Your Favorite Places On Earth
The second-to-last time we laid down together - you were too sick to greet me at the door when I came home from work. So I skipped my bike ride and laid down with you on your bed and we cried for a while for what we knew was coming. And even though you were the reason we were crying, and even though you were in pain -- you were still there to console me, your big paws reaching out to me to pull me closer, lowering your head gently into my lap.
Your breathing slowed, your body slumped, and I said my goodbyes...but then the rain came crashing onto the roof as if spilled from a giant bucket, like God was splashing water on you to wake you back up so you could enjoy one last day. It startled you awake, pulled you from the soft embrace of death, and there you were again - alert and strong, still protecting, and still comforting.
You greeted mommy when she came home from work, laid next to us as we ate, and as always, you perked up and hobbled down the hallway when the tv was shut off for the night, knowing that your cushion in the bedroom was warm and inviting - it was one of your favorite places on earth.
When I woke up the next morning, you were flat on your back, your head and neck arched to brace the weight of your powerful body, your gangly legs sticking up and folded over like a reindeer in mid flight. You must have seen me stirring before I awoke, and now you feigned sleeping in that awkward position - knowing that I couldn't resist but to jump down on top of you, wrestle with your legs, bury my head into your neck, and coerce you into battle. You didn't have much battle left, but you never could resist a row, so out came the teeth and that rumbling Rottie growl. You could use your aggression in such destructive ways, ways that I secretly admired for you showed no fear in the fight, full blast in, teeth blaring - and I wish I could approach the fights in my life with such abandon. We humans so civilized, and thoughtful, and fearful of outcomes. You could swallow my body parts whole, but you only gripped down enough so that I'd know that you could never cause me that kind of pain. That playful restraint stirs a different kind of pain in me now - one of my teeth clenching and tears held back.
We brought you to Chapin on your final full day. We had to help you out of the jeep and you didn't get too far down the beach. You laid there as the tide came in - I tried to build a dam of sand to protect you from the water, but the dam washed away, though you didn't mind the cool water lapping up against you. The sand cushioned your aching joints and you were just happy to be at one of your favorite places on earth. We took pictures to remind us of the day. Your head looks slightly droopy in them, like it pained you to hold it up. But you're still smiling, ears back, that wild and playful look in your eyes.
And on your final day, we helped you into the back of the jeep, probably your favorite place on earth. You started the ride with your head out the window, your gums flapping in the breeze and spinning drool down the side of the truck. But then you limped to the back, circled, and laid down - facing forward, watching us, just happy to be there even if you weren't smelling the parade of scents that rushed by the open window.
I helped you out of the jeep and we made our way towards the vet office - probably your least favorite place on earth - not the place you wanted to be on your final day, or any other day. So you found a comfortable spot in the grass, a boulder on one side, a tree on the other, and you laid down. I couldn't coax you further with chocolate chip cookies, so we laid there as mommy went to get the vet. Once again, you comforted me through my tears, and laid your head in my lap.
The vet's needle pinch didn't phase you, but once the poison started to take hold, you seized up for a second and looked at mommy - I can't fault you for being a little afraid. And I'm so, so, so sorry. We take on the role of God when we adopt animals, and sometimes it feels like all the happy times barely add up enough to offset the sadness we feel when cancer devastates our best friend and forces us to make the hardest of decisions.
You laid your head back down on my lap for the final time. We sat with you for a little while. I held your big head and when I smelled those puppy ears of yours, I remember thinking "I hope I don't ever forget what your ears smell like." And I haven't. Haven't forgotten the puppy ear smell, the wet and coarse lick upside my head, the way you would lean into me for hugs and pats, or roll on your back for belly rubs.
When we walked away from you for the final time, you looked so at peace. Fast asleep on the green grass between a rock and a tree, the Cape Cod breeze shook the grass and lifted strands of your fur upwards. You were finally at peace, no longer struggling to hold your head up proudly through the pain. I walked away and took a mental picture and thought "I hope I don't ever forget what you looked like when you were finally at peace." And I haven't.
It's been a few months now, and I miss you at the oddest times. Like I'll be driving on Union St under the Rt 6 overpass, and I'll wait for your wet lick on the side of my ear, thanking me for the ride, and anxious to get back home to see if mommy's there. I miss you when I watch the Patriots, you getting up from your bed beside the couch and tip-toeing down to the bedroom to avoid the hoots and hollers. I miss seeing you stir when the morning alarm sounds, flipping onto your back to invite the belly rubs. Moments when we could predict each other's movements, when our intentions became one. Those are my favorite memories of you. Those are some of my favorite places on earth.