As I pulled into the parking lot for Sparky’s vet appointment, the pickup parked haphazardly across three spaces near the front door meant something was not good.
As we entered a young girl, 12 or so, stood in the lobby, arms wrapped around her thin frame, she stared down the hall at an open door.
A small, dark-haired woman hurried out of the clinic, there were large blood spots on the leg of his jeans; she quickly moved down the hall and into the last room.
I asked the girl if she was okay…. “It’s my friend,” she said. “Her dog was hit.” The fingers of both hands pressed tightly against her chin; her red-rimmed eyes shed tears that stained her flushed cheeks.
The girl’s high-pitched wail came out of the room at the end of the hall and flooded the lobby.
“NO! She can’t be.”
“She can’t be.”
I turned my back for their privacy and choked on my own pain.
“She can’t be. No, she isn’t. No. There’s something they can do.”
The plea, the demand, came again and again… bashing against what she knew was true, and the dread.
All that was absent was the unspoken word… “dead.”
The girl emerged slowly, her mother’s arms wrapped tightly around her. They sat. The young friend stood frozen in the middle of the room.
The girl’s strangled tears marked the pace of her slowly dying hope and the cold reality that her best friend in God’s world was gone and that she was alone.
Still clutching Sparky to me, I debated and then moved slowly toward the sobbing child.
I pushed wet strands of hair from her face and touched her cheek.
“I am so sorry sweetheart, so very sorry. Remember her well, won’t you?” It was all I could speak.
I hoped that if she remembered the words, she would realize I meant to remember her friend often and with a smile… and remember when she was whole and not in her last, tormented hour.
I wanted to say more, do more…. I was the only male in the building, I wanted to protect her and give her what I had learned about people and dogs… always our best friends.
I wanted to tell her about my Rusty who was with me as soon as I could walk, until the sixth grade when his health abandoned him and there was nothing we could do.
I would have told her how Rusty and I conquered vacant lots and chased squirrels, how we were together night and day and how we talked as kids and their best pals do. I wanted her to know that I shared in her grief though my loss occurred longer ago than her parents had been alive.
“But it is still as if it happened yesterday,” I’d have said.
But this mother and her poor sobbing daughter didn’t know me, a large crying man clutching a Pomeranian, making himself part of the worst day in her life… still I wanted to say or do more.
I would have told her that because of the overwhelming pain of losing Rusty I did not have another dog for more than 40 years… and that decision was a mistake. As a result, even my best friends didn’t know I loved dogs, I never spoke about them, or had one.
Until I was in my late 40s I couldn’t talk about Rusty without crying.
“Don’t do what I did,” I’d have said.
“Dogs brings us joy and comfort, love and I missed out on 40 years of that because I feared the pain. I realized that not having a dog was unnatural for a guy who has a dog-shaped hole in his heart… so I got my beloved Tripoli and he changed my life.
“But then he too passed away and again I didn’t think I would survive the loss and grief, but I did; now I have four dogs that other people didn’t want or couldn’t keep.
“And now we all face the world together as best friends.”
So, Sweetheart, remember your best friend well… but be sure to open your heart to your next best friend when you are ready… you’ll know when you are.