The worst day of my life was a long time in the making. By some counts it was twelve years, by others it was six months, still others may argue it was only one day. By my count, it was twenty-one years.
Ever since I could connect the concepts of “want” and “dog”, they were a permanent fixture in my hopes, daydreams, drawings, and scribbled stories. Shortly after my ninth birthday, we took home a little Blue Heeler puppy we named Shania.
After a failed attempt to herd an uncooperative, oncoming motorcycle, she was a three-legged wonder dog, and when you added her ever-sweet personality and impressive catch-the-rubber-steak-off-her-nose trick, she became even more of a celebrity in our circle.
By the time I entered college she was entering her twilight years, becoming more interested in taking naps than in traffic control. Every time I left for school I knelt to pet her, memorize her beautiful face, and say goodbye—well aware that it could be our last moment together.
Soon after arriving in England, I spoke to my sister.
“Today, I was upstairs,” she said. “Shania came hopping up and went straight into your room. She just looked in and started whining.”
A few months later, I was talking to my dad on the phone.
“I just want to give you the heads up,” he said. “Shania’s not doing very well. She hasn’t been eating much, and she doesn’t have any energy.”
She rallied that time, but on a Tuesday in October I was sitting at Sonic with a friend when my phone rang. I answered it mid-laugh and was greeted by my dad’s shaky voice.
“Hey,” he started, then paused to clear his throat. “Um, Shania took a turn for the worst last night. Her nose won’t stop bleeding, and her eye is so swollen she can’t close it. I think tonight is the night.”
I put my head in my hands, but no tears would come. I spent the rest of the day in a daze, unable to shed more than a couple tears, and feeling all the worse for it.
That night, I drove to the Apple store to get my laptop fixed. On the way, my dad called. The vet was on his way. I could hear my mom and sister sobbing in the background.
The man helping me at the store commented on my wallpaper—a picture of Shania—saying, “Now that’s a good-looking pooch.” I tried to maintain composure as I told him what was happening instantaneously with our conversation. With compassion in his eyes, he told me Apple would cover the hundreds of dollars necessary to fix my computer.
As I exited the store, my sister texted me: “It was awful. He had to keep giving her more and more. It was like she didn’t want to leave us. I carried her body to the vet’s car. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else doing it.”
Buckling my seatbelt, reality dealt me a crushing blow, and suddenly I was gasping for air, tears flowing down my cheeks and steadily dripping off my jaw. Back in my dorm room, I curled in the fetal position in a chair, sobbing until I thought I was going to throw up. Head, eyes, jaw, throat, heart—everything hurt.
While on a visit home about a month later, I came home from church one Sunday morning. When I opened the front door I was stunned by the absence of jingling dog tags I instinctively expected to announce my return. It was the silence that hurt the worst.