Rocky passed away three years ago today--was it today? Or was it yesterday? At the time I remember searing the date into my mind as I lay there under the covers of my bed in Minneapolis, stunned that I had seen him just a week before and overwhelmed with grief and anger that I hadn't made it back to Roanoke in time to say goodbye, to hold his little paw as he fell asleep one last time.
But all I remember about the date now is my mom telling me about the appointment the night before, and the next morning Rob taking the day off from work to accompany me to a snowy breakfast at Modern Times followed by a weird, tear-filled walk through the parking deck at Mall of America (we turned around before we got to the door and went home to marathon whatever we were watching at the time and eat gluten-free pizza in bed).
I was flipping through my copy of Old Friend from Far Away last night, looking for a writing prompt, and I realized that Rocky is my old friend from far away. At the time he was my best bud--my first dog, with the sweetest, curliest little mop of a face and paws that I never even thought to smell to see if they had the scent of corn chips. It's because of Rocky that I love Ender so much--he taught me everything I know about caring for a dog.
After a long trip home for Thanksgiving that year, I was all packed up and almost ready to head to Minnesota for a couple weeks before Rob and I came back to Virginia again for Christmas. I decided to take Rocky on one more walk before I left, just me and him. He was so old and arthritic that even though the sight of his leash excited him to no end, I still had to scoop him up in my arms and carry him all the way up the steep driveway to get to the road. It was chilly and quiet and we walked the whole way in silence, just taking in each other's company. I used to take him off the leash once we got started so he could explore the woods a bit, but he stayed right next to me the whole time. When we got back to the house I loaded my bags into the back of my mom's car and headed back inside, really earnestly hopeful that this wasn't going to be our last goodbye.
I got on the floor and cupped his face in my hands, pressing his little forehead to mine. "Don't die before I come back, please," I told him, and then, because I wasn't sure how much control he had over the matter, "I love you so much."
I know that he tried, but he couldn't stick it out. And I hope that even though I wasn't there, as my brother fed him what ended up being his last meal (a 5-piece chicken nugget from McDonalds-- a detail so cute that it makes me smile even today), he remembered that I used to make him macaroons from scratch, and that I always brought him with me everywhere I could, and that he was the main reason I waited so long to move to Minnesota in the first place, and that I couldn't even begin to imagine a world without him.
When I think about him now I picture him at the head of a boat on a lake, the wind blowing his ears and whiskers back. He's eating a sandwich, or a really large number of potstickers like he did the time my mom made dozens of them by hand and then turned her back for a second. He's happy, and his hips don't creak anymore, and he's waiting for us patiently and cheerfully.