I looked over as you settled into the seat next to me. There you were, every bit as beautiful to me as the day we brought you home. And yet things had certainly changed. You sat alone, rather than riding to your new home in my wife's arms. You've grown so much over the years as well. Could it really be that you are leaving us at last? After so much time, would we really not be sharing another ride together?
I reached over to you, and stroked your fur. You tail twitched, your head tilted into the caress as you tried to make sure I scratched that spot just behind your ear. "Well, baby girl -- it's just you and me. Do you remember the first time we took a ride together, just you and me? I held you in my lap so you would feel safe. But we're both bigger now -- no room for both of us behind the wheel. Can it really be fifteen years?"
As we rolled to a stop at the first light in town, I glanced into the rear view mirror. In my mind's eye I saw a ghost of an image -- another car, another time, another ride. I could hear Paula laughing, back in the days of that old Ford Escort, as yet another car passed us, someone pointing as that big stuffed toy lying in the rear window lifted its head and tracked the approaching vehicle as it closed the gap and moved ahead. That was your throne, and when you sat up you looked like the Sphinx in all its glory. I glanced over at you, older, grayer, yet still not looking like the little old lady you were, curled up on a blanket to comfort your aching bones. My heart broke.
And then you struggled to your feet, knocking aside my hand so that you could look out the window at the traffic. Some things don't change, even as others do. I couldn't help but ask you, "So, little dog, are you wishing you could put that old head out the window one last time, to let those ears flap in the breeze? I do, too." And then the feet slipped, the legs buckling beneath the weight they had been avoiding.
Or so I thought -- until you launched yourself down into the space in front of the seat. What did you find? An old french fry? A used tissue for you to chew up? You were the master of that scrambling around the car looking for such treasures. "Maybe," I thought, "this won't be the last time after all."
But then you struggled to raise yourself back to the seat, and I remembered the first time we took this particular trip to this particular place. You were shivering, quivering on the seat in back, sick nearly to death as you bled internally. Oh, how we prayed then that you would be well -- I lifted up the same prayer again, knowing that the answer would not be so favorable. God ordained that sick dogs can be healed -- old dogs, on the other hand, cannot be made young again.
I lifted you up again, one hand feeling the ribs through the layers of skin and fur. You struggled back into a comfortable position, and licked my hand. All I ever had to do was reach out to you in the back seat to get those puppy kisses, profuse and wet as you showered me with affection in exchange for a pet. Now it is all you can do to give the canine equivalent of a peck on the cheek, so tired were you from your exertions. I pet you more, feeling your labored breathing on this hot Houston afternoon. My heart breaks. I'm reminded of the reason for our ride once more.
it wasn't long before we made that turn. You sigh, as if in acknowledge that the journey's end is near. How many times had you darted excitedly from side to side of the back seat when we would enter the driveway at the vet, looking to escape, looking to see the girls inside who would fuss and fawn over you and your golden coat. No excitement this time, only resignation and something akin to relief.
Somehow we found a parking space not far from the door. As I pulled in, your head dropped back to the seat, and you didn't stir. It seems so odd -- even a few weeks ago you would have jumped into my lap, eager to be out the door before me and into the grass to take care of your business. You seemed to know that this was the end of the road, that the tears Paula had shed for you at the house and those I had cried as we drove were a signal to you of what was to come.
And so I lifted you, wrapped in your favorite blanket, and gently took you to the place where you would make one last trip, one to which I could be a witness but not a companion. It was the time for farewells, as our last trip together reached its sad conclusion. And so I hugged you tightly and kissed you one last time -- not nearly enough recompense for the love and devotion of fifteen years, nor solace in the face of the knowledge that I would soon begin another drive alone, with only a leash and collar to remind me of those happier times.