Charlie had been home with me for exactly one week. He was 11 weeks old then, full of puppy energy, and he hated being alone. That Sunday night, I needed to do laundry, and I left Charlie upstairs with the door open. I thought if he could see me, maybe he wouldn’t cry so much. The neighbors complained because he always cried.
I was in the laundry room. I had just finished putting my clothes into the washer, tumbling for quarters, when I heard Charlie scream. It was loud and unending, and for a moment, I was annoyed. I turned around, ready to yell. And then I saw him, laying on the ground.
I dropped everything. I still don’t know what happened to those quarters. I saw his body laid out on the concrete and all I could do was scream. He was 11 weeks old, barely seven pounds. I was convinced he was dying. And it was my fault.
I ran to his side and dropped down beside him, running my fingers over his chest and back. He was still screaming, but running out of breath. I was trying to feel for broken bones or bleeding. And if he was dying, I needed him to know I was there. And all the while, I was wishing I could stop–or rewind–time.
Charlie was my miracle dog. He was a promise I needed in my life. He was mischief and kisses and a tiny ball of need, and I needed him too. He was a tangible piece of the hope I had finally started to feel, a sweet new companion to the hope growing inside. And after only a week, he was so ingrained in me, that if I had lost him, I don’t know if I would have survived.
I lay there on the concrete with Charlie. His breathing still labored, he licked my hand. I couldn’t find any visible injuries, but I wondered if he was bleeding out inside. A towel fell down on top of him. I was surrounded by my neighbors. I picked him up and held him in my arms, and one of my neighbors put us both in her car.
She was sweet and quick-thinking. She checked Charlie’s gums. She tried to keep his attention as we drove the 20 minutes to the hospital. She called ahead, make sure the staff was waiting. I held his head and murmured to him, “I’m sorry,” over and over again. “I’m sorry I didn’t take care of you.”
I think back to those days, after my son’s death. I think back to those first moments in the hospital when they told me he was gone. And all I could think then was, “No, this can’t be happening. He was just kicking me. He was just fine.” And if there were some magic rewind, if it were somehow possible to reverse time.
I think back to those days, and those moments live inside me. If I had only acted sooner; if I had fought a little more. And I’m holding Charlie’s body, and I’m wondering if this is it, again. And I’m drowning in possibility, because I don’t know how to lose him, too.
The technicians took him back immediately, and my neighbor had to leave. She gave me her number. Before that day, I hadn’t even known her name. And then suddenly, I was crying. I completely fell apart. And I had never felt so useless, beyond comfort of tears.
Ali* came to stay with me, and held me while I cried. It all came out in heaving, all the darkness and my pain. First Adrian, then Amy, and Liam so recently out of my life. And my little Peanut growing precariously inside. What if I wasn’t enough? What if I couldn’t take care of her?
They eventually came back in and told me Charlie would be okay. He had a possible mild concussion, and they kept him for observation overnight. I held him for a bit, before leaving, and he snored in my arms. Somehow, he wasn’t broken. Somehow, he had survived.
Tears are heavy, sometimes. And my tears that night were heavy with more than simple grief. These weights and expectations, and plans dashed with surprise. Two years now of surprises. I was tired.
Ali drove me home and I crawled into bed. My neighbors had finished my laundry and found my keys. Ali went home to finish her thesis, which was due later that night. I curled myself around Peanut and fell asleep.
Charlie got out again tonight, distracted by a cat. I was working on this story, and someone knocked on the door. With the help of that same neighbor, we got him back inside. He’s been so good lately, sometimes I forget he’s still a curious dog.
I walked a bit with him and Peanut. She settles easily when I wear her in my wrap. Everything centers around them lately; this new life with an infant and an eleven-month-old dog. And most days it is still scary, but for now, we are all fine.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.