The room was well lit but dark at the same time. Perhaps that is my memory creating tunnel vision. Because all I remember is seeing you. You shone whiter than all the others. You snuffled around on the outskirts, waddling a little from your baby fat. My little feet took off, as I chased you around. My dad groaned, for it appears as though I had made my choice and of course I had picked the whitest, fattest one, when all the others were mottled with liver and already starting to slim. But I didn't care because I was three and you were mine now.
I named you Reckless. It was the name of the dog on the Waltons, and the Waltons were the family I thought mine was like. And I loved you instantly.
Most of our memories blur together, those eight years cognitively distant for me as I grew from 4 to 13. But I remember so many little things about you and what we were together.
Sitting on the floor with you because you were a good boy who didn't get on the furniture, even when I cajoled.
Stroking the liver-coloured spot on your head, which trailed to a dimple behind your ears.
Scratching your chin whenever you lifted your head up.
Canoeing for what felt like our whole lives, with you swimming tirelessly beside us.
Chasing you in the yard whenever we played outside. I never knew if you liked that or not, but you let us do it.
Bathing you after a furious day of hunting, which you did so well. Dad always said you were one of the best he'd ever seen, despite your white, chubby start to life.
Worrying about you when you had throat surgery to clear a blockage, and for months being scared to touch your chin for fear of hurting you.
I remember all of that. But there are two moments that stand out to me so starkly, as if I was still living them.
The Night I Cried
It had been a long day for you already, and then we went and threw a party. I was sent to my room for bedtime criminally early. I felt so grown up at 10, and positively hated being sent to my room like a child when I wasn't tired and wanted to participate in the grown-up talk.
You slid through the small crack in my door, and watched me. I could see you through my glassy tears, and I know you could see my slim shoulders shaking under my blankets. I knew you must have been tired, that normally after a day of hunting you would go and sleep as much as you could.
But you were here. And for the only time in my memory... you put your paw on the lip of bed. I held it tightly, all the tears rushing out in a quick flood before quieting.
And you didn't move. You just let me hold your paw. After a while, I let it go, and you circled the floor three times before laying down with your legs stretched to the side.
I grabbed my pillow and my blanket and slid out of my bed. I tucked the pillow under your head and spread the blanket over both of us. You let me curl into your back. We never moved, save for the slow steadying breaths we took.
I don't know how long you stayed—perhaps until the party was over. I woke up in my bed, and you were in your kennel. I think Dad must have come and gotten you, worried when you weren't in your usual place.
I never talked about it with anyone.
The Day You Died
I hate hunting. But something about that day made me agree to go along. Just dad, brother, sister, and dog taking an extended nature walk that we all had to licensed for. You always looked so happy to run and hunt. You jumped and sprang wildly, even though you had just had your eighth birthday. To this day I am grateful I said yes to that hunt, so that I can remember you that way.
It wasn't until the next day that we noticed your stiff neck. You had trouble raising it, and yelped when you tried. And you tried so hard. We agreed that we would take you to the vet first thing the next morning.
By the next morning, you were lying prostrate on the floor, unable to do more than wag your tail. The vet told us it was an embolism—you were paralyzed for life and in pain. So we had to say goodbyes that were entirely too early.
My dad was glassy eyed and silent. My brother hovered in his room, unsure whether or not it was okay to cry. My stepmom wept.
I knelt next to you, my throat raw with the tears I was still crying. I slowly stroked the liver-coloured spot on your head, letting my fingers rest on the dimple behind your ears.
I kissed your face and told you I loved you. You wagged your tail. And you looked me directly in the eye.
You are the only pet I have ever had to look me directly in the eye. More than eye contact. It was that unspoken understanding that only comes when you look deeply at someone you love. And I closed my eyes and bit back my howl of misery because I knew it would scare all of us, even me. And that I could count on one hand the individuals who looked at me like that.
My mom took my brother and I back to her home, where our two cats did not leave our side for several days. They were a great comfort to me, especially at night when I awoke in tears.
You're buried in the yard you played in almost your whole life.
Nine Years Have Passed...
I never thanked you. I hope you could see it in my eyes. I hope you knew each and every day, through their divorce and the constantly changing schedule and the limited time we had together, that I loved you more than until now I have ever been able to explain. Because you were a friend who saw me. And I will always see you.