We had a deal.
You broke it.
The fine print CLEARLY stated that you had to live forever- or at least until your 14th birthday, because I was planning an epic peanut butter and banana cake (your favorite).
I reminded you of this as I stood in the shower with you yesterday morning, swaying and singing to you in an attempt to ease the latest attack of spinal arthritis that was tearing through your body.
I reminded you again as I washed, massaged, and fluffed your little silver and black fur until you smelled like cactus water and coconut instead of the mess in which you had once again woken up.
I reminded you again last night as you lay in my arms in the emergency room, shaking as though you were freezing even though your forehead was burning up.
I told you we needed you to cheer with us through one more Superbowl; to cuddle with us through one more This Is Us; to hop under the table during one more meal, waiting for me to “accidentally” drop food in front of your little nose.
I told you I couldn’t get through sad movies without you in my arms; cold nights without you curled against my stomach; or showers without you relaxing on the bath mat.
But as I told you, I saw your eyes searching through mine. I saw those eyes plead with me to let you out of your contract.
So as much as it killed me (I’m a rule follower- you know that, Rocco)…I did.
I kissed your nose, nuzzled your ears, and stroked your paws, and I whispered, “It’s ok. You can break the deal.”
I thanked you- thanked you for getting us through almost 14 years of life; for protecting me during 2 pregnancies; for becoming my children’s first friend; and for consoling me during the greatest losses of my life (until this).
I told you that you’d be taking a nap, and you’d awake to a nice, leash-free life, bouncing from cloud to cloud, enjoying unlimited treats and walks. No more pain, no more shaking, no more goobies in your eyes (you always hated when I cleaned them), and best of all, no more nail clipping- ever. You seemed to like that one, because as soon as I said it, you, who never kissed, happily licked my face.
While I gently told you about your new life, you rested your head on my shoulder and gazed at me.
While the doctor approached, I lifted your tiny bearded chin and whispered, “Ok, you know what to do. As soon as you get there, look for my grandmother- she has the meatballs. I love you.”
And then your head was back on my chest.
And then you were gone.
And then I changed my mind.
I wasn’t ready- you were clearly ready, but I wasn’t, and that’s just not fair, Rocco.
I wasn’t ready to smell your soft, French toast-scented ears (I have no idea why, they just were) one last time.
I wasn’t ready to kiss your nose and run my hands along your just-bathed fur one last time.
I wasn’t ready to look back at your peaceful body one last time as Pat gently led me out of the room.
And you know what, Rocco? There’s a lot of other stuff I wasn’t ready for either- you didn’t consider any of it!
You didn’t consider that I’d wake up and wait to see your head pop up out of your bed, and instead find the space where your bed used to be.
You didn’t consider that I’d get up and start to say, out of habit, “Morning my little moo, give Mommy 2 minutes to get dressed and we’ll go downstairs,” only to stop as I choked on my tears.
You didn’t consider that I’d reach for your leash to take you on your morning stroll; or that I’d save ½ a scoop of Marty’s breakfast to put in your bowl; or that I’d walk around the kitchen like I was learning to ballroom dance because I was so used to you always being underfoot.
You didn’t consider that I’d cry til 2am, fall asleep, and wake up at 7am ALREADY in tears. Or that I’d cry all the way to Vince’s school, and all the way to Grace’s school, and all the way to my job, where I’d stumble in an hour late, looking like I’d been punched in both eyes or stung by a really angry bee.
You didn’t consider any of that last night when you begged me to let you break the deal- did you?!
But you know what? I can’t blame you for not considering any of that. If we’re being honest, there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t consider either.
I didn’t consider the fact that my phone would light up like a Christmas tree with messages of love, support, and shared sorrow; that my sister would cry with me until 2am; or that my friends, who all have hectic lives and should have been asleep, would graciously let me grief-vomit all over them until well past midnight- and then check in with me again this morning.
I didn’t consider that everyone would have a favorite memory of you- the way you ran laps around that first basement apartment and startled Pete, who probably thought you were an over-sized rat. The way you danced around for those salmon burgers I used to grill for you- Jacquie got a kick out of that. The way you always melted into Sasha’s lap before she could even get comfy on our old red couch.
I didn’t consider that I’d be sitting here, trying to type this through a flood of tears, and I’d receive messages from friends I haven’t heard from in years, sincerely expressing how much they loved you.
I didn’t consider how much of an impact such a tiny little puppy could make.
I didn’t consider that anyone could love you as much as I loved you.
I guess you knew what you were doing. You weren’t breaking the contract at all.
You’ll live forever, because you put a tiny piece of yourself in everyone you met.
I hope you know that the moment you left me for that leash-free meatball party in the clouds, you took a piece of me with you.
And I hope you know that I will honor my half of the deal- I will rescue another lonely soul; I will love it with everything I have; and I will bake that peanut butter and banana cake, and on your 14th birthday, I will eat a big slice in your memory- but I’ll be sure to drop just the tiniest bit at my feet, for old time’s sake.
Rest peacefully, my sweet boy.