My dog is dead. My little kangaroo. When I say Joey was the best dog ever, you have to understand that there were a host of people who owned dogs of their own that agreed with me. Joey was what every dog strives to be: the one that waits impatiently for your return – greets you at the door every time – will always win you over, and never lose in a fight to see which of us is going to get up first to end the snuggling.
I hadn’t spoken to my big brother in awhile. A lot has happened since the last time I’d heard his voice, it sounded different. These past weeks I thought I might be losing him too. He stated the facts my mom had already told me, Joey’s dieing, he was attacked by a coyote, they said the surgery would cost thousands of dollars and, even then, he probably wouldn’t survive. “I know” I said, still no more accepting of it, and now unable to hide my tears from my tough older brother, but he didn’t sound so tough anymore: “He was such a good dog. You know I’ve been going through a lot right now, and I really can’t take this. Joey has really helped me out, you know? He’s always been there.”
I always had to brace myself when, while I was lying on the couch next to the door, someone would call Joey in from outside. He would instantly stop whatever he was going about at in the yard, tear into the house with bundling speed, and jump straight on top of me, my body absorbing the impact of all that unrestrained momentum.
The night before last (a day before any of this had happened), my mother said something on the phone that seemed trivial at the time. I was only half listening and half scouring over the box score of the D-backs game. My mom has been through a lot lately, and she must have been saying something about Joey, how he loves us so unconditionally or how he helps us bear the days we can’t. I knew what she was saying without having to hear her say it. Anyone who has become a part of Joey’s life knows deep down somewhere in some pathetic corner of their soul is the recognition that they are truly, unconditionally loved, if only by a dog. “You know dog is god spelled backwards?” she said, “Hahaha, I know it’s silly, but it’s true!”
“Yes, that’s a nice little coincidence,” I replied..
He loved us better than we knew how to love each other. I had a blessed childhood, but still I never failed to recognize that some things about our family were harder than how things appeared to be in other people’s families. My parents found the Lord and then each other not long after their horrifying childhoods. Our family had problems, ones that we could never really hide from view, not that we ever tried very hard.
When we became Joey’s people he brought a way of loving into our house that was foreign to us. Certainly families who fight passionately also love passionately, but there were too many times when that love was hidden by fear. Joey was completely unafraid. When someone needed to feel love but was too stubborn to let anyone in, Joey would come pattering boldly down the hall, his little toenails clicking on the tile, scratching at the door until we let him in so that he could jump on the bed and burrow his way into an embrace.
My mom put me on speakerphone, I heard the vet as she explained the wounds my dog had sustained, his organs had been pierced, the puncture in his lungs, internal bleeding. “We gave him medication and he doesn’t feel any pain right now, he’s very peaceful,” she said. I know that was supposed to help, but it was exactly what I’d heard when we were putting Havilah to sleep, and her words only began to make clear to me the reality of a world without my dog in it.
I got Joey for my 13th birthday. We drove down to the poor side of town and gave forty bucks to some Mexican guy with a phony smile. On the drive home we took inventory of the cigarette burn on Joey’s neck and the way his ears were rotting away at the tips. He loved car rides, so that made him pleased to be with strangers. I thought that I was rescuing him.
“I’ll do it, I need to be the one who does it,” David said with the calm, determined resolve of someone who had seen death before. My mom was hysterical while the fatal overdose was being applied. So was I, unable to sufficiently muffle my cries at four in the morning in a house full of sleeping students in the midst of finals. “Oh Jesus, Oh Father” my mom kept repeating through her ferocious tears. I could tell she wasn’t mad at God and I knew she wasn’t ready to ask Him for comfort yet. It sounded like she was thanking Him.
Thank you, Father, for his wet tongue and his warm little body and for all the times he let me squeeze him too tightly. Thank you for loving us better than we knew how to love each other – for teaching our family about a love that keeps no record of wrongs – for burrowing that love into an embrace in each of us. Thank you for rescuing us when we couldn’t rescue ourselves.
Joey was just going out one last time for the night before he would have heard my mother calling his name and come bounding through that open door, jumping straight into my little brother’s bed to curl up for the night. Now that he’s gone, Father, I trust that my family doesn’t need him anymore, that you’ve taught us how to show love to each other like that dog showed love to us.
Thank you, Father, for sending me a creature that I could love so fully without ever having to fear that he would not love me back more. I so desperately needed that. Teach me now to love You in this way.