Last week I turned 24. Three days later the dog my family adopted twelve years ago passed away. I don't want to say my dog's passing is fitting, but it is cruelly symmetrical.
I was the only one in the family who could spell her name: Guinevere, not Gwenevere or Guenevere, but yes, Gwenny. I remember I wanted a dog so bad at 12. Our golden retrievers passed away two years before, but I was born into their family; I had never raised a dog.
I didn't hold Guinevere when I first saw her. It was our second visit to the pound, and we had our eyes set on another dog - a Beagle. We were first on the list for that Beagle. Guinevere was just a 10-week-old puppy knocked out in her kennel, tired out from all the handling people do when they see a pup. My parents agreed we could sign up for her. We weren't going to get her; we were sixth on the list.
But then they called. My mom says she knew we were getting her when we took a wastebasket with us - to hold her in the car ride home. She only filled half the wastebasket on that ride. That didn't last long.
She was supposed to be my dog, my puppy, my shadow, but she truly was my dad's dog. He fed her, he walked her for miles, and it was he who she waited for at the end of the day. This was destined when I look back: My dad grew up around dogs, but he never really had his own. Like me, his father was the primary caretaker for the dogs.
But Guinevere and I had an understanding that I was her brother. She slept in my room when she was being housebroken. I chased her in circles around the house. I named her.
When our church had a photo session for a new directory, we brought Guinevere to the photo shoot. Our most recent family photo (which is, admittedly, from my senior year of high school) has Guinevere in my dad's lap. We said we wanted that picture in the directory. Some priss decided a different photo - one without a dog - would go in. Oh well. It's the photo with Guinevere in it that sits atop my dresser.
You can't tell a dog when you're going to college, why you're leaving her, when you'll be back, that you tell your friends about her. My friends all knew about the queen, a queen because of her namesake, not because of her temperament. You're more excited for free food when you first come home from college, and all she wants to do is sniff you, but at night you cuddle with her and roll the ball and she knows you always missed her. And when you leave again, you're trying to make time. You hurriedly hug her, maybe peck her between the eyes, but then you're gone. You'll see her again.
I always knew she would go, the same way I know everyone will go. I just didn't think it would be yesterday. With each recent visit home, she was stiffer, and there were bumps beneath her fur. I expressed concern, but everyone else shrugged; that's what happens to old dogs. But she could also so easily revert to her puppy self. She would play-growl and hop about. She would cock her head when I didn't chase her. And I would lay on the floor and Instagram her once I got tired of circles. I sometimes wonder if dogs can develop dementia - and, in a wonderful way, relive their puppyhood.
Still, I thought she had time. In my mind, she was 12, but a smaller dog, so that meant two more years, at least one more summer. My kiss goodbye on Easter was a "see you later" - which maybe it still is, but it's a little longer "see you later" than I meant.
My dad left me a voicemail on Saturday morning. There was nothing urgent in his call, but then he called again an hour later. I stupidly answered while doing yoga stretches at the gym. Thirty seconds of casual chatter, and then some words I don't recall verbatim, but the shadow moved swift: He was about to tell me Guinevere was gone. "Guinevere was getting older," "it was peaceful," "Thursday night was rough," "we thought about waiting for you to come home," "it was the right thing to do," "we love you," "are you okay?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."
But suddenly you can't be inside. I think what did it was trying to post a photo of my beloved with "My princess passed on yesterday" with a crown emoji. But then I couldn't stare at her brown eyes, her solemn face with hints of puppyhood beaming through, and remembering her in that wastebasket, on my bed, beside me on family vacations, and my throat stretched dry. I deleted the photo, and I went outside. I had intended to go for a run, and so I did that. I did not intend to cry on the run. What a pathetic mess.
Blame the ENTJ in me, but I always question what is the point of tears. Crying gets you nowhere. I knew Guinevere would go; I knew she was old. But that doesn't change the memory slideshow playing through your head or the hindsight bias that I should have played with her one more time before I left on Easter or gone home spur-of-the-moment to be with her at the end. My guiltiest moment from childhood is when my parents put down one of our golden retrievers while I was at school, and I didn't notice she was missing until my parents informed me. What a ignorant, self-absorbed, horrible sibling I was.
And writing this now, I think of one time I was inconsolably upset, irrevocably pissed at the world. So I clung to Guinevere and sobbed into her fur. (This memory sounds melodramatic.) I didn't need her to talk back or lick my face, just be there. And that's what dogs are good for.
But now she's gone. Even when you know it's coming, nothing softens the reality. So, chase your dog around the house one more time today. For Guinevere.