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Old friends united again

Roger Marolt

How can doing the right thing hurt so badly?I had been dreading doing it for a long time, ever since last spring when my mother’s German Shepherd, Brandy, was diagnosed with bone cancer. That’s when the inevitable became identifiable. The end of a life became calculable. It started with a slight limp, and by last week she could hardly move; a 15-year-life unwound in four months.As is inevitable, I’m sure we waited too long. We waited until that familiar, friendly look disappeared from her eyes. We waited until those beautiful eyes became watery and pleading. Now, they begged us to help her. They were still beautiful eyes. We met at my mothers house and waited for the veterinarian. I paced uncomfortably, not knowing what to say or how to act. He showed up right on time. She knew something was happening. But, she stayed calm and let us all say our goodbyes. The first shot was a tranquilizer. It put her, and us, at ease. The second injection sent her off peacefully to meet Dad. She’ll be happy to see him again. She bonded with him first, when he brought her home 12 years ago as a surprise for my mother. We shed some tears and shared some hugs, and remembered the good times with Brandy. There wasn’t a comfortable time to break it up, but after a while we had things to do. The world wasn’t going to stop for the death of a pet.I headed to the office with an awful, empty feeling in my heart. I was trying to carry on like nothing was wrong, but inside I felt like something was ready to break. It was like I was on the verge of falling apart and the slightest little thing – a parking ticket or a mistaken word – would just rip from my grasp the sturdy exterior I was working hard to hold up.At my desk, I got a little work done but couldn’t shake loose from the feelings that were twisting my insides, trying to suffocate me. It was a clear, fall day and by late afternoon I decided that a bike ride on Government Trail was what I needed. I headed out and didn’t tell a soul where I was going.I felt like going hard so I hammered immediately, not bothering to warm up. By the time I got to the trailhead on Tiehack I was breathing deep and fast, my pulse racing. My legs burned as I began the steep climb. The more pressure I put on the pedals, the more I took off my mind. The physical pain of my effort was covering up the emotional pain I suppressed. I was going as fast as I could go. I missed a switchback up high and had to put a foot down to regain my balance. That made me mad. I fell in the Rock Garden and got more frustrated. I sprinted through the rolling terrain above Owl Creek until I came to the large stream crossing. I made it through that difficult section, but fell for the third time as I climbed the small hill after it. That was enough! I slowly picked myself up, checked the bike for damage, and found that my legs were trembling. I knew that I didn’t have the energy to ignore this any longer. I got off the trail and leaned my bicycle against an aspen tree. I sat down in the dry grass on the hillside.I unstrapped my helmet and perspiration poured from my forehead. My breath was coming in short gasps now and I couldn’t catch it. I sat down and rested my head on my knees. Then the tears came, slowly at first and then flowing freely. They mixed with the sweat and ran through the lines on my face that weren’t there 12 years ago. Then, I admitted to myself that Brandy wasn’t just a dog. She was the most loyal friend a guy could ever have. Even though she lived with my mother, she was our dog. We got her the year I was married. My wife was one of her favorites. She was around when my three children were born. She guarded the house and all of us. She never missed a holiday celebration or backyard barbecue. She ran and played and chased tennis balls whenever any of us needed a moment to step back and gain a little perspective in our busy lives. She just knew when you were down and couldn’t ask anyone else to love you. For 12 years she was there for us. She was a thread that tied those years together, and us to them. She’s gone. They’re gone. We are left to hold each only in our memories. As I sat there, a gentle gust of wind blew through the yellowing leaves above me. It made the same sound she would have made running through the woods after a stick. For the first time that day I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I supposed to be doing. Only because I needed for my own ears to hear it, I said it barely out loud, “Nice toss, Dad. Go get it, girl!” The sun dropped below the branches reminding me that it was time to go home. I got back on my bike and followed its warm rays, knowing that after a night of rest and dreams it would lead me to a new day.As I coasted along the winding trail through the woods, I remembered another story I wrote about a dog. That one had a happy ending. And, because we did the right thing with Brandy, I promise that this one will too. I just need a little more time to get to it.Roger Marolt knows that it is hard to say goodbye to an old friend. You can contact him at roger@maroltllp.com


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