My chest feels like it’s filled with rocks. My hands are empty, grasping for something to touch, to hold, to stroke, yearning for something that’s no longer there, for a familiar weight of warmth to carry up the stairs – because she couldn’t manage it alone any more.
There’s a space in the corner of the kitchen, in the corner of my eye, by my feet on a cushion on the floor; a pair of eyes no longer watch me with perfect trust (because mummy could do no wrong). My Coco is gone, my sweetest doggy, Coco.
On Wednesday, she made that last trip to the vet, her head on my lap in the back seat, just like the day we fetched her from the pound, only then she was a starving, quivering package of nerves, bones and fear.
We bonded right there, in the back of the car. For nine years and three months, she filled my heart. On our final journey she was peaceful, warmed by the sun, safe in my arms. Never have I cried so hard. Or maybe I have – on the day my childhood dog was put to sleep.
That evening, my then boyfriend visited to find me convulsed with grief. I still remember his impatient words: “Oh, come on, Jennie – it’s just a dog.”
Just a dog?
Last night Coco came to me as I slept. She was shiny, pant-smiling, delighted to see me. She rubbed against my legs, rolled into my lap, playful and healthy, and all her limbs worked, and I kept rubbing her, stroking her silken ears, cupping her pitter-patter paws, kissing her doggy face, nuzzling her nose like we used to, marvelling that she was there, just the two of us in the sunshine, like a gift. And I looked around, wanting to tell Himself, to say look, she’s here, she’s come back to tell us she’s fine, she’s happy, she’s with us still, but I worried that would make her disappear, like something I’d dreamt.
Then I woke up, tears of joy on my cheeks, and briefly, I was furious to be wrenched from such happiness, until I realised that’s the only way I’d remember, by waking in the middle of it.
This way I could hold on to a precious new memory of my dog. Because Coco wasn’t “just a dog”. Coco was my dog. And that makes all the difference.