Not all childhood stories are memorable because they remind us of carefree, simpler times. Sometimes a childhood memory stands out from the rest because it marks a first, the first time our heart truly breaks. When we realize for the first time, in some small way, that life is fragile. That loving sometimes means hurting, and being sad.
When we got back from our Colorado trip Dexter’s bright eyes and hyperactive tail were not there to greet us. At first we weren’t too worried. He likes to visit his dog friends that live down the canal. He always comes home. As the day stretched on and I would find myself listening for the familiar jingle of his collar, but there was only silence. Justin left late in the afternoon to call on neighbors, asking if they had seen him wandering about. He returned with a very serious look on his face. He had found Dexter…by the side of the road. It wasn’t like Dex to wander by the road. Even when I would walk to the end of the lane to check the mail or collect the garbage can, he would sit and wait by the gate not wanting to be near the speeding cars. But something must have tempted him to cross.
I buried my face in his shoulder and cried. Cried for the sweet, brown-eyed dog who had won over my calloused heart. For the children who loved him more than any other animal we have ever owned. How would we tell them? What could we say to comfort them?
Let me tell you something, a mama never gets used to seeing her babies cry. I watched my oldest son make a little wooden cross for our simple funeral service. The tears pooled in his eyes and dripped on his hands as he pounded the nails into his homemade cross. Miss E picked flowers for his little grave while G located a few shovels. All of their faces were streaked with dirt and tears. I will forever remember this scene. We sent the rest of the day hugging, crying, and repeating the words “It’s okay…it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay cry.”
Many times over the last two years I had planned on sitting down and writing Dexter’s story. I wish I would have done it sooner. His story still feels like a bit of a miracle to me. But I should start by telling you that before Dex, we had had a string of hand-me-down, cast-off dogs in our lives. The vast majority of them were big, hyper, would knock over the children anytime they got near, constantly running away; having to be found and brought back home, only to turn around and run away again. I was so weary of crazy, high-strung dogs I was ready to swear them all off for good.
I remember so well the day Dexter entered into our lives. It was an unseasonably warm January afternoon, and I had walked to the end of our lane to fill in pot-holes. I had just finished with my raking, when I glanced down the road and saw a small brown dog trotting down the side of the road. I thought nothing of him. Roaming dogs are a common sight out in the country. I walked down the lane with my big straw hat on and my rake in hand. Suddenly all the children were running out to greet me, waving their arms and pointing. I looked back to see the small brown dog trotting happily behind me. He gently greeted each excited child with a friendly wag and pushed his small nose into their open hands. I smiled and shrugged. He’d wander off soon enough, but might as well let the kids have a little fun in the meantime.
But he didn’t wander off. He stayed and played. I offered him a little of our leftover lunch which he politely accepted and quickly devoured. That night when we turned off the house lights and headed to bed, he was curled up on the front porch step, sound asleep. It seemed he had found his home. We looked at the lost and found ads online, asked around the neighborhood but no one seemed to be looking for this delightful little guy. It completely baffled me. Who would abandon the world’s most perfect dog?! He was so tender with the children, house-trained, didn’t bark at friends… he was a small miracle that restored my faith in dogs.
Justin went out and bought him his own collar with an ID tag, I gave him a good long bath. I remember when I got him out of the tub, both the girls decided they would get Dexter looking nice and fancy. He sat perfectly still with his ears submissively down as they combed him all over with little pink plastic doll brushes. I grinned and thought “Any dog that would put up with this is a keeper.” And he was.
He claimed Miss P as his own straight away, and she adored him. I could never tell if Dexter thought he was a baby or if Miss P thought she was a puppy, but it was clear that they viewed each other as being cut from the same cloth. She would grab handfuls of dog food out of his bowl, and he never blinked or made so much as a small growl about it. She made sure she dropped lots of goodies for him each and every mealtime. They were quite the duo.
When she would lay on the couch sick with a fever, he was always hovering nearby like nervous nursemaid. Worrying and fretting.
He is now just a memory, he has become a story that we tell, a small empty place left in our hearts.