After all, if growing up is war, then the friends who grew up with you deserve a special respect. The ones who stuck by you shoulder to shoulder, in a time when nothing was certain, all life lay ahead, and every road led home. – Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years
To a dearest and beautiful friend.
What’s hard, amongst other things, is that we were there when you were born. We were even there when your mother was a baby; I am almost 28 years old and I still remember her being placed into the joined arms of my Laura and I, there on the concrete steps of a farmhouse that exists now only in memories that remember the world being much, much bigger. We loved her as much as we loved anything. We loved her because she was there at the beginning and end of every day, unflappable, quiet and loving of all of us with an unconditionalness that would put most of humanity to shame. We loved her so much, with so much of our hearts, sometimes it felt like there was none left to give anyone outside our universe. When she died…when I had to tell Mum, when Dad pulled on his boots and walked out into the black night and driving rain to carry her home, broken, in his arms and bury her out there in the darkness with mum by his side, both of them weeping for her…when I had to hold my tongue and not tell my sister, who had received her and loved her as much as I had for so many years, until we got home from school and all she could say goodbye to was a pile of grey stones under the jack knifing pine at the furthest end of the yard…when we lost her, part of us died too.
But then we had you, didn’t we. We never held on to any of her others, but you were special. You were ‘that one we kept’. I watched how you grew and loved and cherished our family, most of all Laura. I watched you and my Oz become like two peas in a pod, wandering off constantly on adventures – first with your mum, then just the two of you – and so often accompanying us on ours. I remember all the fun stuff we used to get up to when it was the four of us, both of you, me and Laura. Rotten egg fights up the back of the house up in the scrub. Chasing cows for no apparent reason, or for very apparent reasons when we were mustering and you felt the need to just cut the skittish herd in half by bounding up to see us and driving dad mad, even though he always forgave you in about a millisecond. Swimming in the gravel pit dam or playing with the kids in the back yard, when fun and laughter didn’t need video games or tv – just a hot day, a sprinkler, a trampoline and some lemonade ice-blocks. We were just a bunch of Australian kids and their dogs in the sun, and it was paradise.
But kids grow up. You did, we did. Eight became eleven, eleven became sixteen, sixteen became eighteen, then before we knew it our paradise was a memory.
We left the farm with it’s rusted front gate and cattle yards made from railway sleepers and iron. We had to say goodbye to the alley of jacaranda trees, and the horse yards and the crepe myrtles behind the chicken yard. We had to leave the stones over where we buried your mother behind, our first and beautiful friend. Not being near her anymore is one of things that still hurts most for me, I think. I think of everything I left behind in that place; but your mother is the one it hurts most to be separated from.
Fast forward. We’re grown ups, all of us. It’s so easy to forget that you age at seven times the rate we do. When we were babies, we were babies together. But when we are in the prime of our lives, you are already in the twilight of yours: that’s never felt as cruel as it has with you, and Oz, and your mum.
The two of you – you and Oz – were best friends. You were a matching set. Knowing you were there waiting for us gave Laura and I as much joy as there was anticipation as we’d prepare to trek home from the city; we were a matching set then too. We loved you so much and we missed you like crazy, and we would wait as long as it took until we saw you both at the back door, smiling at us like all your Christmases had come at once. You looked at us with faces that said ‘I know everything and I don’t care, because I am your friend and I love you’. You saw us on days we didn’t feel like good people at all, with eyes rubbed raw with crying, or with angry hearts…when we felt wronged, or broken somehow…sometimes when you looked at us, our hearts glowed. As though for months we’d been empty fireplaces put out by the city. But we came home, and side by side with the rest of our family – our amazing, loving, mad, wonderful family – we had a kind of completeness, and a still tangible link to the life we’d left behind.
What it did to you when he died…did it break your heart the way a human heart breaks, when you knew he wasn’t coming home? In my heart, that’s what I believe. We were family. We lost one of our own. You lost your best friend. He looked at me, you know. On that last day. It wasn’t…permission – that’s the wrong word. But as we sat there, surrounded by winter and a fog refusing to lift, as my heart ripped inside my chest for the life I was about to let someone take, he looked up, and there was this expression on his face. It wasn’t sad, or angry…he wasn’t all the things maybe I thought he should have been with me because of what I was about to do. He was so tired. He was exhausted of everything but the love he had for me. In that moment, he wasn’t my dog. I was his girl, and he was telling me it was okay. That was half an hour before he died. Ian was there with me, and Lynne. I was glad Ian was there. He was living proof that you could do what I was about to do and not curl into a ball and forget the world. I would have to do that. How could I do that. How could I end the life of my friend who’d done nothing but love me since I was 12 years old.
But this is love. That’s what I told myself as we crossed that marbled linoleum floor, as I said no to the unfeeling steel table and slumped to the floor with his exhausted black body in my arms like I was about to die there with him. And I realised, as much as it hurt, that it needed to be me. The last sound in his ears…I wanted it to be me, telling him how much I loved him. I held him so close to my heart, I clutched his whole body up in my arms like my own life depended on it.
“You need to have said goodbye,” the vet said. He was so kind, but that’s not something I remembered until a long time later. “Once it’s done, there will be no time.” Our life together whipped through my head like a flash fire. No time. How after everything can there be no time. I hated death in that moment more that I have ever hated death in my life. I hated that the most loving thing I could do for him was to end his life with a needle on a linoleum floor surrounded by walls that must have seen this exact scene hundreds of times. I remember nodding my head. I remember weeping uncontrolably and treasuring every last breath in his lungs like they were my own. It was fast as a lightning strike, but not fast enough that I didn’t feel him leave me. He was there, and then he wasn’t…just a lifeless body where my friend used to be. And I grieved. It shredded me from the inside out like a drunk swinging against my insides with a broken bottle. Every second, every minute that passed he got further away from me.
Every second, every day I still live, until the day I die means being further and further away from him, alive.
But God is good. It’s been three years since I buried him beneath the cherry blossoms out the front of the house. The memories aren’t all shrouded the way they were now; nothing in my heart that remembers him still sits under a black veil of mourning. They’re out again, in the sun where they should be.
And then, just over a week ago, you and Laura had your own goodbye. You went to be with him; as much as I grieve you, as much as there’s pain and sorrow for the brown and white puppy my sister loved since the moment she first held her in her arms, I can’t help but think that maybe somewhere he isn’t lonely anymore. That you’re with him, and that you’re both okay now. She was in so much pain, Bess. She loved you so much, even if she had every word available for someone to speak that had ever been spoken, she’d never be able to describe what she feels, what she felt. I only know, because I have been those places.
As a human, when you have words, when it’s someone you love in pain you feel it as keenly as if it were your own. You were gone. Words seemed so feeble when she cried, but I wanted her to know that I understood, because sometimes humans just need someone to understand. You weren’t an animal. You were a human with fur. Just like your mother. Just like Oz. You were our friend, our confidant, our companion, our girl. But God was good. I knew I spoke the truth with authority when she looked at me.
You looked at us and loved us at our best and at our worst. You were there when we were kids without a care in the world, and you were there when we were women who sometimes felt the world on their shoulders. You loved us without condition, or agenda. I told her that you spent your whole lives with the sole purpose of being our best friends, whatever that meant. So when the time came to love you as you loved us, whatever that meant – even if it meant giving up seeing your beautiful face at the door when we came home – we owed you that much to give you what you needed. In the end that was peace, and rest. To love you as you loved us.
I cry as I write this, knowing you won’t be there in a few weeks when we go home. It won’t be right, because death isn’t right. It never has been.
But I cry because I grieve. And I grieve – we grieve – because we love.
I love you baby girl. In my heart you will be with your best friend somewhere in heaven right now, hovvering at a back door with your tails wagging and faces bright.
Still waiting for us to come home :)