Who had a dog and…

Somewhere, I have written the exact date of a dream I had about Stitch not too long after he died, definitely before a month had passed. It was one of those dreams you’re so sure is real, that when you wake up, you simply think it’s a different day of the same reality. There’s really such a thing as crying one’s self to sleep – I didn’t know it was possible and assumed it was an American colloquialism. I can still feel the relief of waking up, knowing Stitch was alive and waiting for me right outside my door and completely unable to catch my breath when I turned to see his empty bed. It had been left solely to me to pack his things, donate his remaining treats and toys/bedding to the local no-kill shelters and empty the house of any reminders that there was once a 10 lb. little white boy ruling our hearts and home. After a while, exactly 18 days, I stopped crying everyday and I learned not to think of Stitch for too long, too hard because it wasn’t helping me move on. Even now, I still feel a twinge of guilt when I think of having another dog and I can’t let myself feel my happy memories containing Stitch. When I find my thoughts wandering to something I enjoyed with him, I have to lockdown and shut it out. It’s a bruise that still hurts even if it’s faded.

In my dream, I actually say, “I’m so glad it was just a bad dream,” when I go into the kitchen and find my little buddy waiting. The exuberance your pet shows when you enter a room is the closest I think any of us will ever get to feeling unbounded love. You’re (from individuals to family as a collective) their entire world and you know when their handlers die or disappear for a stretch, dogs and cats feel loss. They grieve, they stop eating, they give up on living if someone will let them. Stitch didn’t take my return to UB well. He came with me and my mom to help set up my apartment (which wouldn’t be ready for another 2 days) and totally loved it! From the very beginning, I had taken Stitch along with me on roadtrips to the Poconos, Albany and Rochester if I wasn’t in class or working. I shouldn’t have been surprised he took to it the way I did: sleep! Once, Chris and I were in the Bronco (which has bench seating) on our way to Rochester and Stitch had been sleeping on my lap for 6 hours without stirring once to ask for the bathroom. I turned to my ex and said, “Looks like he’s got my crazy bladder control,” and Stitch got up, stretched, walked over onto Chris’ lap and began peeing with no warning. The laughter stimulated by the irony meant I couldn’t pull Stitch off Chris so Chris did and put Stitch on the bench seat next to him while he pulled over. Stitch didn’t miss a beat: he turned around, back onto his lap and continued relieving himself. The memory makes me laugh even now, eleven years later! God, I was shattered three days later as I unpacked into my new place and kept thinking about the little white boy who wouldn’t be sharing my bed for a while. It was very lonely and I got homesick often. My dad called me and told me he was feeding Stitch human food (something I really didn’t want for him because a canine’s nutrition needs are so not the same). Before I got too upset, he told me Stitch refused to eat and drink for three days after he and my mom made the return trip. No amount of cajoling, strictness, etc can make a dog or cat consume anything they don’t want so my parents were forced to try human food. When my dad told me my 4 lbs. dog ate an entire Chinese take-out beef stick order (that’s three sticks if we’re counting), Chris nearly died when I related the story to him. Effectively, Stitch had eaten a quarter of his own weight in beef! The extent to which my parents spoiled Stitch was obscene. The dog got prime rib every other week and filet mignon or spicy broccoli every Friday but he never begged for food from anyone but my sister. He figured out early on that she’s a germaphobe and if he “sneezed” on her food, she would promptly give it up. There are too many stories involving my sister leaving an entire plate of food on the floor while she got a drink and the dog managed to make off with the entire thing! It’s very amusing to see a small dog, dragging a heavy human sized plate bigger than himself.

Until yesterday, I had a very difficult time writing about my happy memories of/with Stitch. I’d get writer’s block from the crashing waves of sadness and regret, lost in those memories. I’d type and tears just popped out and I’d realize I was typing in circles. The thing is, I share this recollection of a dream now because I may have been a wreck upon waking, but the dream was actually very good. If a Rainbow Bridge exists, then Stitch wanted me to know he’s okay. Rationally, I know it’s very likely that when we die, that’s it: no Heaven, Hell, angels or demons. Buddhists believe life is suffering and it is wrong to prolong the suffering and indignity of another life struggling painfully to live. I think it’s a very natural response to living that we try to fend off death even in its throes. But the little comfort I get in believing that somewhere, someday, we’ll be reunited is the only thing I have because I can’t forget Stitch’s little face, begging me not to go, “Please, don’t leave me, mom,” when the vet tech had to take him for x-rays/sedation. He was so tired and in pain, he couldn’t bark, just soft whimpers and unwavering eye contact. My fearless little boy was afraid for the first time in his life.

My dream was pretty mundane for how wild they can get. It was just another day, at home, going up and down the stairs with the day’s activities and chores (Hercules also making an appearance). Always right on my heel, Stitch needing to know what I was doing, shoving his face between mine and the laptop, taking up more of the glider seat than *I* was, grabbing his leash and bringing it to me for a walk and letting me love on him. I’m forgetting the way he used to smell of oatmeal and honey. One bath and he was a walking marshmallow for three weeks. His coat was silky and show quality and he knew when he was pretty. His gait would change from playful house pet to show ring prance and god help you if you didn’t acknowledge how handsome he was. I’m forgetting the feel of his weight in my arms and against my side at night. I’m forgetting and it makes me so sad 😦 For a few weeks, I’m ashamed to admit that I found solace in preparing to join Stitch. I was so heartbroken that he might be scared and upset in a world without his family, that he didn’t know I never had any intention of leaving him alone and that I thought he’d be coming home. The unanswered questions, the empty reassurances, everything was pointing to an exit sign. If there was one grief I could have done without learning, the loss of a child tops it. Our pets become family and treasured members: like raising an infant to adulthood, making sure their needs are met, keeping them safe and healthy. I miss Stitch but I couldn’t do that to my parents. I couldn’t and didn’t want them to experience that loss: having to bury their daughter. Stitch’s passing has taught me empathy towards parenthood/my parents, revealing the fierce strength that I may not have; it makes me question my ability to care for living things.

There’s still the holidays we’re going to have to soldier through without a little boy stuck in a dog costume. Stitch loved wrapping paper and shredding it but he loved eating toilet paper and Bounty if he could get his paws on it. He hated Halloween and the decorations at his eye level but he loved his candy. Stitch ate Starbursts, gummy bears, jelly beans but was a complete sucker for Skittles. Watching him chew candy like a kid was fascinating! He knew when my sister had them in her bag, just by the sound and if she took too long to hand ’em over, he helped himself and purloined the pack with his paws and teeth. He was uncannily good at getting into our purses and removing chapstick. The purses never looked disturbed and it was only when we were out and needed it, we’d realize what happened. Stitch ate $50 and $100 dollar bills (and only those denominations) on more than one occasion and then, there was the time he swallowed some loose diamonds my mom was looking at. He knew by the feel of a car’s speed and the duration of the trip if he was headed towards the Carvel or the groomer’s. His grooming sessions were eventually moved into the privacy of our home because it was clear that no man could touch him without getting bit. Stitch was ferociously protective of my mom and anyone who wasn’t female or Asian wouldn’t do. He was a misandrist (I didn’t train him to attack men; he developed it on his own – growing up with three women and one man in the house, it might have been inevitable.) My mom used to carry him in a makeshift papoose around work and everywhere – he loved being at the Carvel and couldn’t wait to lick the ice cream splatters from our clothes/shoes. My sister would enter the house, he’d make a beeline for her and greet her by licking her calf. It’s a weird feeling knowing you’re being devoured or at least, considered for consumption.You know you’re doing something right by your pet if people regularly ask to take your dog’s place for a day/lifetime. One of the kid employees at the store was graduating from high school, and once told me he wanted to grow up and be Stitch when I asked his thoughts on college and career choice. Some people don’t get steak twice a year, nevermind twice a month with sides of steamed veggies. There were mortifying times where we’d be out to dinner at a nice restaurant and my parents would pull the plates still nearly full of food out of the reach of their daughters, saying, “You’ve had enough. Stitch needs to eat, too. You could lose some weight anyway!” They’d cut up all the doggy bag food into tiny squares and sometimes even order Stitch his own meal to go. He had it good. I just wish my parents hadn’t felt the need to tell everyone the food was for the dog when they (parents) asked the waitstaff very specific questions about the ingredients (dogs can’t tolerate tomatoes, onions, chocolate) used in the meal. It felt like an indirect insult to the chef’s talents and time and effort he put in to cook for people. I’ve heard spices can be used as a canine deterrent from food you don’t want them eating, but Stitch loved spicy broccoli and kimchi. When I put Fire Sauce on my burritos, Stitch got too close, sneezed and kicked backwards but insisted on coming back for more. If you gave him a choice between food with spice and not, you’d see his eyes enlarge and get high enjoying whatever spice was left on my plate. He was definitively a very unique dog, too smart for his own good at times.

But first, his birthday is the week of Halloween and I don’t know how to celebrate the memory of his life or even if I should.