“Wait, I’m actually not fine,” I told the cashier.
She looked puzzled because we had already been through the smalltalk niceties, and there’s not much I disdain more than smalltalk. She had already rung up my frozen Pad Thai, and the card machine was beeping obnoxiously trying to tell me that the transaction was complete. But in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to let overflow the emotions that were ripping up my heart.
“My dog died today,” I blurted out and immediately began to cry.
Without hesitation, the girl walked from behind the counter and gave me the most sincerest of stranger hugs I’ve ever received.
“I’m bringing him to you,” Dad told me last night. “You need to say goodbye.”
Baylie had collapsed, stopped eating, and was barely conscious when Dad contacted me. After 2 months of being denied the chance to see my dog, a miracle happened. Dad, my patron saint, had been my spokesperson for weeks, patiently petitioning that I get to see my Baylie. Punishing me from seeing my dog because I am gay was one of the cruelest things ever done to me. Whether the circumstance was outright demand on my dad’s part or a momentary lapse of bitterness on my mother’s, I had no idea. All I knew was that I was finally getting to see my dog— and I was both elated and heartsick that it had reached this point.
It was nearly 10pm when Dad got to town last night. My heart raced as I walked toward the car to see Baylie. I scooped him out of the car and into my arms. He was limp, and his head flopped onto my chest. He didn’t even have the strength to move or look at me. His furry feet stuck up in the air like a stranded bug. We always called his fuzzy feet his “house shoes.” I felt the bones of his spine poking through his thick hair, so I cradled him softly in his blanket. I was so excited to see him. I wanted to show him everything. We walked down by the river so I could show him my new home. When I tried to stand him up on the ground, his legs buckled and he slumped head first into the grass. I felt nauseous seeing him that way, but I brushed it off fearing that I’d become too hysterical if I dwelled on it. “Oh you don’t feel like walking around do you buddy?” I said, knowing full well that the young, spry Baylie despised being held. He would kick and fuss like a jackrabbit to be out of the cuddling clutches of even me. So that night, when he rested what bodyweight he had left onto my chest, I knew. He was dying right in front of me. He was telling me, “I’m tired. I’m so, so tired. I can’t fight anymore.”
But I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted to bury my head in his fur and sob and apologize and be angry at all that had happened. I wanted to say Don’t leave me— not now. Don’t do this. But I didn’t. I didn’t want Baylie to see my cry.
We walked inside, and we sat together on the floor. “I’ve heard you haven’t been hungry,” I said, in denial again that refusal-to-eat was a telling sign. “Let’s get some cheese— you’re favorite!” I held a small block of cheese in front of his nose. He nibbled a bit, then his head fell limp to the side. “You’re probably just thirsty,” I say and let him take a few sips from his water bowl. A few minutes pass, and I try to memorize his sweet face, the texture of his fur, and the last echoes personality in his tired, foggy eyes.
“He seems to have perked up since he’s been around you,” Dad said. Though it might have been just consolation, it put a little brightness into my aching chest nonetheless.
And then the moment I dreaded. “We need to head back to Alabama sweetheart,” Dad said. “Tell him goodbye.”
No, no, no.
I placed Baylie back into the carseat and adjusted his weak and contorted neck into a comfortable spot. I put my hand his chest to feel his struggling heartbeat one more time.
“Well dear,” Dad said. . .
No, no, no. Baylie doesn’t know yet. Baylie doesn’t know what he means to me. Sure, I’m not the first one who has lost a pet, but this time it’s different, I tell myself. Baylie didn’t know that before him, I’d had another puppy for 9 months, but because of Mom’s anxiety and the excessive dog hair, they took him away. Baylie didn’t know that I clutched tight to him everyday hoping this one could stay. Baylie didn’t know that he was my solace on scary days. Baylie didn’t know that he had made my dreams of being an National Agility Competitor come true. Baylie didn’t know that I loved hanging out with him more than humans when I was an adolescent. He didn’t know that my worrisome, troublesome heart had dreaded this day of goodbye since the day we picked him from a litter of two. Baylie didn’t know.
So I just held his frail and fading face in my hands and said nothing. I shut the car door, and my dad drove away. That was that. The invisible tie that held me & my little buddy together all these years was slowly becoming untethered, and I felt like I might fall apart.
My dog died today. He died quietly this morning in Alabama on the way to the vet. I wonder what he was thinking as he slipped away. I don’t think dogs sense the emotions we project onto them— those of our own regret, guilt, and pain. Those human responses are too simple for a dog’s depth of feeling.
Part of me thinks Baylie held on until he got to see me. Part of me hopes that he felt my love as I held his gray, worn face even though I couldn’t speak. I think he did. Because that’s what dogs do; they make us feel completely loved & totally understood.
I’ll see you soon, my sweet friend. There won’t be another like you.