Have you ever had someone… something… enter your life so seamlessly it’s hard to remember a day without them in it. Someone or something that increased your own capacity to love?
Charlie came into my life as unexpectedly as most furry friends do. Our Junior year, my college roommate was picking up a little friend for her furr ball when the lady offered Charlie to me, essentially for free. He was tiny, white, fluffy and sweet. I’m a girl that’s typically pretty calculated in making life altering decisions (which according to my mom at the time, adopting a puppy most certainly was), but gave in and brought him home.Looking back, it probably wasn’t my wisest moment, but that’s where you have to grab the cliché by the horns (throw another one in for good measure) and just own up to the fact that sometimes things really do happen for a reason.
About a month ago Charlie started acted funny, I took him in for tests only to receive the call as I’m walking into work on a Friday morning that Charlie’s results weren’t good and that he only had limited time left with us. I walked through the revolving door of my office building, rode the elevator and managed to turn on my computer before the tears started dropping down my face. I broke down in the middle in the kitchen, awkward hugged my boss and left for the day when I was one breath short of a sob.
The next three weeks were packed with every activity that I could think of to make Charlie’s last days as good as possible. Trips to the park, walks after dark, morning swims in his little pool, snuggles during movies and as many kisses as a little dog can possibly take. His appetite waned as the days went on and we tried every protein-less option there ever was – raspberries, wheat thins, applesauce, pumpkin, green beans, french toast bagel, pizza crust, spaghetti… the list goes on. There were days he’d eat 10-15 bites with it dropping down to none at all by the end.
His belly began to protrude – like the images of starving children we see in so many charity commercials. But he fought. Most everyone thought he only had a few days, but he didn’t like that idea and hung on for three weeks before we took him in. Each night he snuggled close, under blankets and right up against us. Even though it was September, his weight loss made him shiver all the time. He religiously wore his favorite “Team Captain” shirt and winter jacket throughout the days to stay warm and did his best to just keep on going.
During his last days, we knew he wouldn’t be with us much longer. His bones were sticking out, he no longer got up to greet us, he wasn’t eating, he shook all the time. It was hard to watch, but, for me, even harder to know that it was me that was going have to put it to an end. The night before we took him to the vet, I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to lay with him, hold him and love him. How do you go to bed knowing it’s the last time you’ll say goodnight, the last time you’ll get up together in the morning.
Before we took him in I wanted to give him a big treat, something my family has joked about since his diagnosis and protein-free diet for life. I tried bacon, cheese, peanut butter… he wanted none of it. My heart broke. And, it repeated to break as we got in the car, drove to the vet and walked in.
Charlie was a rare dog. He always wanted to be where you were, whether it was folding laundry with me in the basement or sitting on Christian’s lap any chance he could get (including directly after taking a swim in the backyard). He’d kill the stuffed squeaky animals we brought home in a matter of days – slowly and meticulously removing the squeaker. He dismantled his favorite toy of all – mini squeaky tennis balls – with the same fervor… kill the squeaker, remove all the fuzz, shred the rubber. It wasn’t uncommon to walk into our house to see a pile of shredded tennis ball on the carpet, or an array of tennis ball fuzz in varying colors strewn about haphazardly.
Going for walks, sans leash were his absolute finest athletic moments. Running, peeing, racing to catch back up and squirrel jumping off any ledge he could find. He may have been sick most of his life, but that never held him back from doing the things that made him happy.
I think that Charlie was put in my life for a purpose. That purpose may not fully be known, but I can tell you that he and I got through a lot together… Break-ups, my Dad’s ongoing health issues, friendship ends, graduation, moving (cough, 12 times), an appendectomy for me and a liver surgery for him… on any given day he’d patiently lay next to me while I cried about this or that, or get excited when something went right, barking and running as I laughed and cheered.
Some people may say that it was time, he fought the good fight, he was sick, it’s a miracle that he lived this long, I gave him longer than anyone else would have. And, those things are mostly all true. But, it doesn’t take the sting out of losing my baby. It doesn’t take the regret out of being the one to carry him into the vet and make the hard decision. It doesn’t take the remorse from my heart or the images from my mind.
I never realized, until he was gone how many routines, thoughts and daily practices were wrapped up in him. Each time I get out of bed, I expect to have him greet me at my feet. Each time I pull into the driveway I have to resist the urge to run into the house and smother him with love. Each time I step outside I know I’ll only have memories of all the fun we had playing ball, going for dog swims and just sitting in the yard. The house feels empty now, though only 8 lbs. are missing. It’s as if a piece of our home and a piece of our family have disappeared.
I miss the way he sat at my feet while I cooked dinner, the way he never once wasn’t excited to see me, the way he loved to wear clothes and would sit next to me while I picked out his shirt for the day. I miss the way he just sat on my lap — half asleep, half awake — just enjoying being with me.
There isn’t a tribute, post, story, eulogy or book long enough or detailed enough to explain how much I loved him, how much he meant to me or how much I’ll miss him everyday. But, I have to hope he knew each of those things and that we’ll be reunited someday.I’ll never be able to forget all the joy, solace and love that he brought to my life, and I’ll never stop wishing he were here instead of there…