Quite a few years ago, about the time my voice was changing, we went to the pound to get him. He was just a furry little white puppy with brown and black patches on his head. All the innocence of life was wrapped up in his big brown eyes. My Dad said he looked like Petey, the dog from the old "Little Rascals" shorts.
Yet, he was also shy and timid. When we got home, he wouldn't climb the stairs to our condo. We had to carry him up and down for the first few weeks. Full of fun and energy, he chewed Dad's slippers and made messes in the kitchen. I tried letting him sleep in my bed, but for a Jack Russell Terrier, he took up a lot of space. He always hogged the exact center of the bed. So, he slept outside my door. It wasn't long before it had many small scratches.
When I was learning to drive, he was in the full vigour of youth. Dad and I would drive to some secluded stretch of beach and let him run and play. He loved it when we'd get one of our Florida afternoon showers. He'd roll in the sand and chase the seagulls.
Through High School, he was my friend and companion - my only friend. He was there when I woke in the morning, when I got home, and at my door when I went to bed. And always, his tail wagged.
When I left for college, I couldn't take him with me. We were parted for the first time. I read the sadness in his eyes and the lack of motion in his tail. I also saw the twinkle in his eyes and whip-like action in that same tail, on each return.
Summers were spent on Martha's Vineyard. Our cottage was in the woods, which was paradise for him; so many sights, so many smells. He loved chasing the squirrels and rabbits, though he never caught any of them. Somehow, they seemed to know that and never ran too fast. We spent many happy days racing and running through the woods.
After college, I came home to take care of Dad and look for work. He was getting on in years, and so was Rex. They were both slowing down. Now summers were long and lonely. I stayed home while Dad and Rex went to the island. Dad said their walks were different now; two little old men ambling slowly down the dirt roads.
One summer, they left together as usual, but there the similarities to the past ended. Dad had a stroke and went to the hospital. My brother shipped my faithful friend home alone. I picked him up at the airport. He wailed and cried out with such glee at hearing my voice; I truly thought he'd tear through the pet carrier! He spent the next month sitting by the front door, waiting for Dad's return and each night outside my father's bedroom, faithfully guarding it.
One night, I came home to find him asleep on Dad's bed, refusing to move. I offered to take him for a walk, but even that didn't interest him. The next morning, I learned that Dad had joined his ancestors during the night. After that, Rex slept outside my door. Yet, he also spent his days by the front door. Every time a car with a diesel engine went by, he'd race to the window and look out. Was it Dad returning? No, but it was many months before Rex gave up waiting for his return.
His brown and black patches were turning gray by then and he had a touch of arthritis. Going for walks became difficult and he started going deaf. I had to use hand gestures to signal him and if he turned away, we lost contact. If I ran up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, he'd jump like a scarred rabbit and look at me as if to say: "Don't sneak up on me, sonny!"
Every morning, he insisted on going for a walk, early. On the weekends, I'd go back to sleep and he'd sit by my bed until I got up. He couldn't jump up because of his arthritis. Often I'd feel him watching me, and I'd stretch out my hand and pat his head. He'd look at me as if to say: "Feed me!"
Time rolled by and his vision began to dim. He had a stroke and a heart attack, and then another stroke. Each time, the Vet gave him medicine and he recovered. He was eating senior dog food and rice cakes instead of dog biscuits - all strictly low-sodium. It cost more, but I never minded; he was my friend.
Then a new friend came into my life, and I saw something new in Rex: jealousy! My girlfriend Jo Ann and I had to laugh to see his antics; we never would have believed that a dog could feel such an emotion. If we held hands, he hung his head in disapproval. If we sat together on the couch, he insisted on getting up there with us; between us, and pushing us as far apart as possible. How on earth a tiny dog like him, with arthritis, could push so hard and so far, I'll never know! But, he managed.
Then one day, my faithful friend had another stroke. I took him to the Vet and asked for help. This time, he shook his head. There was nothing to be done. My friend was living in pain and misery, blind, deaf and senile.
I made the decision.
The Vet asked if I wanted to stay. I could only nod; emotions had cut off my voice. He gave Rex the last medication while I held him in my arms. He couldn't see me or hear me, but he knew my touch and my scent. He knew I was with him to the end and he died in my arms. With him died a part of me, a part of my soul.
For fifteen years, he was my friend. He asked nothing of me save that I love him, feed him and shelter him. He didn't criticize or complain, interrupt or ridicule. He accepted me as I was and he was a good listener. He taught me gentleness, loyalty, the value of listening, how to be a friend, and to turn around three times before lying down.
I miss the sound of his claws on the linoleum.
I miss his little whine each morning to let me know he wanted to go out.
I miss him sleeping at my feet when I'd lie on the couch.
Even all these years later, there are still mornings when I think I feel him watching me and I stretch out my hand to pat his head, but he isn't there.
For fifteen years, he was faithful and true, and he was,
Just a dog.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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