Every time my heart broke.

I never understood death until my dog died Christmas morning two years ago. I wasn’t a stranger to human death. My great-grandmother died when I was sixteen, and before that, my great-uncle. I had seen their bodies still, and I had seen their bodies in motion.

But neither of them knew my heart.

There’s a fine line in your life when somebody or something you love can no longer be reached. There is the “before that moment” when life hurts and there is the “after that moment” when life still hurts, and you find yourself shuffling to the corners of your house to find something that’s no longer there.

It left me in a panic when my dog, Roxie, died. That evening, I had an attack, one that I hadn’t had in a very long time, and only two things calmed me: stepping outside to stare up at heaven and going inside to find my daughter. I could see her body still breathing, a reminder that maybe not all the good had decided to pack up and move away.

When I first got Roxie, I was young and stupid. I was an instant dog mom, dressing her up in clothes (a blue t-shirt and a black hoodie. I didn’t conform to the world’s standards so why should she?), and I would carry her around like the baby I wouldn’t have until a year later. She was so small, she’d belly under our couch just to poop. We didn’t even realize she was pooping under there until we moved, and as she got older and I studied her habits, I realized she was uncomfortable with us watching her every time she used the bathroom.

Finally, a dog with some sense.

I think the worst thing I ever did was tell her my secrets. It had been a long six years of suicidal ideation, a fancy word for “I just don’t want to be here anymore.” I loved my parents, I loved my husband. But I never saw in their faces such a pure sense of loss every time my heart broke.

In their defense, she was the only one who I’d ever let see me cry. And given the chance, I probably wouldn’t let them lick my tears.

But she did, with relish.

At night, we’d drink together—vodka water(s) with a twist of lime. She’d lap a drink while I’d watch Bridezilla late at night, watching women fly off the handle. And in cozying deep into my functional alcoholism like snuggling into a down blanket, I’d be thankful I wasn’t anything like them.

At least I had my life together.

She’d sit and watch me as I wrote, my attempts at being the next Shirley Jackson ever-present and as real as the giant aspirations I had created for myself. I’d get famous and maybe cart her around as Paris Hilton did with that little dog of hers, but Roxie was pretty fat, so I considered some sort of baby stroller contraption instead.

But then soon enough, I’d need a real one of those. I was pregnant. I didn’t let my heart catch up to my brain and realize that maybe I never would be what I always knew I would. So there I was, my dog side-eying my growing belly, leery of what would break open sooner than later while I closed my eyes to reality. Something I was pretty decent at if I do say so myself.

My child was(is) a force to be reckoned with, and sometimes, Roxie and I would hold each other, watching the havoc. It was like another being had invaded our space and dashed my dreams of glory and Roxie’s dream of pooping in peace.

We were tormented in the worst and best ways, having to grow outside ourselves. So we took to our late nights, sharing our vodka and mild regrets but not overly concerned because at least we had each other.

In the house with the demons, Roxie walked the wooden floors, never being able to sleep at night. The clip-clip-clip of her nails was morse code signaling her fear and discomfort until it echoed in my dreams.

In my room at night, God showed me the evil, and it was too strong for me without Him. I gave my life over, trusting Him and not a bottle of vodka to light the darkness. No more late nights and freshly made drinks.

I could tell Roxie was a little miffed.

My soul sang, but my mind was still a mess. Jesus saves, but the darkness especially craves souls willing to follow His lead. I worked hard and late and would look at Roxie sitting next to me on the couch and think, “One day, this, too, will only be a memory.”

Years marched as years often do, and when you look around, you realize how things have changed. My daughter grew, her body rivaling mine, and we’d play “pass the Roxie” as I’d teach her things about math and science and personal boundaries people often cross, people who have no real understanding of who Jesus is.

And I also taught her about grace, too, because without it, I would have been stuck on the couch, drink in my hand.

Roxie was who she still is in my heart and mind until she suddenly wasn’t. She got sick and her body detroriated, her spin protruding out of her skin. To hold her was to hold weakness, helplessness, a past slowly wearing away.

The worst part was her eyes because she knew it too. Soon enough, she wouldn’t know us anymore. I think maybe they were a soft reminder of my own suffering. How it pained me enough to live behind my own flesh and bone and how I was helpless to help the soul dying behind hers.

I think if anything, Roxie reminds me of Jesus. I mean obviously not the anxious pooping or nonstop barking or clip-clip-clipping across the hardwood floor. But the desire to just sit next to a person and look out into nothing and know the end of something is so near.

And the beginning? How beautiful it always is.

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