Monday, September 23, 2013

My Girl

The sky above me hangs heavy with the stone grey rain clouds of a typhoon that just passed this morning. The cold weather and dampness in the air still lingers behind, not ready to fully leave Matsumoto for its next destination. I twirl the stems of the flowers between my fingers, rolling them back and forth, while the distant music plays through the headphones nuzzled in my ears. I can hear the river rushing with the water it carries down from the mountains. This is the first time I've seen it rush with such force, over flowing over both sides of the banks. It's murky with the dirt it's stirred up, and as it passes by me it carves its way into the body of Japan. The two white flowers I hold are from a friend. She brought a bouquet home to me the day after I got the news. My knees are pressed tightly to my chest and I look back at the river. The speed of its movement reminds me that nothing in life is permanent and nothing remains the same. Everything on earth is in a content state of change, and time doesn't stand still for anyone or anything. It propels life forward and brings life to an end.  My eyes are locked on the water as the flowers are twirled back and forth. I hold them over the river, telling myself to drop them. To let them go. Let them float through the air and land on the water, where they will be absorbed and disappear. Letting go of something you love is more of a crushing feeling than a liberation. I want it to feel like a weight is going to be lifted, but I can't help feeling like my heart will continue to sink. I clutch the flowers, as if they are her, unable to let her go. I am unable to accept that just like the river will do to the flowers, life has carried her away from me.

Few things in this world meant more to me than my girl. That little tiny six pound fuzzy white dog had my entire heart from the moment I first saw her. I've watched people in my life pass away, and while every death is a terrible loss and hurts in different ways, nothing has ever been as close or hit me quite as hard as losing Nikkie.

I didn't understand it. I didn't expect it. I didn't see it coming. I didn't expect to return to Japan from a trip home, to find out three days later that she was gone. It was so fast. In the blink of an eye something was taken from me that I expected to have for years to come.

I had just begun settling back into my life in Japan the night my mom told me over Skype that they put her to sleep. I cried. She cried. She kept apologizing to me, as if it was her fault. It wasn't. It isn't any one's fault. The vet told my parents it was beyond anything they could do to save her. While I would give anything to have her back, to have found out earlier and have been able to stop it, I also am trying to find a way to accept the fact that this happens. That life is cruel and unfair and everyday people have those that they love snatched from them.

She wasn't hurt. She wasn't old. She hadn't been in bad health, and I think this is what has shook our family. After a few days of acting differently we took her to the vet, to discover that she had contracted an infection that spread throughout her entire body with such speed and strength it was too late to stop it. It was too late to help her. The first thing that crossed my mind that I can help believing was that she knew. She knew she was sick and she waited for me to leave. Dogs are much more aware of the world and the relationships we have with them, than we give them credit for. She knew I couldn't handle it. There was no way I could have been ok with being home and dealing with that, like my parents had to, and I think she knew that. Either that or she needed me and I left. I try not to focus on the latter. 

I got Nikkie in December, right after my eighteenth birthday. I had told my parent's how much I really wanted a dog, and they had somehow been able to agree that I was responsible enough for one. Although I brought her into the house as my dog, she immediately became the love of my family. She was the most affectionate animal, who always wanted to be right next to you, pushing her face in you your neck for attention. She developed the habit of pawing at you to be cuddled or picked up. She added something special to our family that I know none of us will forget. I will miss the way she snuggled with me in bed, the way she always had bed head in the morning as she poked out from under the blankets. I will miss the way she jumped around in circles when she got excited and the way she would talk in her silly un-dog like weird yaps. She bounded around like a rabbit when she chased a ball, and never failed to lose interest in the game within minutes. I will miss her company and I will miss the entertainment she added to my life.

For those of you who have dogs, I don't need to explain what a dog means to its owner. The term best friend doesn't even accurately describe how much you can love an animal. For those who are not pet owners, having a dog is like having a child.  Like a child adds to a parent's life, she immediately became a huge source of happiness in my life, in a way that nothing had before. As life has it's ups and downs, and crossing into your twenties from teenage hood can be a struggle and confusing, my dog was always there. She was the one thing that could always comfort me. The one thing that could improve the way I felt, even during the worst times.The greatest thing she taught me is that love can be unconditional. That you can and should be able to love someone no matter what. That there is always more to give, and that everyday you should show the people you love what they mean to you. Life is so much sweeter with sincerity, and your happiness and appreciation of others is a great gift to give. Happiness is contagious, and it is yours to spread.

As I have changed from eighteen to twenty-five, she changed with me. She was beside me as I went through different phases in my life, and with every year that passed I loved her more and more. I expected to have her as I passed from my twenties into my thirties. I expected to have her as I met the person I will one day spend my life with. I always told the boys in my life that the quickest way to my heart is through my dog. That if you love her and treat her like yours, I'm sold. 

Losing her will forever feel like losing a part of myself. No dog can replace the relationship I had with her. Nothing can fill the empty space in my life her death has left. My heart doesn't feel right, and there is a sadness inside of me I didn't see coming. A feeling I'm struggling to figure out how to work through.

My parent's buried her in the backyard under a tree my brother planted a while back. With the changing of the seasons she will become the orange and red that paints its way through the leaves during Fall. She will be in the branches that bare themselves this Winter, and when Spring arrives, she will be in every flower that blossoms. She's gone and the only way I can begin to accept that is to believe that she will continue living in another way.