It was the summer of 2001. I was 9 years old. My mother and father had just gotten divorced in the spring and, while I never had a particularly good relationship with my dad, divorces are rarely fun for anyone involved. It was lonely and I did not feel like I was really attached to anyone other than my mother, who was struggling with her own reactions to our recent life changes, and my brother, who I love dearly but whom was never very good at being supportive to others.
One day, my mother discovered a posting on the board outside the post office (because postings are best posted at a post office of course). A family was giving up a three year old black Labrador retriever free to a good home. Perhaps sensing the void in my life at the time, she gave them a call. Within 24 hours, we were the proud owners of Lucky.
They said that they did not know much about Lucky beyond the fact that they had found him dying by the side of the road about a year earlier. Being good Samaritans (and apparently rich as Donald Trump), they took him to the veterinary hospital and paid over $3000 to bring him back to good health. The doctor told them he had been hit by a car and was severely dehydrated. He was lucky to have survived. Thus, he got the cliché name of Lucky.
This family, from now on to be referred to as the Trumps, told us that they loved Lucky, but that he was too big of a dog for their small home. They had two other dogs, both small yappy things that looked to be made more as accessories to a nice purse than a companion. They said that Lucky was an amazing pet, but that he needed a home that could care for him.
At 9 years old, and feeling like I needed a friend, I was quick to get attached to Lucky. He had an excellent temperament and did not mind me bouncing around the house, horsing around with him, and terrorizing him in ways only children can. He and I were inseparable within days.
This bond between us was a good thing because it saved Lucky's bacon on a few occasions. Within a month of coming to our home, he had eviscerated a pair of my mother's high heels, gnawed a few beautiful marks into the cushions of the living room couch, and made "spread the trash can all over the damn place while everyone is sleeping" his favorite game. If not for the fact that he was adorable and that I was in love with the big lug, then my mother probably would have returned him to Mr. Trump without hesitation.
As time went on, we learned other funky traits about my new best friend. He had a tattoo on his ear that the Trump's say had nothing to do with them. I would often imagine that Lucky had been the subject of some kind of genetic experiment and that he would start talking or flying or some other kind of awesome superpower. It turns out, he did have a super-power: licking. For whatever reason, Lucky loved to lick stuff. Your face? Lick. The floor? Lick. The couch? Lick. The dirt outside? Lick that too. Nothing was safe from the lick.
He also had a penchant for running away. Not the "I want to be free from domestication" kind of running away. More the "I want to go and shit in as many yards as I can and then I will be back in an hour or two" kind of way. Knowing he had been hit by a car once, these little runaway strolls of his drove me crazy and I would often scour the neighborhood to find him.
For example, there was one time in the summer of 2005. I had been cast as the Cowardly Lion in a library production of the Wizard of Oz (Truly, an honor T.T ). Despite being a summer library program, the people creating the show took it deadly serious. It was a requirement that we wore elaborate costumes and makeup and anything else needed to really drive home that this production was serious business (even though it was going to be held in the conference room of a library on a Friday afternoon for parents, a few extended relatives, and some disinterested youth that got dragged to see it). For my part, I had taken the role as far as I could. I had a full lion costume, complete with a mane, a tail, and garish make-up that made me look like the Joker. Keep in mind that this was 2005, which means I was 13 years old. So, this thing embarrassed the hell out of me.
It was the day of the show. I was already in my full lion suit and most of my make up (WHY SO SERIOUS?!). I opened the door to head out and SWOOOSH! Lucky bolts through my legs out the door for a prance through the neighborhood. Lucky would always come back, but the thought of being gone for hours with him skulking around the neighborhood made me nervous. I decided I needed to find him. I had no time to change though. So, I grabbed a leash and bolted out after him. In a lion suit. With a tail. And a mane. And Joker makeup. Cars honked and people heckled as the cowardly lion skulked people's backyard on the prowl for his Labrador (I found him a few houses over leaving the neighbors a present under their front bushes).
He had other proud moments as well. Once, we were painting and locked him in the bathroom so he would not accidentally get in to trouble or inhale any fumes. Within an hour he had scratched through the door. Another time, I borrowed 4 manga volumes from a friend and left them on my bed while I went out for a bit. I came home to manga confetti. Still, these moments were always interspersed with so many positives. He was the most lovable little bastard in the planet and he knew it. You name a positive trait you would want in a dog and he had it.
In 2008, I went to college (yes, that math is right: I was 16 when I went to college). I did not have much in the way of disposable income (translation: I was dirt poor), and so I decided it would be best to commute to college from home. It was a tough decision given that I was eligible for enough financial aid to foot the bill, but the thought of four years away from Lucky was not very enticing. As I came into some maturity in college, Lucky had as well. The days of playing fetch and chasing him down the street in lion costumes had given way to him sitting in my lap while doing homework or playing video games (he was not big on shooters and would give a slightly gruff bark at big explosions) and lounging around the house awaiting me to come home from class to give him epic belly rubs.
During my college years, I also faced some of the biggest challenges in my life. Friendships, relationships, betrayals, family drama, the remarriage of my mother and father (which was marketed as a good thing despite my knowing otherwise), deaths, papers, finals, etc. The only constant was Lucky. He was there. Even afterwards, when I started searching for my first job of my career in addition to the constant struggles of living with family members suffering from mental illness (I assume you have figured out that is my dad by now, you wonderfully astute reader), Lucky was there. It just seems like he had always been there and always would be. Grayer perhaps, but always there.
Then last winter hit. It was in January of 2014. We live in New England and the snow battered us harder than usual. It seemed it was snowing every 2-3 days for awhile. Lucky, now hovering right around 17 years old, did not have the same hearty exterior as in the old days. Every walk was incrementally harder for him. On a snowy day in January, he was out for his normal walk around my yard and dropped to the ground. He could not stand and his breathing was labored. I felt a wrenching in my stomach since I knew right away: something was wrong and things were not going to be the same.
Turns out, it was a stroke. There were a few days right after it happened that it seemed he was not going to recover. He had lost access to his back legs and he was lethargic. I would say he was probably in pain, but Lucky never would have let me know. Not once did he ever cry or moan. In 17 years, not a single time.
I knew my time left with him was probably short. On the first night after he had the stroke, I whispered to him that it was okay to go. I told him I would miss him, but that he did not need to stay for me. I told him I would be able to carry on and that he did not need to be in pain anymore for my sake. I knew when I said it that it was a lie. I was not even close to ready and he knew it. I think that may be part of why he fought so hard to survive it.
In the days and weeks following the stroke, Lucky forced himself to live. He never stopped eating, he never stopped nuzzling up to people, and he never stopped pushing himself to get back to full health. He would often stand, take a few steps, and then take a face-plant back on to the ground only to get up and do it again. He was stubborn like that, and that drive was part of his charm.
After a long 30 days of recovery, Lucky was almost completely back to normal. He was a little wobbly on his old legs, but they were working and his energy was still more or less the same as before the stroke. He had fought and clawed his way back from the brink and I was ecstatic. I was able to pack in a few more months of great memories with my best friend. More days of him sitting in my lap, getting epic belly rubs, and eviscerating my trashcan.
Wednesday July 9th, Lucky had another stroke. This time, he lost more than just his back legs. He lost all energy, all desire to move. He lost the will to eat or drink. I knew instantly that he would not be bouncing back this time. Thursday night, I again whispered to him that it was okay. I told him I would miss him, but that he did not need to stay for me. I told him that I knew he was in a lot of pain even though he refused to show it. I told him that he did not need to struggle anymore. This time, I feel like I was somewhat more sincere albeit with a healthy dose of bluffing. I think he knew that he could not claw his way back this time. He accepted my empty permission.
Around 12:30am on Friday night, my labrador retriever Lucky passed away. He was 17. In his final few moments, I was still awake to hold him one last time, to give him epic belly rubs, and to soothe him.
I am not posting this just because I am sad (I am) or because I just wanted to eulogize him. I wanted to make sure that I never forget what lucky was for me and it felt like writing this out was the best way to do it. He was a lot of things to me.
He was a good dog that was always full of energy and had a great temperament even when I sometimes lacked both those traits
He was a confidant who I could share any secret with, knowing it would be kept safe.
He was my best friend
He was my favorite shoulder to cry on.
He was my gaming buddy.
He was probably the strongest being (person or otherwise) that I know. Even in those last moments, he did not cry (I have done plenty of that for the both of us though)
He was, is, and forever will be in my heart. Not just my affection for him, but the memories too. The memories of him gnawing on my friend's manga, chasing him in a lion suit, playing a game with him in my lap, and epic belly rubs. Those memories are not going anywhere.
I know he will never get to see this and I know I did not convey it to him as clearly as I should have in his final days, but I need to say something, and I need to say it with sincerity:
I will miss you forever. I will never forget you. I will never have another pet I care about nearly as much. Lucky, It is okay. I know you were in a lot of pain, and I know you struggled on so long because you worried about me. I want to make sure you know
I am going to be okay.
You can rest in peace now.