Middle school was the worst. During that three-year transition from elementary to high school, I became a work in progress, an amorphous collection of zits, oversized feet, and gangly limbs, a pioneer who took “awkward phase” to new heights.
I owned an extensive collection of cat sweaters; my favorite band -– in 1995 -– was the Beach Boys; and I found it tedious to brush my long, stringy hair. Socially I was not much better. I didn’t run and hide under the nearest desk every time someone talked to me, but I wanted to. As for the other kids, well, they didn’t like me very much.
My favorite part of every day was when it was over. I got off the bus and waited at the end of the driveway for my mom to open the front door, where Eddie, our Jack Russell Terrier, would start bouncing up and down like his back legs were miniature pogo sticks. He was so excited that he could not contain himself, and if I wasn’t careful, after I picked him up I’d find the front of my shirt streaked with pee. I always forgave him immediately.
I have to admit, though, that I wasn’t initially so crazy about Eddie. He joined the family as my brother’s birthday present, an impossibly adorable puppy with velvety ears and a spotted nose. He was cute, sure, but I worried that he would upset the delicate balance of my relationship with my antisocial cat, Sweets, which consisted mostly of me trying to pet him as he stalked off with his tail in the air.
Perhaps the biggest problem was that Eddie barked. And barked. And barked. I didn’t sleep for weeks.
But Eddie also loved, and loved, and loved. Once he got a bit older, he would hop into bed with me and wriggle down under the covers, his tiny body radiating impossible amounts of heat. He’d fall asleep beside me, his legs twitching as he drifted in and out of dreams, and I realized that this little creature trusted me completely. I traced my finger down the groove in the center of his forehead, where his fur changed from white to brown, and I knew he was just as much a part of my family as my mom, dad, and brother.
As amazing as Eddie was, at times he was equally frustrating. He was never fully housebroken, and it was not uncommon to find that he’d urinated on the recliner or a bedpost. He also frequently used his Super Mario-esque jumping skills for evil -– he was obsessed beyond reason with “people food,” so if something was placed too close to the edge of the kitchen table, he would leap up and snatch it in his jaws.
Incredibly, my mom never lost patience with him. To keep him out of trouble, she attached his leash to her belt, and the two of them cooked, read, and tended the garden.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, because I’d already left home for college, but eventually Eddie got old. He developed arthritis, and those spring-loaded legs wore out, and his perky little stub tail, which always stuck straight up like an antenna, was often tucked between his legs.
The explosive bursts of energy that used to propel him around the room at seemingly dangerous speeds slowed to a quiet shuffle; my mom covered the kitchen floor with rugs to make the walk easier on his joints. He never weighed more than 10 pounds, but he seemed to get even smaller, almost like he was going to vanish in my arms.
One day, when Eddie was about 13 years old, he stopped eating. The vet said he had liver disease and recommended a special diet, but the overall prognosis was grim. He was diagnosed in the fall, and we would be lucky if he lived through the winter. My parents cancelled holiday trips so they could stay by Eddie’s side. Whenever I visited, my mom answered the door with Eddie tucked under her arm, holding him as close to her as possible.
For Christmas, we gave Eddie a stuffed Milk-Bone squeaky toy, the kind of thing he would have devoured in his youth. We posed for family photos and took turns holding him. No one said it out loud, but we all felt the same lurking sense of finality.
The following spring, at the age of 14, Eddie died.
When I think of the time I got to spend with Eddie, I primarily remember his final months and the way my mom would carry the diminutive dog under her left arm and do everything with one hand. She was completely dedicated to caring for him as long as he needed her, not just as long as it was convenient.
Today, as my 11-year-old tabby cat, Bubba Lee Kinsey, advances into his senior years, I am honored to love and care for him -– even if that means occasionally banging my toe on the stepstool I placed beside the bed to make it easier for him to jump up beside me for snuggles.
My pets are my family. It’s that simple.
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