I could’ve lied to her.
This is her first big death. We’ve killed our share of plants and fishes, but this guy was here when she got here.
He let her crawl over his back and tolerated her slappy toddler pets. I’m convinced he was the first to know I was pregnant.
He would press his face to my tummy on the couch. He would sit in front of my chair between me and the door. He was guarding her in the womb. At least by proxy.
By the time our son came around, he’d ceased his watch dog ways. Likely he’d gotten too old to care (or hear, or see) but I’d like to think it was because he thought I had a pretty good handle on things this go around.
We sit quietly together on her bed. Just a mattress on the floor until we move again.
She says she wishes the medicine would just make him better instead of making him die and I tell her I do, too.
She hugs me and asks, her voice muffled against my shoulder:
“What kind of dogs live forever, Mom?”
It breaks my heart, but I tell her nothing lives forever. That everything dies at some point.
She starts to cry again because she doesn’t understand and I do, too — because I do.
She says she doesn’t want another dog. She doesn’t want to miss it when it dies, too and I know I must be doing this all wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it.
I try to explain how special it is to love something that we know won’t last forever. How that is its own blessing, but her tears tell me she doesn’t understand this either.
I give up and hold her until her curtain-less room goes dark.
I kiss her cheek before I go, and close the door behind me.
I walk out onto the gravel road that won’t be ours much longer and I cry the nasty cry. The one we don’t let other people see.
When I’m done, I go back inside and sit beside him.
His legs don’t work like they’re supposed to anymore. He can hardly see. Truly I’ve let this go on too long. He’s been hurting for longer than he’s let on. Or maybe I just couldn’t bear to really look.
Bulldogs aren’t meant for the long haul and at 9 years old it’s been a haul.
I hug him and put my head against his stinky neck. If it hurts him, he doesn’t let it show. He never does.
I tell him I love him and press my face into his fur. He wags his stumpy tail and I start the ugly cry again.
Tomorrow, I’ll be brave. Tomorrow, I’ll have an answer for my daughter when she wakes up. Tomorrow, I’ll tell her that even though dogs don’t last forever the love we have for them — and they love they give us — does.
I’m going to think about when my husband was overseas and all days and nights it was just us. I’m going to think of all the times he made me feel safe, and guarded, and loved, and I’m going to do my best to return the favor.
Tonight, I’m going to hold on, because I’ll have to love him even more tomorrow.
So much so, that I’ll be able to let him go.