean up volumes of pee off my hardwood floors. Sadness because my first baby is gone. Nostalgia because I remember fondly our times together over the last 14 years. And pain because I lost something I can’t replace.
I remember when my mom gave me my first dog. It was not our first family dog-his name was Beaco. But Halston was mine. A black Cocker Spaniel. My mom got him for me in elementary school because I was an emotional train wreck when my dad deployed. Halston was a great dog. He slept in my bed with me and made me feel warm. He howled when we sat around as a family and sang. I also remember when my mom told me he had cancer and she had to put him down. It was categorically one of the worst days of my childhood. “What a great childhood you had Tera, if one of the worst days was when your mom had to put your dog down.” I’m thinking this now as I write. I did have a great childhood. Filled with love and dogs.
My second dog was a pug named Taylah. My mom said Taylah was hers, but I fed her, let her out and she slept in my bed every night. So, whose dog was she really? You decide. I remember when Taylah got lost, my mother frantically yelled her name throughout the neighborhood, “Taylah! Taylah!” I don’t have any other memories of my mom being frantic. This was the only one. We got her back and I’m not sure how. The whole family was relieved, even my dad who called Taylah, “The Canine.” Taylah shed everywhere and on everything. The house complained of fur everywhere- on our clothes, the floors, and in my bed. She snored loudly as pugs do and became very fat as pugs get. I remember when my mom called and told me Taylah was too old and too sick. She’d taken her on a special trip to the beach. This was her last trip and my mom was very sad. And so was I. After all, Taylah was really my dog.
Thomas and I got Oscar in 2007. We were barely married a year. He was a Maltese-Poodle mix and our first big purchase together outside of our home- a fur baby as many couples call it. My husband named him as he would do every living thing in our house from then on – Ophie, the dog we rescued a year later to keep Oscar company, Nayla our eldest daughter, Naomi our second daughter and Natalie, the baby. Oscar was playful, but mostly very smart. “It’s the poodle in him,” we’d say. Oscar was a staple in the family. He was there when we brought Nayla home in 2009. He’d raise his front paws, rest on his hind legs and look in the crib whenever she’d cry. He himself was also a crier. He’d whine to be let out in the mornings if we weren’t moving fast enough. He was also a licker. He especially loved licking Ophie, his sister-wife companion of 13 years. We couldn’t tell if they were like siblings or if they were married. But, they were always together which is what we wanted. They could keep each other company when we worked long hours as was our life.
On the day Oscar died, he didn’t want to sit in my lap and he didn’t lick Ophie. That’s when I knew it was the end. He left both of us behind, laid under the dining room table to die alone and in peace I guess. Or at least that’s what my sister said. “They do that you know. Go off by themselves to die,” she said. “No, I didn’t know that,” I responded. I guess that’s what they do when they have the choice.
My mom and dad called when they learned of his passing. My mom and I talked about Taylah and Oscar’s last days on this side. My mom recalled how attentive to Nayla Oscar was when we first brought her home. I had sobbed all day and didn’t want to keep sobbing so I got off the phone pretty quickly. I said before I got off, “I feel so silly being so sad. He was a dog. And I think to myself, ‘why do we do this to ourselves?’ We know when we get them that we will likely outlive them. And it hurts so much when they die.”
“I know,” Mom said. “But what a wonderful addition to your life he was.”
The rest of the night I watched Ophie sniff around looking for her brother-husband. I was looking for him too. But he wasn’t there.