It has taken me many years to get over the death of the first dog I owned as an adult. Now that we’re settled back in Austin, we’re thinking about the possibility of expanding our little family of two (no, not a baby) but even the thought of it still pulls at my heartstrings. I’m stuck in this living status limbo. Do we get a pup, solidifying our life back in the States? Or do we not, live with the hole in our heart and our family, and have the capability to leave the country on a whim again?
Let me explain why I feel like I can’t really do both.
Our first backpacking trip was to our biggest love, Japan. We stuffed everything we could into a normal back-to-school backpack for our 3 week exploration of a country where we didn’t know the language and really felt cocky that we could throw ourselves in and be fine. We learned that a week in Tokyo was too little, that you have to be on your feet to catch a glimpse of a Maiko in Gion, and that my tattoos were no problem since I was a foreigner.
In a time before smartphones were an accessible thing and none of our devices had access to wifi, we were essentially off the grid for a period of three weeks. Our lives weren’t particularly exciting, so what could happen in three weeks?
After we landed in LAX an hour before we took off in Tokyo, we were confused and incredibly jetlagged but excited to check in with friends and family. A quick press of a button to turn on our phones and our first *ding* of a voicemail. It is always nice to feel missed. Then an explosion occurred. *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING*
Holy hell we had 9 voice messages.
I quickly pulled the phone to my ear and a shaky voice was on the other end. “We… had… to put… Gizmo… down.”
Tears streamed down my face and my phone fell to the floor. My legs gave way and I fell into a weeping mess in the middle of the airport floor. I felt sick and everything started spinning. My dachshund Gizmo, my life, was no more.
At only 8 years old, this dog made a hell of an impression on me. When Shaun and I were barely affording to feed ourselves through college, were on the brink of dumpster diving starvation, and with no help, this little buddy crawled onto my lap for snuggles. When I had endless tears of frustration of holding a full time job and finishing college, I would come home to kisses and a long nose being jabbed into my eye. He was a warm heater in the winter and a hiking buddy in the summer. He provided more emotional support for me than anyone else besides Shaun. He was my comfort, my familiar, my best friend. I had officially met up with one of the saddest days of my life.
The 3 hour flight home seemed like the longest flight I’ve ever been on in my life. When the flight attendant came by to ask if we could handle the emergency exit, Shaun and I both had tears streaming down our faces. Horrified looks appeared on the faces of those seated nearby, who assumed our tears were the result of a debilitating fear of flying, as they imagined what would happen in the event of an emergency.
All I could think of was that I failed him. I failed him. I wasn’t there in his last moments. I wasn’t there to stroke his head as he fell into his last slumber.
He had back problems before. We had to crate him for a month as he bounced back from near paralysis. Holding his little butt in my hands to help him go outside was heartbreaking. I can’t help to think that our “abandonment” of him was part of the cause of his relapse. I would have been able to see the warning signs. I could have taken initiative. The money from the trip could have gone to surgery.
It is all of the would’ves and could’ves that make it where, even 5 years later, I am afraid to get attached to another animal. I’m always smiling when I see other travel bloggers with their wee ones (or big ones!) in tow. It is something I want so badly. But between the guilt and the feeling of needing to get up and go, how does one do it?
So I’m still in limbo and I will be for another little while – besides the fact we currently live with 3 dogs (roomies) and can’t do anything until we get our own place. As we stood in the garage doing another item purge, I opened a box and a light blue collar with tags fell into my lap. I grabbed it and held it to my heart.
I’ve stored away my memories of Gizmo in a place I don’t have to visit very often, packed up, stashed in the corner gathering dust… along with a piece of my heart.