|Goodbye Otis. Rest well my friend.|
The world washes about me. I roll onto my side, hear a beeping. That has to be the most annoying sound I’ve ever heard. My alarm clock. I stumble out of bed, switching off the alarm. I search the room for the things I’ll need today and pack them in my shoulder bag as I come across them. Then I notice my dog isn’t anywhere in my room. I search in all his usual haunts, not just in my room, but all throughout the house. Nonetheless, he can be found in none of them. Knowing I’ll be late to work if I don’t hurry, I take a quick shower, throw the last things I’ll need into my bag, and toss it into my car before deciding to do one quick search around the house. It all comes back to me in a rush – I let Otis out last night. Had he not been let back in? Had he spent the night in the rain? I hurry to each of the doors, checking to see if he’s there. As I near the back door, I see his small form curled up near the wall of the house. “Otis?” He doesn’t stir. I crouch down beside him, afraid to believe what seems to have happened. No heave of his sides, no sound of breath. I reach out – touch his furry coat. He’s stiff. I prod him, stroke him. No response. I make to lay my ear against him, but notice the glossy sheen, the milky film that covers what I can see of his eyes. I’ve seen enough dead animals to know. My Otis, my beloved pug-nosed-pup, is dead.
Tears well at my eyes; I don’t bother holding them back. They stream down my cheeks, collect in my beard. I can’t help but to cry. This dog was my friend. Yes, an animal, but nonetheless my friend. I still remember those nine years ago when he picked me as the boy to take him home. I still remember the shy puppy that crept out of the pet-crate to my arms, unsure of his new surroundings which would be his home. I still remember the morning I woke up to find his head on the pillow beside me, so natural, as if he had slept there all his life. From then on, he’d never willingly sleep anywhere else. I cry. Not just the hot tears, but the broken breathing. I break down and sob. I loved that dog, and now he was gone. He’d never do the many things he used to do. The many things that would bring a smile to my face, cause me to laugh out loud. He’d been such a good dog. Never been crabby when babies pulled his ears, twisted his tail, sat on him. He’d been patient with me, even when I forgot to feed him, even when I paid him no attention when he needed it, badly. He was a good dog, and I loved him. But now…
My crying wakes my parents. They come to find what’s wrong. I tell them, hardly believing the words that fly from my mouth. “Otis… Otis is dead.”
My brother tells me he was up late doing homework, but that Otis never came back to the door. Never asked to be let back in. They give me time. I call my boss, tell him I need the day off, I can’t come in. He sounds peeved. “It’s an animal, Caleb. You’re shirking your responsibility for a dead pet?” I hear it in his voice. He doesn’t say it, but I can hear it. I don’t care. I’m not going to make it in today. He tells me to call it in, make it official. So, I do.
I wrap my pet, my friend, in a towel; carry him in my arms out to a spot where I think a grave would be out of the way. It’s too wet. I think of another, carrying my puppy’s lifeless body and setting it down gently. The tears. My nose runs. The tears don’t stop. It’s raining, rain running down my face. Washing the pain from my face. I can do this. It’ll be alright, Caleb. Yes, he was your friend. He was your companion, your pet. The one creature on this earth that loved you undividedly… but he’s only an animal.
The rain drips from my chin, my nose. It runs down my neck as I dig. I’m no stranger to digging. I know how to handle a shovel. I’ve dug graves before. But not for my own dog. My shadow, cast by the flashlight I set on a rock, looks eerie as it slams the shovel into the ground again and again. I dig the grave, one shovelful at a time. I look at the towel where my dog is wrapped. I guess I didn’t do a very good job, his tail sticks out one end. The tears pour out again. That tail. The tail that curled. The tail that would instantly curl and wag the minute I said Otis’ name out loud. The tail that would straighten when the dog thought he was a puppy and ran around in circles, chasing, playing. That tail. I dig. The grave is finished. I unwrap Otis from the towel, lay him more straight, tuck everything in, roll him up. I lower him into the hole, into the ground. So stiff, so lifeless. A corpse. My puppy-dog is a corpse. With my bare hands I cover the small body with the dirt one handful, two, three, four. Then I just pull it all. I realize this signifies that I believe he is dead. I mound the dirt on the grave; it is only a small mound. He was a small dog. I stand and retrieve the flashlight, the shovel. Look down at the grave. Is this a dream? Do I have to live this? Can’t I just wake up? No. No. No! Not this! Not now! I knew I’d have to bury him someday, but why must it be today? What sign is this! What am I being taught? Why do I look for a hidden meaning? Why would there be a hidden meaning? Death is natural. It comes to every living, breathing creature at some time. It was just his time. Why? Why! The tears stream again. They mingle with the rain on my face. I can do nothing. It is finished. Before I go, I kneel by the grave. Place a hand on the mound of earth. Goodbye, Otis. Rest well, my friend. And then I’m walking back to the house, the rain still falling on me.
I miss him already. I go inside. Talk with my parents. “Get some sleep.” My dad says. But I can’t sleep. How can I? I sit up, reading. A diversion – it’s what I need. I want to cry more, but crying won’t help. I’ve cried enough. There’s a time to linger on the past, and there’s a time to move on. Jesus Christ, give me the strength to move on. You gave me that loving pet, and now you’ve taken him back. What would you have me do? As I look back, I feel I’m in shock or something. I still have trouble believing he’s gone. I think: what must it be like to lose a close friend, who’s human? Flesh and blood of man? I wonder if I’d survive that. Somehow I doubt I could without supernatural assistance. I guess I’m just protective of the people I love.
But now that this day is nearly at its end, I have to prepare for tomorrow. I’m expecting work to be awful like it always is. It will probably be worse. I’ll expect no sympathy. Before I accept this day as done and over, though, I feel I need to do one thing. I pray. Father in Heaven! I call. Lord God, Creator of Heaven, Earth, and all Creation. You giveth… and you taketh away. Take what you will, Lord. It is yours. All is yours. I am only the steward for the time you have me to be. And when that time is up. Lord, take what is yours. All is yours. Jesus Christ, Savior of man, halleluiah! Praise be to you and your grand will. I am your servant, Father. Do as you will, not as I will. Thank you, Lord, for Your gift; Your generous gift. Thank you for those nine years with Otis. Praise be for your glorious will. Amen.
I look to tomorrow in a new light. I’ll miss my dog. I’m sure the scars will take some time to heal. But this, yes even this, is part of a glorious plan that is not my own, but the Lord God Almighty’s. And that gives me comfort. I have the strength – I can move on.
Goodbye Otis. Rest well my friend. And… Thank you, Lord.