As I look back at the old pictures, I remember what it was like and I think to myself as I sit here at my computer “Ah, the memories…”
I smile and remember how things were once up on a time; I look at the date on the one photo that I stare at for a few seconds, February 8th, 2008.
I feel surprised and I ask myself “God; has it been THAT long???”
I pull up another photo and I stare at it for longer. I find it hard to look away as I look at every detail of the digital image on my computer screen. It’s from March 10th, 2008; yet still, it feels as if nothing happened at all, that he’s still there.
His name was Skip. AKA Skipper, Doodle, or in some very old cases, vulture dog for being at the table. He had been around in our family for at 10 longs years, ever since August, 2001. He had been around with us just in time to see 9-11 as a puppy at the time when we lived in Ohio. He had been around to live in three states; Ohio, Missouri and Florida over the years. He stayed with us even while our cat, Puddy, had died at age 19 and she was cremated after she first met Skip in 2001. He had even been with us to see the ball drop on live television and 2010 go into the history books. But on top of all of that, Skip was smart and protective; the best dog, watchdog, protector and canine family member we could ever have asked for. Whenever someone would come to our door, he’d go running to the door and bark his head off until we’d come or tell him to stop. Either way, he did his duty in terms of protecting the house, not to mention us at the same time. We all loved him, as did Fred, our whiteface cockatiel when we got him in late 2010. Even Fred had gotten to know him.
When I began my freshman year at my high school, he’d bark his head off and Fred would squawk at the commotion from his cage in the kitchen. He had always done so and Fred had picked up on the routine. I’d come home and he’d see me; he’d bark until he knew for sure that it was me entering the house. Then, in early 2011, that changed forever.
I left for school and rode to school in a car. On that morning, all seemed perfectly normal and routine. I said goodbye to Skip and Fred as I left home and went to school. Little did I know, that would be the last time I’d ever see him alive. School was not abnormal in any way on that day, so I expected nothing that lay in store for me back at home. Ironically, dad said that Skip had been getting old and we all knew it; we did not know how long he’d live, being 10 years old in all. Like dad said and I kind of laughed at, Skip was “An old man.” It was kind of true, after all. But made what happened none the less surprising. I rode the bus home, good old number 3353; a 15 year old or so machine that had taken me home every day that year. I got off the bus and began the walk home from the bus stop. I passed our neighborhood sector’s sign and paid it no notice as I walked past it and the short and stout wild willow that grew next to it. Walking down the street and past the houses, I walked at my normal, brisk pace, like always. I crossed the bridge and walked across the ‘T’ intersection past the oak tree that had been at the time recently been hit by a car and through the small grass dog park. Continuing through to the back of the small open area, I passed between the same one story houses that I had walked between countless times before. Finally on the cul-de-sac, my street, I walked a bit quicker, since I had reached the home stretch. Finally near the roundabout near the end of the street, I made it to my house. As I walked down the sidewalk, I noticed that there was none of Skip’s barking to greet me; in addition, Fred was not squawking either. I felt strange as I went to the black metal mailbox of ours and collected the mail and stood on the curb. I keyed in the garage door code and the two car sized door opened and I had a suspicious feeling when I entered the house. When I opened the door from the garage and into the house, I looked right, toward the living room. The sight that I saw frightened me for a while after and scared the living hell out of me. There he was, laying in front of the living room windows next to the front door, at his quote unquote ‘post’. I ran over to him and he did not move at all.
“Skip?” I asked him as I touched and felt him; only coldness met my hand as I put it to his side. “Skip?!” I said in shock as I shook him and tried to move him. I only felt that his joints were stiff; he had to have been dead for a little while to be stiff like he was. I saw a tiny trickled of dried saliva coming from his lifeless mouth and no breath from his black nose made his chest rise or fall. I jumped back and sat there, transfixed. My mind said only one thing and it went straight to my mouth. “He’s dead…”
I suddenly had a god-awful feeling and went over to Fred’s cage. Fred was just fine when I took him out and I stroked him. I said Fred’s name and he seemed happy. But after I put him back in his cage and put my backpack down in the kitchen, I walked up the stairs to my room, right past Skip’s body. I moaned “Oh, god…” as I ascended upstairs. I was in utter disbelief as I entered my room. I had never felt so empty, hollow, broken.
Then a series of thoughts flooded my mind; what if someone else was here and did it to him? What if they’re still here? My question, I thought was answered when I heard a thumping sound from the opposite side of the house. I immediately opened my pocket knife from my roof and slowly exited my room and into the loft. I turned on the light and felt not scared, but determined to know who or what the hell was in my house.
“Hello?” I call out to no response in the now emptier house. I hold my knife outward from my side, ready should someone be there.
“I have a knife!” a call again as I cross the loft and into my sister’s room. I enter the room and turn on the light, only to find that no one was even in there. The thumping sound was coming from outside, on the roof. Putting the knife away and proceeding down the stairs and outside to my sister’s side of the house, I saw the boy from next door, throwing a tennis or baseball onto our roof and let it roll down and throw it again. I feel relieved, but suddenly very angry.
“DAMN IT! I thought there was someone in the house!” I yell as the boy looks at me like he’s legitimately freaked out. I’m sure I did kind of scare him…
Groaning in frustration as I go back inside, I go back up the stairs and into the bathroom right by my sister’s bedroom door. I go in, turn on the light and fan and turn on the bath. I take off my clothes and get in the tub. I knew darn well that my sister would be home from middle school soon, and since she really loved Skip, I couldn’t bear to see her reaction to Skip’s body; I just couldn’t. I let the warm water run, just wishing that I could disappear, just to be anywhere but home when my sister arrived. Then, the moment came when I heard the garage door open and my sister called my name. I didn’t respond, which in hindsight, I probably should have. Then I heard what she had to say from downstairs.
“What’s wrong with Skip?” she asked, obviously very shocked and surprised herself.
I couldn’t listen to her words; I kept running the water and the bathroom fan while I kept the door shut. It wasn’t until dad came home did I see another human in the house, he came into the bathroom and he felt that I should have been there to tell my sister that I was still in the house. He thought that I had left the house or something like that, but was glad to see that I’d been home all along. Eventually, I drained the bath, dried myself and got dressed again. I was very, very reluctant to back downstairs, I knew that I’d see Skip’s lifeless black eyes staring at me.
But when I got back downstairs, I was in for a surprise. A blanket now covered the body so that no one would see it. I felt relieved at that, but still felt like I was going to be sick. That night, mom and dad called a business called ‘Honor Thy Pet’ and they took Skip’s body away to be cremated. That was the last time I ever saw Skip, even though he was already dead. For dinner, I, my parents and little brother piled into mom’s 2000 Honda Accord and we drove to the nearby McDonalds across the street from the high school, to take our minds off of things. When we arrived home in the garage and I got out of that green sedan of ours, I felt changed somewhat. I no longer looked at a pair of lifeless eyes, but now an empty, dog-less house takes their place. For the night, my sister stayed at a friend’s house across the street.
After a while, Skip’s ashes returned in a simple white, rectangular urn. When I first held the ashes after dad picked them up, I sat on my parent’s bed and held the urn. So many memories and experiences in one jar…
We had the ashes in a bag inside the urn and I looked at them, thinking to myself that this is what Skip is now. For a while, the ashes remained in the urn when we decided to buy a small bush that I found at Lowes. It was a Chaste tree, also known as a Shoal Creek bush. I knew that it would be perfect, since we lived near Shoal Creek, Missouri for two years. Me and dad went into our back yard and dug a hole for the bush. When it was dug, I dumped the ashes into the hole myself. Once the ashes were in the soil, we planted the bush and filled in the soil around it. Skip had been in three states during his years. Now he’ll live in Florida forever.
He left the earth as an old dog, one that had lived his life. He never once had a child, he never once had to attack someone to defend our family, and he never had to have a chemical agent put him to sleep; he simply stayed at his post, until his maker came and made him leave early. Either way, he’s gone. But as of today, we have a new dog. Milo, a black lab mix is our new dog and is still here and young as of 2013. Fred has taken a real liking to Milo and tries to sing to him, while Milo just seem to say “Oh, please… take him away!” But it’s not a hate, just a not know what to think of kind of thing.
It’s been almost two years since Skip died, but as time goes on, I often forget him; his face, his bark, his presence. But when I do think of him, memories flow freely and I remember. But at the same time, it was my first real experience of death; I was a 15 year old at the time, but I felt lower than a maggot. I felt like nothing. But time has passed, but the memories live on.
Until we meet again on the far side, goodbye, old friend.