I found him on a local adoption website, goofy-grinned and slightly manic, covered in brown freckles, and begging to be loved.
“Can I have him?” I asked my husband right after our first wedding anniversary.
“Are you sure?” he replied, his eyes scanning our quiet apartment, worrying what kind of chaos this new addition would bring. My eyes flitted across the same room, seeing nothing but empty space in need of filling.
“Oh I’m sure,” I said with an eager smile. A tricolored puppy named Presley came to live with us two weeks later.
Presley was my first baby—before I had human babies. When I wanted to share my home with someone but was not yet ready for kids. He tagged along on all of my adventures: two houses, three babies, and more job changes than I ever imagined. Time moved around me, around us. But I became so focused on keeping my tiny humans alive that I missed seeing my dog get a little older each year.
His yelp got my attention on an ordinary Tuesday evening. I was hunched over the kitchen sink, counting down the minutes until my kids’ bedtime, when I turned and saw his body splayed out on the laminate floor. I watched him try and fail to get up, noticing his inability to place weight on his back leg. My heart sank, knowing something horrible was happening and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
My husband rushed him to the emergency vet because all injuries, even canine injuries, seem to happen after hours. I flew through my children’s bedtime routine, brushing teeth and reading books, and I frantically tucked them into bed. Once a sitter arrived, I hurried to join my husband at the animal hospital.
It was a long wait, three to four hours, but I didn’t mind. My husband and I were so rarely alone that it felt like a reprieve. When a nurse took Presley back for an evaluation, I started scrolling through pictures of him on my phone. In most of the recent photos, he was in the background. I spotted him sunbathing near my daughter on the swing set my husband built. I caught him sneaking table scraps in the kitchen while my sons had a dance party in the foreground. Sometimes all I could see was his tiny, wagging tail, always near his family.
But when I scrolled back further, I witnessed a different group of kids. Happy and carefree, and absolutely in love. A trio of best friends: my husband, Presley, and me. How did I so easily forget what our life looked like before kids?
There we were, the original three, huddled together on a bench after a long hike in the park. There we sat, cuddled up on the couch, our silly dog with his white striped nose, smack dab in the middle. Clad in his plaid bowtie, he was the focal point of our holiday cards for several years in a row. There was a calm in these photos—when we were young and unencumbered with seemingly endless time on our hands. Oh, how I missed these days.
The veterinarian walked into the room, interrupting my reflection, with a somber expression on his face. “Presley has bone cancer,” he said, “that’s what caused his leg to break.”
I ran my hands through my hair, stifling the sadness long enough to implore, “Is there anything you can do?” He shook his head and said with a sigh, “You need to schedule a date to say goodbye.”
My children insisted on throwing Presley a party, so that is what we did. We baked a chocolate cake, hung colorful streamers, and sang songs of thankfulness over our beloved dog. My boys offered to build him a stairway to Heaven, to watch him walk into Jesus’ arms. It took all my effort to calmly explain that he would leave us from the vet’s office, not at the end of the party.
I said goodbye to Presley the very next day, holding him in my arms and whispering in his floppy brown ears, “You are the best dog in the world.” I said goodbye to one of my best friends, one of the last parts of my youth. To the time before kids when I could still be a kid. When I was the girl with the boy attached to her side, thinking I had all the time in the world, with the happiest companion along for the ride.