How much we don’t deserve.

He looks good for 105. Okay, he’s technically just fifteen, but for a dog, he should be dragging at least one hind leg around and losing teeth in his breakfast.

Instead, Rocco reminds me of one of those old men you see walking in a jogging suit around the mall while his wife phones it in and sits morosely with an Auntie Anne’s pretzel in front of Hot Topic.

He just won’t quit.

And this is evident by his smiley dog face and waggy tail, both of which are set off every time he tries to urinate a small puddle roughly the size of a half-dollar on my carpet. I mean either go or don’t. Why make me get out the steamer vac for dribble?

Rocco’s lost a lot in his life: his sister and two uncles. Okay, he wasn’t technically related to any of them, but I’m not sure that matters in dog world. I think it just matters that he loved them with that same stupidly open dog grin that reminds me how my heart isn’t as pure as I wish it were.

Riley was the one we worried about the most. Technically, according to my parents (mostly my father now that I think about it…maybe he is trying to kill me), Riley is the fourth born. It was me and then my sister, Fifi (she always had a knack for pulling off a tiny bow in her black curly hair. Not fair considering we all can’t be poodles) and then Ross who was overgrown as a puppy and had a permanent worried look as if he cheated on his diet and he was afraid somebody was going to rat him out. And then there was Riley.

Riley. If a dog ever needed a helmet.

Riley was afraid of the fan. Riley, in short order, was pretty much afraid of everything. He was an apricot standard poodle, and there was something almost otherworldly about him. Like he was some sort of alien-slash-deer that ended up on my parents’ couch one Christmas.

My mother had asked for another toy poodle like Fifi, and instead, my dad decided to get Riley because who doesn’t like it when a full-sized dog vomits during an anxiety attack?

Maybe he’s trying to kill both of us. Hmm.

Anyways, I’ll always remember Riley looking far off, as if his mind was somewhere his body would never catch up to. It seemed like a nice place, wherever it was.

My parents were excited to get a puppy, but when I stumbled home one college night into their room, I wasn’t met with a puppy.

I was met with a chocolate-colored butterball turkey shaking with anticipation on its doggy bed. I sat down on the hardwood floor, and the butterball let me pet it, and it calmed down a little. It was thick, soft, and about ten times the size of Fifi who was perched on my parents’ bed, giving me a look that said, “Can you believe they did this to us?” I could just foresee a future where all three of us were sitting in the lawyer’s office, the entire estate being given to Butterball Ross and Fifi fainting from the audacity of it all.

Good thing dogs have shorter life spans. And can’t own property.

Ross was solid in body. You’d often see Rocco lying on Ross’s back like one of those birds that eat insects off a hippotamus. He was good-natured, and a great snuggler, and was easily embarrassed when he passed gas, and my father would make a big to do about it.

I know, Ross. But at least he never tried to kill you.

And he, of course, was the best swimming instructor money (or the absolute lack of it) could buy. Our three-year-old daughter would hold onto his back in my parents’ pool, her legs kicking as he took her around, and she’d choke him silly with her tiny arms and massive-sized floaties.

Maybe that’s less dog smile, and more dog terror, now that I think about it.

I find myself randomly missing Ross, like when a day is really cold and the chill has wormed its way inside of your bones. Or when I see other chocolate labs, none that are as thick or soft.

But there’s something about them that catches your eye like you’re seeing a ghost. Like you’re catching a little piece of something you used to know.

Roxie. What else can I say that I haven’t said here or here?

Nothing, I guess.

But maybe, I should look at it from a different angle as if I’m holding a small diamond in my hand.

If there ever were poster children for sibling rivalry, it would be Roxie and Rocco. From head humping to charging into each other to get out the back door, these two were a constant study into how to not make friends.

And yet, they loved each other.

At three o’clock sharp every day, Rocco would clean Roxie. He’d lick her face, and inside her ears, and scrub her eyeballs hard with his tongue. And she’d sit like the queen of Sheba, sending a strong vibe of “Jealous yet?” to which I’d firmly shake my head, “Um, no.”

It always looked like a one-sided love. Rocco, the beta, sitting dumbly by as Roxie eats the last bits of his food with what she’s considered stealth and planning when in reality a rhino with a metal bucket on his head would have been quieter. But there would be moments when she thought no one was watching, when she’d put her head on his neck and those freshly scrubbed eye balls would be looking into something I couldn’t see.

Like when she was dying.

I think I’d like to always remember them together to know that kind of love can exist. You don’t have to like everything about a person to love them. It’s sometimes a choice whether their tongue is in your eye or they’ve just stolen a bite of your cookie.

You can choose to walk away or you can still meet them every day at three o’clock sharp.

The choice is always yours.

Rocco keeps trucking. Everyone else is long gone, everyone he loved. I like to think he still loves them, but I’m not sure, considering sometimes, he eats his own vomit.

I think a lot about God, how you can see Him in the intricacies of a wide-open dog eye and the warm assurance of its tongue letting you know the world isn’t always as cruel as it lets on.

Because in the beginning, there was the Word, and there was constant relationship with our beautiful Creator, and there were animals He made to keep us company.

To love us, even though we know how much we don’t deserve.

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