I don't know how old this photo is, only that the checkered jacket is one I bought at Mervyn's back in the old neighborhood. Mocha is pretty young here, shiny and sleek as he hasn't been for as long as I can remember. So perhaps 2000 or 2001. I'd forgotten all about my checkered jacket phase. I had a black and white one too (which I wore with a ridiculous velveteen cloche cap), and one that was pink and black that must have been truly awful. But this isn't about me, or fashion trends, it's about Mocha. My faithful, loyal friend and companion for close to eighteen years.
We said goodbye to Mocha yesterday morning. It had become hard for him to walk and take care of himself. Over the last year, I had increasingly assumed a care-giver role. Bathing him every few days because he got stinky. Carrying him outside to do his business. Helping him stand when his legs slid out from under him. I grew accustomed to carrying him, on his back, pressed to my chest, his paws close enough to my face to sniff. That familiar smell. Cheesy corn flakes or perhaps Fritos. Mocha. Compliant and trusting as a baby.
The house isn't the same without the clatter of his nails on the laminate, his beds in every room of the house. He was a part of the family and now he's gone.
I wrote the short piece below last week, in Jan Haag's Writing as Healing class though Sacramento City College. The prompt was to pick an object from her hat box of assorted junk, trinkets and gewgaws. Mocha, still at home, waiting for me in his basket nearest the front door, was on my mind. I knew it wouldn't be long. I picked a set of unused dog tags to write about.
Junk drawer. Dog tags. Never used.
Pet ID tags from the city sit in my office windowsill, still glued fast to the plasticized cardboard, along with a little metal ring to attach them to his collar. If he still needed a collar.
No use pulling the tags off, or threading the metal ring through the slot. Mocha barely walks anymore. I carry him him outside to do his business. He struggles to stay upright, to not sit in it.
I imagine I can guess what my husband is thinking, that I should take Mocha to the vet, let them insert the needle while I stroke his curly hair - once shiny and black, now grizzled and gray, a musty old man in a smelly coat.
I say, "Just this last weekend. Then I'll call the vet." Then Monday comes and Mocha perks up, as if he knows. He follows me from room to room, wanting only to be where I am. He thumps his tail and cleans his dish. He even begs for a treat - his one "trick."
He's still in there, his spirit strong, the young dog we brought home from the Lodi pound over fifteen years ago. He wasn't a puppy. He'd already experienced enough of the world, of people, that he was cowed, dusty ringlets dragging on the ground. A shaggy footstool, black eyes peeking out from behind the fringe. He was so timid, we weren't sure he even had a voice. But after a few weeks, he found his bark. He only had to learn this really was his forever home and that he could stay, even if he acted like a dog.
He used to smile, gums pulled back, teeth bared. "Is he going to bite me?" people would ask, when he greeted them at the front door, with the toothy smile and a sneezing, prancing fit. But he was only happy to be part of the family, bidding our visitors welcome.
I know I should let him go. I'm waiting for a sign. I pray he will fall to sleep, dreaming puppy dog dreams. and the dream will just go on. Tonight or the next night, soon, for each day he stumbles more, each day the light in his hazy eyes grows more dim.
"You're the alpha female," my husband always says. "Mocha's sun rises and sets with you." It's true. I know that I will have to be the one who decides when it's time, when it isn't fair, or right, to keep him here with me.
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.