Late at night, after I had turned off my lights, I still lay restless in bed. I was dreading the last day of classes before they let us out for Spring Break.
Fuck this IB paper, I thought to myself. Ugh, why can’t they just let us turn it in after break?
My teenage turmoil was interrupted by a silence shattering sound; a deep, suffering breathing.
Who is that? I wondered. This is it; my real life SVU ending is about happen. Am I about to find someone dead? Am I going to die?
Channeling Olivia Benson, Elliott Stabler and Fin Tutuola, I gathered the courage to creep over to the door and peek through the crack into the dimly lit hall.
I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the door.
I walked over to pet Two-Tone, my one blue-eye-one-brown-eyed dog who sat panting on the hard wood floor. When I sat next to him he didn’t lift his head; he just let out an exasperated exhale and closed his eyes.
Two-Tone’s majestic movements had been on the decline for a few days, but earlier when I had let him out, he’d swiftly cleared the four-foot fence that separated my back yard from the neighbor’s.
His leaping tactics were nothing new, but the amount of time he strayed that afternoon was. After two failed attempts of walking up and down the street bellowing, “TWOOOOOOOO-TOOOOONE, WANNNNNA TREEEEAAAAT?” I made my voice drop to as deep an octave as physically possible in an attempt to imitate my father, his champion. I did not hear paws prancing on ice, or the whoosh of a 60-pound dog soaring through the snow; I didn’t hear squirrels scampering back to their branches of safe haven, or the clink of dog tags slapping against each other as their host ran free.
Screw this, I thought, annoyed by this almost daily occurrence. He’ll come back on his own.
I gave up and went home to do homework in front of the TV.
Two and a half hours later, I heard a bark at the front door and was relieved to see the escapee had returned. But, something seemed off: Two-Tone’s multi-colored eyes seemed to be slightly rolling, and a trace of foam gathered at the corners of his mouth.
“Ew, did you drink too much creek water?” I rhetorically asked him, as I envisioned the park at the end of our block with the brown colored rising currents that filled Furnace Brook as spring flirted with return, and the soiled snow melted.
I thought nothing of it.
He must just be dehydrated or exhausted from his mischievous outing.
I filled his dishes with water and food and went back to watching TV.
And now, I found myself bent over his heaving body with something within me screaming like a cackling kettle that this all felt so wrong.
I hurried to my parent’s room and shook my deep sleeping dad.
“Dad! Dad! Two-Tone is breathing really bizarrely,” I insisted. “I don’t think he’s okay!”
My dad was in a half-awake haze.
“We can take him to the vet first thing in the morning,” he said, almost instantly falling back asleep. Two-Tone was only seven; it’s not like he was on hospice-for-hounds; no one had any reason to worry.
So, I went to pet him one last time before bed and kissed him on the head before retreating to my room.
What I did not know was that the “one last time” was not for the night: It was forever.
I woke up to my dad in a state of distress; my mother had walked into the bathroom to find Two-Tone’s corpse curled against the cold, porcelain bathtub.
Dare I go look? I contemplated. What choice do I have?
I helped my brother and father lift Two-Tone’s stiff dead body and load him into the back of our van. We drove to the pet crematorium that we had found as we frantically flipped through the yellow pages of the phone book. I sat in the back seat sobbing with my face stuffed into his lifeless fur. I had always imagined a dead body to be limp, but he was stiff, like he was frozen. I found solace in the physical resistance provided by his locked limbs.
As is typical in moments of grief, we had to blame ourselves aloud as we practiced blaming others in our head.
“It’s all my fault, we should have taken him to the emergency vet when you woke me up,” whispered my dad.
“It’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have let him roam for hours,” I choked.
And then we were ready to spew our accusations aloud.
“Shouldn’t the vet have seen something wrong during his checkup?” barked my brother.
“Maybe someone left out antifreeze!” screeched my sister.
“Why couldn’t he just be content within the confines of our sheltered backyard?” I shouted at the sky.
We reached the crematorium too quickly, and I said goodbye to him then, as he was loaded into the back of a golf cart and driven away to have his physical essence incinerated.
I said goodbye to him again later as we scattered his ashes in the forest where we used to walk him at the end of my dead-end block.
I said goodbye to him as I wondered how the remains of such a large animal could suddenly be stuffed into such a very small tin.