Friday, January 18, 2013

Skye

Sorry for the absence of comedy, you'll just have to deal with it

I chose her, sort of. I remember walking down the cement stairs with my dad and sister, down through the dank basement to the corner that was cordoned off by the puppy fence. The little yellow lab puppies were running everywhere, tearing newspapers apart and being generally rambunctious. They were beautiful, adorable... how were we supposed to pick one to take home? I wanted to take them all home.

Then, emerging from puppy chaos, she slowly wobbled up to me on her little puppy legs. I crouched down to say hello. It was done... she was mine.

Skye was a crazy girl. Our previous dog, Flint, had been trained so perfectly. Flint was a total spartan - always followed commands, always down for a solid, wholesome game of catch. Skye was not that. I think this may be in part due to the fact that while my father trained Flint, my family asked a twelve-year old boy (um: me) to take Skye to doggy training. I was not a) good at dog training or b) particularly interested in dog training, so while I could sort of blame myself for Skye's shoddy training, I think she just had a natural crazy streak in her. It was who she was - she was way too excitable, way too curious to be bogged down or tamed by instructions or orders. She had that glint in her eye.

It also helped that she was pretty freakin' cute.

Her energy never stopped being puppy-like. Growing up - and then again when I eventually came back home - I would walk Skye every day. It was good bonding time for us, but also it was an excuse for me to get a little exercise (for once). And honestly, year after year while walking her, people would stop me and ask, "how old is your puppy?" I'd laugh and tell them: 8, 9, 10... it happened even just a couple months ago - because her energy was boundless. She was so curious... even while walking the same trail we walked every day for years, she still found new and exciting things to smell. When one of the family would enter the house, she was immediately at the door, making that dog-crying squeaking noise with excitement*. "I know, I know" I'd say, petting her head. The squeaking would continue. "It's okay. Calm down." She'd make that same excited squeaking whenever I said her favorite phrase to her - "youwannagoforawalk?" - and then she'd start running around in circles because she could barely contain herself.

*This led my mom to start affectionately calling her "Squeaky Fromme" in a singsongy voice, which I never stopped finding creepy. 

Anyone in the neighborhood would be able to tell you she had energy - because she would bark like a madwoman whenever anyone walked by our house. She never bit anyone in her whole life, and she was actually kind of a big softy when push came to shove - she was a big fraidy cat, scared of most other animals -  but if someone was on our property, her bark was loud. So I always felt awful when a terrified delivery man would be standing in our driveway white-faced or trembling as a harmless labrador barked like she was a doberman.* "Sorry, she's really actually very sweet" I'd say as I dragged her inside.

*Someone I DIDN'T feel bad for was a ridiculously bitchy mother walking her children home from school who shouted at a high-school aged me, "Why don't you keep Cujo inside the house?" in an INCREDIBLY smarmy tone. It was not genuine concern - it was rude. Had I not been SO stunned by a grown woman acting like such a childish brat - I stood, aghast - I honestly would have given her the finger, or just been like, "Go fuck yourself!" which is pretty extreme for me, especially as a high-schooler speaking to an adult. But she was SO exceptionally and unnecessarily rude.

That was another thing about the lack of training: she never listened to me. When distracted by a person, another dog, a car, or anything that required barking at, I would shout her name over and over, but she never came running. She was single-minded in protecting the house. So I looked like a hapless child waving a piece of cheese around to get her to come inside. See, we caved. A treat brought her inside, and it became the routine. She wasn't stupid, that girl. I should note, however, that she was trained in some aspects: she brought my dad the paper every single morning, without fail, rain or shine.

So while her loudness aided in her reputation as crazy, the reputation came mostly from my early diagnosis that Skye was bi-polar. She vacillated so strongly and severely between SO EXCITED SO HAPPY WANT TO PLAY WANT TO KISS YOU I LOVE YOU to I'm sad I'm just gonna make my big sad eyes at you and slowly walk over to the corner. "I know", I'd say in a faux-pouty voice, "being a dog is a rough gig, I know." She was usually in one of those two moods, our little bi-polar girl.

But I understood her. I got her. I kind of find myself in those two settings too - laughing happy or super depressed - and maybe that makes us even more of soul siblings. We were both crazy. And we took care of each other. I'd rub her belly and behind her ears (her favorite spots) until she made that low, rumbly noise of content that's as close to a dog purring as I've ever heard. And plenty of times if I was sad or crying she'd come up to me and start licking my face. Once when I was full-on snotty ugly-crying - don't remember why - I looked at Skye and said, "you love me, right Skye?" and she proceeded to give me a tongue bath. She loved me. She knew what I needed. And I loved her right back.

I'd like to think we had a special relationship - when I left for college, I'd hoped she would miss me, at the very least because I was the boy who took her on walks. The first time I came home from college after being away, she ran around and squeaked crazier and louder than ever before. I knew she'd missed me. I'd missed her too. When I would come in from the city on the train and my mom would pick me up, Skye's head would be hanging out the car window. And many feet away, she'd see me coming in the distance and start freaking out. I was so touched that she recognized me.

When we found out she was sick, it was upsetting. She had been tired and scarily thin lately, and our walks had taken more out of her, I could tell. It was so frustrating because I could tell she was looking at me like, "I wanna go! I'm so excited! It's my dumb body that's being lame here." It wasn't fair. She could've lived for ten more years if longevity was determined by sharpness of mind, because she was still as present as ever. But despite the cancer diagnosis, she bounced back. The medications were working, she gained back a healthy amount of weight - like a phoenix, she was coming back for round two, our little fighter. Five months went by, good as new.

So when my mother texted me that I should probably come home and see her, I knew it had to be bad. I left straight from work to the train station - I didn't stop at the apartment to get anything. I went out to the suburbs, and when I got home, she wasn't at the door to greet me. This was odd. I found her laying in the dining room. Her energy was gone - she was tapped. I said hi and gave her some love - her tail wagged slowly a little bit, so I think she knew it was me. She tried to get up but she couldn't stand... to say this broke my heart would be an incredible understatement. She could barely move, so my mom and I fed her cheeseburger and then I grabbed my pillow and some blankets and laid with her there on the hardwood floor. I said some important stuff to her. She licked me a little. The next morning I got up early to take the train back to work in the city, and I kissed her and said goodbye. My parents told me they were going to take her the next day to get put to sleep, and as much as I wanted to hold on to her forever I knew it was the right thing to do... I mean, this wasn't the dog we knew. Her little legs couldn't even hold her up anymore. It wasn't right. And as horrible as that was, I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that this was only the last couple days that were so bad for her, and that 99% of her life was the good stuff. I'm not going to think of her being sick when I think of her - I'm going to think of the way her ears perked back and she cocked her head to the side when you said her name.

Besides, it turns out putting her to sleep wasn't even an issue, because that same day - the day I said goodbye to her and kissed her on her head - she passed away on her own. I don't know if the fact that it was the same day I said goodbye is a coincidence or not, but I'm just grateful I got to tell her how much I loved her and how thankful I was for everything she gave me.

And now I'm really sad. I'm just really sad.

If my memory is correct, to say "I chose her" is inaccurate. Because it was her who wandered out from the puppy parade and introduced herself to me. She made the choice.

I wonder if she saw that chubby little kid walk into her pen and thought, "He's mine. He's going to be my boy." I wonder if she could have known how much love and how much joy she would bring to him. How much better and more beautiful she'd make his little life. And how fiercely he would love her. He would love her so, so much.

I mean, probably not I guess. Puppies probably have no way of knowing that stuff.

But maybe they do.



2 comments:

  1. Oh, Alex. This made me cry! What a beautiful testament to a wonderful dog, and friend. She certainly was one of a kind, and I will miss her. She had a fabulous life with your terrific family. She couldn't ask for anything more than that. I'm glad you were able to spend some time with her on her last day.

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    1. Thanks Moe- we were really lucky to have her.

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