The eve of our annual Sandbridge trip, our first without Cha. Last year, Cha was still here, although degenerative myelopathy had taken its toll and we knew she was literally on her last legs, but my girl had will, such strength and sense of purpose and plain desire to never let me out of her sight even if it meant that if I was out of the room, she barked so that I would return. And I always did. I didn’t take many vacations without her. If I was near, she was near. Even now, ten months after her passing I have this sense that she is not far. How could she be?
I had her from a puppy. She came on an airplane from Massachusetts, such an amazing extravagance. She looked bedraggled, besieged, and perhaps a tad disappointed, covered in vomit and poo and urine. She looked a bit like she
would never be happy again.
The first night she wailed and carried on. The second night too. In fact, for many nights. She hated the crate initially, although it soon became her place of comfort.
She was just three months the first time we went to Sandbridge. We rented an SUV and put the crate in and put her in the crate. Oh, it was the most horrible experience. She barked frantically until I took her out and she settled down or, more truthfully, settled into a place where she could see and rule the world.
When we let her loose on the beach, she ran. She loved it. She barked at the ocean as if she could make it quiet. She chased the seagulls into flight. She weaved herself into the waves and jumped and licked, her brown eyes fervently bright, her tail a metronome on caffeine.
For fourteen years we lived those summers over and over and then age took over and disease and neither of our wills could persevere.
The last visit she sat on the sand and looked out at the ocean. I think she would have loved to ride the waves again, bark at the roar. She was over sixteen, battling kidney failure and neurological deficits.
There are many things in life that are hard, I mean, really hard. It’s making true life and death decisions. Creating a will. Burying your parents. Letting go of institutions that have kept you grounded. Recognizing you must let go of dreams of children or such things that others take for granted. Losing the dog that you held as a puppy and house trained and obedience trained and who obedience trained you and taught you how to love with a completely open heart. Yes, she was your surrogate daughter, all fifty some pounds that you nearly lost a decade earlier to some parasite. She who was there to jostle your elbow with her cold nose to remind you time and time again that you were never alone, that she was there. She who barked at you, razzed you because, just because, you did something that she didn’t think was quite so. So much love you had for her. I had for her. My shadow, Cha.
I wish I believed in heaven and rainbow bridge and that someday I would see my girl’s face, her joyful eyes and her lamb-like skip. I have a video, which I watch, and which reminds me that she, the life force to contend with all life forces, has somehow passed beyond me and I am left with hope and longing.
On our last drive to Sandbridge, she couldn’t quite get comfortable, although the vet assured me that this disease left her in no pain. It had been her way to snuggle herself between the driver’s and passenger’s seats and lie down, but she could no longer manipulate her body. Her wails were like her puppy wails and we had come full-circle, but this time there would be no running on the beach. We were visiting for the last time and we all knew it.
I have no profound thoughts to end this. I had a beautiful shadow, an English Shepherd who taught me much about living and loving and being loved, who was a boss in a dog suit, who I gave my heart to, and who I cry for on rainy days and sunny days and who will stay with me even when I am old and gray and can no longer cavort in the ocean but must sit in the sand as she once did and maybe in some realm she will be there with me and we will watch the breaking waves turn white and undulate and I will feel the warmth and think it is the sun, but it will be her shaggy-coated self leaning into me.