Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
I have a ratty, old blue polyester dog collar that I can never bring myself to throw away. Though it may be in a box in my closet, I always notice it at least once a year when I am doing spring-cleaning; his name is still attached. It belonged to my best friend for as long as I knew him, up until the moment he died. He actually was a friend to anyone who would pet him, but he lived with me, so I fancied him as my best friend. My oldest brother felt much the same way about him and sometimes I wonder if my brother and I would have been as close if he had never been there. My eldest brother was a budding guitarist through most of my childhood. Our dog was thankfully tone deaf, so alone I endured the often off-key notes while spending my time with the both of them. One day, my brother actually became good, but I don't think he or the dog ever noticed.
The dog was older than I, and it showed. He always had some white to him, but this was more or less a distinguishing mark than actual "gray hairs." His eyes were old but clear, and though he was a dog, he kept himself clean. It was the way he held himself that I remember. He was too proud to chase after cats when I began to notice his presence, and it took an extra annoyance to get a rise out of him. He was sagacious, sometimes leading me away from a rotten plank of wood when I would have stupidly run over it. He knew that hurting ducks wasn't right, but watching them while overlooking our pond was fine. He also had the good sense in his head not to eat my certain cooking whenever it was offered--something I still can't figure out how to avoid.
I was turning ten years old when he began becoming feeble. Blue jays would dive-bomb him from a nearby tree trunk, and he'd yawn instead of taking his usual initiative to shoo them off. He couldn't walk up the stairs anymore either; his legs would wobble beneath him, threatening to crack in two when he attempted the stairs. I think age humiliated him. He never whimpered, but he sagged when he looked up the stairs towards where his room once was, and though he was always gentle, he forced us away harshly if we tried to help him up there. His eyes pleaded that he could do it, but just maybe tomorrow because he was tired today. It wasn't him, but time that was the enemy.
My family loved him though, at least my eldest brother, my father, and I. We would do what we could to ease the pain for an old man who had always been good to us. These acts were never substantial, but you could see he appreciated them. We moved his favorite pillow downstairs so that he could sleep a little easier at night Ð he always hated to sleep alone, but we didn't have bedrooms downstairs. I was supposed to go to bed at 9:30, but my parents looked the other way once in a while if I fell asleep next to him in the living room at night because that way he seemed happier in the morning. My brother also would sit outside, even in the cold months, a little longer, so our dog could feel comforted that he wasn't being abandoned. It snowed in Tennessee, and we were all afraid that the bite of winter might be too much for him to endure.
It was the summer after that he died. My mother and I took him to a good doctor to see what could be done. He was suffering from cancer and tumors and atrophied muscles, things that money and surgery could alleviate, but not repair. I wanted him to stay alive. I wanted him to stay. To hell with familiarity, he was my friend and my family member; I loved him.
My brother, who was a man at the time, quieted me down when I called from the doctor's office. Things like this happen, and holding on would be cruel, he said. If I was to learn to become truly human, I needed to know mercy. My love for him should make me want the pain to stop, not just abate.
An hour or two eternities later, my brother joined us, and we three gathered around him. I can't remember now who took off his collar, but I do recall his death. I have heard that the moment you realize how material a thing death is, you are an adult. He was visibly in pain, but his expression was one of happiness because some of his favorite people were around him -- I still hope that I can be a good enough person to put aside my suffering when I see those I love when my time comes.
Moments later, he was warm but his eyes were glossed over with death. I have observed death two times since, and there is always a nullifying feeling that spreads the moment it occurs, as if the air itself pauses to say goodbye. It overcame me, and I ran out crying; I didn't stop crying until the next morning.
Legally, a person could say that an animal is your possession; some people really think that the collar I own is the same as Brewster. I always figured that an animal has just as much a soul as some jerk who'd say that anyway. I don't know many people who have taught me humility, or who made me understand that what makes me feel good inside may not be doing right by someone else. Keeping his collar makes me keep that and keep him.
Sometimes possessions let us have that. Even if I only see him yearly when I am throwing away a few old school papers and magazines, it helps to remember what an old dog has taught me, something I will never lose.