He was gone by Monday evening. He was determined to die in his own way, and it’s been understood by us all that it had to happen. It’s always inevitable, isn’t it? The way seasons come in confused rushes, the way you’re never quite nostalgic enough to move back home. He died on his bed with his family next to him, with his breathing heavy, then soft, then not at all. He panted and looked my mother right in the eyes, probably apologizing. Probably wanting her to hold him tight through it all.
My childhood dog died. His name was Charlie, he passed away of natural causes. He was fourteen and my family had him since I was nine. Three months before my brother had cancer, a year before I started middle school, a decade before I left for college. I thought he was a girl at first, so delicate and beautiful. He was bought in the rain and was scared of the thunder. He was special, different than our dog, Humphrey. He was needy and my sister would dress him up in baby doll clothes. She painted his nails. He ate a library book and a hundred dollar bill once. He had a developmental disorder where we had to baby-talk to him for years and years, so he felt safe and understood we loved him. He had a scratch under his right eye where it always cried a little. He was beautiful, strong. He was afraid of the basement and never went in there. Not even when there was a storm and the television said to go somewhere safe. He refused, that stubborn dog.
He one time starved himself to bones when we left him at a kennel, when we went to Florida for a week. We were charged $200 to fix the fence he broke trying to find us.
He one time starved himself when Humphrey died, too depressed to play ball.
He loved the snow and even when he was arthritic, he still jumped head-first into the first fall of December.
He was special, he was different. He was delicate like a girl dog. Beautiful in his own way. He was blonde, he shed a lot. He didn’t know any tricks. He was stubborn. He was perfect the way all dogs are perfect and special the way the small quirks of age make you special.
He was home to me, but he had creaks in him, too. He stumbled, he fell. He growled if you touched him when he was sleeping. He would kiss your hand, then ignore you. He couldn’t walk down steps, so they built him a ramp to go outside. He couldn’t walk up steps, so my parents moved their bedroom into the library on the first floor. Every morning, my mom would walk him around our fenced-in yard, the whole circumference so Charlie could smell and hear and remember he was still loved.
He died in his sleep, he wanted it to happen. He panted, then slowly let go. He lived for fourteen years, and it was greedy to ask for any more.
My mother called me the other day and said she was lost in the mornings, with more free time. She said she wasn’t going to get anymore dogs. She said they would move the bedroom back upstairs when it didn’t hurt so bad. She said she’s waiting for a sign that he’s happy now. I asked her what the sign would be and she said it was too soon to know. She’ll know when she sees it.
I don’t think the dreams I’ve been having are a sign that he’s happy. I keep dreaming he’s in pain, that we had to make the choice ourselves. I dream about being a senior in high school and holding onto Humphrey as we put him down. I remember crying until I threw up. And I wonder why I haven’t cried this week. Why Charlie was different. I’m waiting for a sign now, too. To know it’s okay that I haven’t cried yet. And when that sign comes, I hope this dam inside me breaks.