It begins to play in the grocery store. I pause, surrounded by produce, to wipe tears telling myself to pull it together. 6 years past, but the feelings are no duller than that day in the parking lot.
When I found out, I had just stepped out of the back of the building. I think I half-knew before she even started talking. It was simultaneously a long time coming and not the right time.
There was a couple in the car behind me. I don’t know whether they were coming or going. I just remember thinking that the way I crumpled beside my car probably made them afraid. Or uncomfortable. It was like someone knocked my knees out. And I began to weep. I stayed there for a while. The physical reaction must have made the couple run through possibilities of what could have happened. Bad car accident? Cancer? Who? Family?
Just the family dog. My mom said it was time—she had to put him down. And it was done. Her voice was pained, but she’d had a little longer to digest her grief. I, on the other hand, was a well of sadness and guilt and anger at once. I resented that I wasn’t told. I wasn’t there. Though I’d said goodbye a dozen times over the last several months, I’d never really considered that I wouldn’t have one more opportunity. I knew she was right; it wasn’t something I would ever be able to withstand. But it felt wrong. It felt almost like I’d been cheated not just out of saying goodbye but of…being an important part. Being there at the start and the end. I had been the one to beg and plead for a dog.
I ran through the many times I should have done more. More walks, more love, less scolding, less struggling, more time home. I thought of the beginning, when he was a monstrous and stubborn puppy, attacking my feet as I stepped over the gate every morning to go to school. I thought of the twilight years we’d just spent, going for walks when his legs could scarcely muster the strength to move, and his paws bled from scraping on the ground.
The level of anguish only compounded my guilt. I hadn’t even felt this upset when family had passed. My grandmother, my godmother, my godfather—nothing produced the same type of visceral reaction. And nothing else does still. I dream all the time that there was a mistake. They’d mixed something up, and he was fine, and alive and we just didn’t know until now. Or that I had been wrong all along and he was still around. In the dreams, there is always a tearful and happy reunion. In reality, there is always a tearful awakening.
When I finally got in the car to drive home, I turned the radio on to help distract. To sing along.
Do you remember when we met?
That’s the day I knew you were my pet.
I want to tell you how much I love you.
— Cayce Kiley
Cayce Kiley is just a gal who had a dog and loved him very much.