You graduate from college and get married. The two of you move to a new town and act like adults. You buy a house that is love at first sight, despite the laundry list of problems it has. You find that you love broken things. You sit in the evenings and contemplate your new life and congratulate yourself on having it all.
One day you can feel a tugging emptiness in your home.
You convince your husband that you need to fill it.
He's easy to convince.
You drive to the local pet shelter one Saturday morning with cups of warm coffee huddled in your hands. You walk down the aisles slowly, taking it all in and looking for the perfect fit. You pet dog after dog, trying hard to only fall in love with one of them. You look for the ideal balance of friendly and calm. You're looking for a companion.
You walk out with a family member.
You go for walks; try to teach him fetch. You give him a new name that seems perfect for the character in his soul. You fall in love. You congratulate yourself on choosing the best one. You come home from work to tail wagging. He just wants to be in the same room as you. A silent presence that grounds you and warms your insides.
You bring home a ten month old baby from Korea and worry about his reaction. You watch as he sniffs and nuzzles the little boy. You can see the love light up your son's eyes as he stares in awe. Their's is a love at first sight.
You listen for his toenails on the hardwood floors at night as he paces back and forth, protecting his family. You watch him watch you as you dig in your garden or play in the sandbox. You feel his sigh as he rests his chin on your knee. Your heart swells.
You pull out the vacuum for the fifth time that week. You curse the marks he leaves on the floor and the mud he tracks in from the backyard. You nudge him out of the way as he gets underfoot for the millionth time that day, and you try hard not to lose patience. You deep sigh and wonder how he can annoy you and adore you at the same time.
You decide that your family has to leave, and you have to leave him behind. You dread the idea of abandoning him because you know his soul is sensitive. You know he won't eat for days. You feel sick at the thought of saying goodbye for 2 whole years, but you find someone who will love him and take good care of him. You whisper your goodbyes in his ears and you tell him that you'll be back for him soon. You pray that he understands your words.
Your life goes on in a land far away, but your thoughts go back to him often. The first thing you do is print a photograph of him with your son and frame it so you can see it everyday. You tell your kids stories about him so that they'll remember him and love him like a brother when you return. You have another baby and wonder what he'll think when they meet. You picture him pacing the floors and waiting for your return. You hope he's happy.
Then one night you wake up to feed your newborn by the glow of your ipod. You shuffle through emails and messages, falling on one that makes your world shift. Your heart beats out of your chest as it shatters into a million pieces. You're frozen with sadness, not knowing what to do. You tell your husband, knowing that, if it's possible, he will be even sadder than you. You cry. You cry and cry. You call your mom because she's your mom and will know your sadness.
It was cancer.
You feel stupid for being so sad about losing a dog when you should be thanking God the rest of your family is so healthy. You feel stupid, but it doesn't matter, because he was more than just a dog.
You think about his final thoughts and you wish away any pain he must have felt. You try to push aside the feeling that he must think you never came back for him. You feel jealousy for the people who got to say goodbye to him before he closed his eyes. You know that it should have been you.
The next day you wake up and try to imagine a new life when you return home. You try to look at the bright side over your coffee as you remember that you don't have to come home to an empty house, because you have no house. You realize that the absence of his pacing steps at night won't feel like a silent sentence, because there are no floors to pace. You shudder between sadness and relief, knowing that he didn't suffer long and was well loved during his final days.
But you wanted it to be you.
You wanted to be the one to hold him when he said goodbye. You wanted to kiss his forehead as he shook with fear at the vet office. When he left the world. And your life.
You should have been there.
Your friend said one time that when someone chooses to bring a dog home, they are automatically choosing to have their heart broken. These creatures we choose to love will rarely outlive us - the ones that love them most.
You wish she wasn't right.
You should have been there.