Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"You Picked a Good One."

I know it's been ages since I've blogged, though there was a good reason: I practically picked up another full-time job. Since September 1, I have freelanced 199 hours' worth of work, which amounts to about 25 hours a week. Considering three weekends of October were taken up with being sick/a trip to Ohio, our first anniversary (!!), and my in-laws visiting, I pretty much did all of that work on weeknights. Crazy, I know.

This past week was by far the roughest. I had two jobs due, and not a lot of time to do them. I went to bed after dodgeball on Tuesday night at 11, only because I was so exhausted and couldn't fathom staying up any later. But on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, I went to bed no sooner than 2:30 a.m. (and on two nights, 3:30 a.m.). Sure, this would be easy to handle . . . if I didn't have to wake up at 7:30 to go to an actual 9-5 job.

My parents knew I was having a rough, busy, sleepless week, so when the inevitable happened on Monday, they chose not to tell me until this past Sunday that they put Bailey down. And while I totally understand their reasoning (really, Mom and Dad, I do), I feel like I didn't have a chance to say good-bye. Which is kind of silly because I've said good-bye to Bailey more times than I thought I'd get the chance to. I saw her in April, right after we got her diagnosis, and again in July, and then just three weeks ago. She had definitely deteriorated since April, so when I left the house, I was sad and thought, This could be it, but I also thought, Thanksgiving is just a few more weeks away, maybe I'll see her again.

Since I wasn't able to say good-bye to her one final time, I thought I'd write a blog post in the form of a letter . . . isn't that what grief counselors always make people do? (On TV at least?)

1.24.98: The day we got you.
(It's a shame dogs don't go through
awkward years. . . .)

Dear Bailey,

For a dog that was so routine, it's hard to think of a routine without you. I know I didn't live with you anymore, but you were still very much a part of daily conversations I had with Mom and Dad, and you were often in the room when I Skyped with them. It's weird to think that conversations won't consist of "How's the Wu?" or "Where's Bailey?" anymore.

Watching you go through your illness the past five months was really hard. You had been in such great health all your life and we never really saw you suffer. But it was clear that these past few weeks you were beginning to, and Mom and Dad said you were no longer following your routinesyou didn't even want to go up the stairs to sleep in Mom and Dad's bedroom. And for you not to want to be near us was definitely a sign that the end was coming.

Growing up, you never just slept in any ol' room. You'd start the night on the second-floor balcony, so you could watch Mom and Dad's bedroom (before the addition was made), as well as the street out front; then you'd move to Nicole's room, where you could lie on the floor and rest your head on the windowsill, again keeping an eye on the street; and then you'd move to my bedroom, where you had the luxury of sleeping on the bed, while resting your head on a windowsill to watch the street (you liked to watch the street a lot). It could be 30 degrees out, and we all kept our windows slightly cracked and our blinds up six inches so you could get some fresh air and see what was going on (this would be troublesome on nights when you'd bark over nothing, but great when you scared away the kids teepeeing our house). When Mom and Dad woke up first, you'd go downstairs to get your pill, and would then lay somewhere where you could watch upstairs for me and Nicole (on weekends, when we could sleep in for hours, you'd often come back up). You knew you had rights to at least one pillow when sleeping with one of your sisters. Generally you'd take two, and at least half of the bed while you were at it. 

Cozy in my bed.

Dad's favorite child.

But I guess as Nicole and my lives were changing, yours did, too. When we were both off to college, you started sleeping in Mom and Dad's room each night. At first on the bed, but then Mom had to break you of that habit when she started having back problems. So then you moved on to your Mickey Mouse blanket next to Dad's side of the bed, where he would end each night by giving you three pats and saying, "Good night, Wu." But even though Mom broke you of the habit while they were in the bed, you figured out no one could stop you from getting up there while they were away. There were a few times Mom or Dad came home and couldn't find you, and he or she would freak out because you weren't coming when called . . . because you were knocked out, on their bed, using their pillows as if you owned the place (which, let's face it, you did).

Mom's partner in crime.

Like your Dad, you were very particular about when things should be done (though you had an internal clock, whereas Dad has to write everything down). When you would start barking in the evening, we'd look outside to see if you were barking at a FedEx truck. And when there wasn't one, we'd look at the clock and realize you were just letting us know it was precisely 6:00 and you were ready for dinner.

And so much for the thought that dogs can't have table food. You were probably one of the best-fed dogs out there, and until cancer took you at the ripe age of (almost) fourteen, you were incredibly healthy. You loved pretty much anything, except onions and lettuce. You rarely chewed what you were given (except carrots and, when someone held the core, apples). It became a joke after we'd give you something for us to ask you if you even tasted anything. You were the doggie vacuum when Mom and Dad cooked, especially on migas days. You spent just about every dinner underneath the table, yes, a big part of it had to do with the end of mealtime because you knew each of us would slip you something, but I also think you realized that dinnertime was important to us, and as a family member, you wanted to be there, too.

You loved to swim. You didn't get to do it that often, but when we were over at Eileen's, you loved to jump in her pool. You even went so far as to climb up some of the rocks us kids used to jump off of. I'll never forget watching you jump from that rock like you had discovered the greatest thing in the world. In North Carolina, Mom took you to the beach, but when one wave wiped you out, I think you became a little more wary of water.

You loved to people watch. You loved people in general. You were perfectly content being pet all day longand often (playfully) growled when one of us stopped doing so. When you were on the floor and we were on the couch (the one place you weren't allowed on), you loved to stretch your leg out with your paw in the air, just so we could hold it while you slept.

When Bobo came to visit, you
liked to help him do household chores.

You were so smart. And you remembered everything. Even though Mimi and Bobo visited only two to three times a year, you knew that when Bobo was finished with his apple fritter and coffee, he'd take you for a walk. When you came to my softball games, you knew when I was the one going up to bat, because you'd stand up and shift your weight between your paws as you watched. You knew that when I came out of the dugout, it was to give you some of my water. When you were in the car, you knew when Mom was just slowing down and when she was actually slowing down to exit for a rest stop. It's like you could read the blue rest stop signs. You knew that when Daddy put on his pink Marriott shirt and jean shorts it was time to go out in the yard. How you knew this, since dogs are colorblind, is beyond us, but you knew that shirt, without a doubt. A friend once told me that she thought my family was like watching an "episode" of The Truman Show because she knew that every Saturday when she passed our house, Dad would be wearing his pink shirt and jean shorts while mowing, Mom would be wearing a bathing suit, shorts, and a hat while weeding/planting, and you'd be sitting in the yard watching everything and everyone.

We knew that you loved car rides more than anything else, and we'd often take you with us if we were making short trips. We had fun quietly jingling our keys to see how long it would take for you to come running (on the other hand, we hated when you'd come running all excitedly even though we tried to quietly sneak out). In Texas, you knew the TCBY drive-through (your flavor preference was peanut butter, obviously, but you took whatever). In Ohio, you knew the Chase drive-through, where a teller would return Dad's receipt with a cookie for you.

You were always protecting us
(here with Nicole).
And Mom and Dad knew that when Nicole and I had boys over, there was no way anything was going to happen with you around. The four of us couldn't even hug one another without your getting in a tizzy because you were not involved in the action.

I have so many fond memories of you. It seems like every time I think of you I remember a new one: The time you realized the lid to your cookie jar was open and you kept sneaking into the pantry to help yourself. The time you got out of the backyard and went for a stroll without our knowing, and then showed up at our back gate when you were finished (thank God nothing happened to you). The time Mom and Dad surprised me in College Station by coming to one of my softball games, I saw you proudly prancing down the path before I realized it was Mom and Dad holding your leash. The time you were a puppy and we and your brother Hogan's family took you guys on a walk around the neighborhood, without leashesyou were so small we had to pick you up near the storm drains for fear of your falling in. The time you sat outside the bathroom when I had a stomach bug, and then got up on the bed with me, which you weren't allowed to do because we were at Mimi and Bobo'sbut you knew I needed it. The time you swallowed Nicole's scrunchie and we were so scared that it wouldn't come out the other end (it did). The time when you were still being trained and I stubbed my toe, yelling "shit!" and you sat obediently while staring at me, looking for recognition on a job well doneit was hard not to laugh at that one.

I loved coming home to you. At our house in Texas, our back gate had an imperfectionone piece of wood was shorter than the others. I don't think we even noticed it until you came around. In fact, I think it was there just for you. As a puppy, you used to be able to stick your nose, eyes, and a little bit of a paw through the slab to see what was going on. So as we came up the walkway, we could see you getting excited for us to open the gate. As you got older, only your nose would fit, and that was pretty darn cute, too.

You slept through storms. You sat in the cul-de-sac as the neighborhood watched fireworks on the Fourth of July. You loved going for walks. You loved when we'd ride our bikes and you could run alongside us. You were a Texas dog but you shocked us all when you showed us you liked the snow, too. You were fearless. You were happy.

You and Hogan.
But don't get me wrong, you weren't perfect. You barked a lot. You hated other dogs (except for Hogan). You didn't particularly like children, though you were never mean about it. But those are really our faults. When it came to barking, we (okay, everyone but Mom) didn't discipline you enough. And we never really had you around other dogs for you to realize you, in fact, weren't the only dog in the worldyou were very much an alpha dog. Later on in life, when someone with a dog would come up to you, we'd always warn them that you didn't like dogs. If the person wanted to come up, fine, but with the dog, not so much. It was stressful when you came for Christmas and Nicole and Bobby had Dapper. But it was also really funny the one time you guys got along and started chasing each other around the houseDapper realized you couldn't get under the bed, much to your chagrinwhich was hilarious for us to watch.

You used to be able to fit under the bed.
Bailey, we each loved you in our own way, and you certainly had your own bonds with each of us. But it's hard to deny the special bond I felt with you. I picked you out of that truck. You sat on my lap on the car ride home. We stuck it out together that first night. I cried miserably at school when Mom thought we might have to give you back because you had chow chow in you and she was worried about your temperament (turns out, as one of your vets told us, labs and chows are great mixes because they generally pick up the personality of labs and the smartness of chows). I felt like you were mine first, but I eventually learned to share, and you became not just the family dog but also a part of the family. Over fourteen years, we definitely grew up together.



You were there on my
first day of high school and
Nicole's first day of middle school.

When Mom and Dad told me you were gone, Mom said, "You picked a good one." She's wrong. I picked a great one. I know Mike and I will get a dog or two of our own, and I hope he or she has even half of the great qualities you had. You will be hard to top, if it's even possible. All I know is any dog from here on out has big paws to fill. And to take Mom's joke, hopefully he or she won't have psychological issues with always being compared to you.

I know it's a cliché when people say you're in a better place, but I also know it's true. I hope wherever you are, you're happy and you're telling all the other dogs (if other dogs are even allowed in your happy place) how awesome you had it and how much you were loved while you were here.

And even though you're not physically with us anymore, there's no doubt that we will always love you. Thank you for fourteen years.

Such a short lives our pets have to spend with us,
and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.
It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives,
and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.
—John Grogan, Marley & Me

I wish there was a better option, but this is the
only picture we have with all five of us.