I’ve Lost My Shadow


Image by oscailte via Flickr

Behind the stacks of oranges and grapefruits, we found him at a fruit stand.  Snoozing on his back, a little ball of white, with only a wet black nose peeking out, he snored.  The sales lady explained a busload of children came through and played with him for so long, he was “plumb tuckered out.”

He wasn’t a perfect specimen of his breed, with two front legs that turned out, and an underbite pushing out his rubbery lip, but I figured since my husband and I both had crooked legs when we were born, he’d fit right in to our little family. I’m not one to care about fancy breeds, and never sent in the form to retrieve his Maltese papers, I only wanted him.

He nestled in my arms on the way home, and we named him Oliver. I was deliriously happy, a new bride who’d never had a small indoor dog before, and Jay was happy too, for Oliver’s job was to delay my biological clock a year, and keep me company while he traveled.

Three days later, I screamed into the phone, “We have to take this puppy back to the fruit stand!”

“Why?” Jay said.

“He won’t leave me alone. He follows me everywhere, I can’t even go to the bathroom without him pawing the door!” I said. “He’s crazy! He nips at my heels everywhere I go!”

“What are you going to do when you have a baby? Try to send him back? Welcome to motherhood!” He yelled before hanging up on me.

He was right. I looked down at the fluff ball and thought, maybe I wouldn’t be a good mother. I was 29 years old, independent, used to having a career, and a cat, who let me come and go as I wished. I liked things the way they were. Oliver, and his dependence on me, made me feel trapped for the first time in my life.

I slumped into a kitchen chair, and looked down at him. “Alright, we’re stuck with each other, so we need some ground rules. You have to give me some space. I need some freedom to move about the house, without you following me everywhere.  Number two, you have to learn to walk on a leash, apparently a dog without a leash is not normal here. Number three, you have to stop piling things in your bed, not everything in this house belongs to you. If you can do those things, you can stay here. Can you agree to my expectations?”

He did his fake sneeze which meant yes, and I went about cleaning the house, and he went about following me.

Two months later, I was pregnant, and even though he did not keep up his end of the bargain, I’d fallen for my first baby Oliver. My keys, remote controls and panty hose, still made their way into his bed, along with all the “treasures” he brought in from outside. He still followed me around everywhere I went, and as my hips widened, he fit right between my feet, never needing a leash. We were a sight walking around the neighborhood, a waddling pregnant woman, with a puppy in perfect step, right between her legs. Neighbors marveled at what a good dog he was for never running off, and I agreed.

After Nicklaus was born, Oliver learned to share me. He had trained me well for motherhood. Nicklaus cried most of the night with colic, and I found myself deep in baby blues, sobbing on the bathroom floor in my dog’s fur. Through the birth of three sons, some hardships and many joys, he never left my side…until today.

Today, Oliver passed, and to say my heart is broken is an understatement, but he was sick, and I knew it was time. His heart was too big for his little body, and it was choking him. Yesterday, he followed me up the two flights of stairs, and passed out in my arms, howling in pain.  I knew I could no longer watch this precious animal struggle to keep up.

This morning, I buried my face in his neck, whispered my goodbye, set him in the car, and Jay drove away. Jay told me, Oliver laid on the table willingly, and drifted off to sleep, just as we found him almost 13 years ago, at that tacky tourist fruit stand. He was again “plumb tuckered out.”

So, this is my goodbye. My son Christian wrote on a prayer request card at church Sunday, “Lord, I know animals don’t get to go to heaven, but please let Oliver go there, cause he’s dying.” I know God received his request. I have to trust, if it takes my Oliver to make me happy in heaven, God will see to it, Oliver is there. Besides, He knows I need someone to follow me around, to keep me from flying off.

So long Ollie. You clipped my wings, and pulled me out of self centeredness. You taught me to be maternal and dependable. You’ve done your job well. I love you, and I will miss you, my precious, precious shadow.

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