I remember sitting on the floor in front of my grandma’s rocking chair when I was almost four years old. We were watching Caso Cerrado, as everybody my age did whenever they stayed over their abuelos. It was either that or Doña Barbara but the TV screen is blurry in my memory right now. My brother walked in through the hallway with a promising smile and exclaimed the words, “Te tengo una sorpresa!” but I wasn’t allowed to look. There it was, a four-legged 6-inch-long dog, whose ears swung merrily by his side. I’m sure I cried of happiness that day and didn’t sleep much checking in on how he was doing.
During a lengthy debate with my brother and my mom about why my male dog couldn’t be called Strawberry Shortcake, we decided upon an old faithful. A name carried on by all the fish in our tank, and now a dog: Paco. I never came to realize how long Paco had been in our family until just recently when his photos surfaced in our albums: birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s, my heart surgery, Fonso’s graduation, heartbreak, and lots of food that I snuck under the table to feed him. Suddenly I can’t continue to write another word without crying my eyes out onto the keyboard. I’m completely heartbroken and I can’t go on with this ode to my dog without recognizing it. He was there for everything. From licking the tears off my face to the peanut butter off my spoon while I was bathing him. And now, as my tears reach my neck, he’s not here to clean them up any longer.
Paco had a heart condition since he was very young, which is probably why we have the connection that we do. His heart grew larger and larger, his lungs filled with fluid. Pills in and out, X-rays, and routine checkups began to fill up his schedule. Our tunnel vision only saw what we already knew was a problem. He would tremble in pain, so we’d give him his pills, he would be tired, and we gave him his pills. Paco grew more and more exhausted, but he was an old dog so we didn’t expect any less.
I kissed him on the forehead on a Monday, before leaving on a trip with a group of friends. I asked my mom to please keep me updated and let me know if anything happened. A couple of days went by, and her responses grew shorter when I asked her how he was feeling. The answers went along the lines of “he’s normal,” “same as yesterday” and “yes, he’s ok.” I took it because I didn’t want to accept anything else. The day I was going back, I waited with anticipation to get home. I stepped in through the front door and took a deep breath of home. The house smelled of that scent that had grown so familiar throughout all my 17 years. I remember this night almost in slow motion. I saw my cat, who greeted me in the entrance hallway, and I crouched down and patted her head before she ran away and hid underneath one of the couches. I dropped my duffle bags and headed towards the kitchen to wait for my dogs to run in and give me some love. I looked onto the floor, and both Maia and Paco’s plates were there, a feeling of relief hugged my body.
Maia pranced onto me and nearly dropped me to the floor. I played with her ears for a while, waiting for Paco’s delay coming down the stairs. I looked at the staircase and saw my mom standing there. I asked “¿y Paco?” and she shook her head from side to side. I covered my mouth to muffle my screams as I was crying, and my mom and my boyfriend struggled to keep me on my two feet. Borderline hysteria, my breath had gotten lost in the vast space of my chest and lungs and couldn’t find its way out. As selfish as it may sound, I feel like Paco’s suffering ended, and mine only began.
It’s been nearly four days since I found out that Paco passed away, and although the rainbow bridge will take him somewhere great, my mind cannot think of a better place for him than in his home. I know I’ll see him later and I know he’s happy, but what about us? What’s my role now? I don’t feel like this is something people get over so quickly when you had a connection like my family did with Paco. Today I’m not here to give you an inspirational speech on how this is better, because it’s not. I feel like I lost my best friend and I’m waiting for him like if he’s supposed to come back home.