Once upon a time, 14 and a half years ago, Bethany was a gangly, bespectacled, awkward fifth grader. She went to a very small school and had exactly two friends. She had a reputation amongst her classmates as being the teacher’s pet. There was nothing particularly wrong with Bethany’s life, though to say she was a happy 10 year old would probably be a bit generous. She was shy, she was too studious and serious for the rest of her rambunctious class’s taste, and she was absolutely petrified of graduating elementary school and going to middle school the next year. She was 10 going on 40 (some may argue, and not entirely incorrectly, that she has always been and continues to be insert-age-here going on 40), while those around her were 10 going on, you know, 11.
One night, Bethany and her family sat around the table, partaking in their usual family dinner. Conversation happened, and at one point, Bethany’s dad said something very much like, “Well, we’re going to have to start figuring puppy chow into the budget.”
PUPPY CHOW?! That delicious wonderful chocolate/peanut butter/powdered sugared Chex concoction?! Mom made puppy chow for dessert??
“No,” Bethany’s dad clarified. “Real puppy chow. Puppy chow for a dog.”
On a sunny afternoon in October, when Bethany, her brother, and sister all had the day off of school, Bethany’s aunt drove the hour from her house to Bethany’s house with a little six month old puppy in tow. He was, allegedly, a rat terrier, though his coloring looked nothing like that of a usual rat terrier. His name, officially, was Louie, though as time would go on, Bethany would cease to call him Louie, instead choosing to refer to him by his various nicknames: Louis, Poochie, Cwittewy Face, and finally: Bestest Fwend.
(Bethany may or may not speak like a three year old in referring to her dog, but that is neither here nor there.)
Bethany had been a major proponent of the family’s acquisition of a dog from the get-go. She had asked for a dog for months and months and months, and immediately took the newest family member under her wing. She played tug of war with him with his blankets. She fed him scraps from the table. She’d chase him around when he’d go on a tear through the house, running as if his life depended on it, high on energy.
If fifth grade was not-so-great for Bethany from an interacting-with-others standpoint, it was only a cruel preview of what was to come in middle and high school. Bethany struggled mightily to make friends throughout the rest of her education. She had friends, of course — people she could sit with on the jungle gym at recess, or talk to in the hall during break — but she only had a handful at most, and regardless of who made up her handful, she always felt like second best. Though she had individual friends, she never had a friend group, and never felt like she could relate well to her peers, still being far too serious and far too studious for most of their tastes.
But it was okay, because she had her Bestest Fwend. Every day when she would come home, her dog–no longer officially a puppy, though still acting like one–would come bounding through the kitchen to say hello, jumping up and giving her kisses. It didn’t matter that she had a really lousy cross country meet, or that the popular girls were making fun of her for her obsession with American Juniors, or that she was really stressed out by exam week: he was always there, always happy to see her, always excited that she was there.
Late in eighth grade, Bethany discovered the magic that is interacting with others on the Internet. Armed with her knack for writing and confidence that brought, she began writing fan fictions and posting them online, honing both her voice and her editing skills over the next several years. She began to develop incredible friendships with people halfway around the globe–one with a girl in Scotland and one with a girl in Calgary, to be specific–that finally filled the friendship void she felt in her life.
But those friends couldn’t physically be there for her when no one asked her to a single Christmas Dance all four years of high school, or when no one asked her to prom her senior year. Those friends couldn’t be there for her when all of her real life friends went off in their respective groups to hang out for the weekend, leaving her alone. Those friends couldn’t be there for her when she felt useless and ugly and unlikeable.
But her Bestest Fwend was.
Granted, he couldn’t offer much sage wisdom, but he could sit there with her while she cried. He could cuddle up next to her and make her feel that even if none of her peers loved her, at least he did, always and unconditionally. After all, they were bestest fwends.
Bethany continued to grow and went off to college, which, like high school and middle school, proved to be an enormous struggle in the friend department, at least for the first two years. When Bethany would get very sad and feel very lonely, she wanted one thing: to go home to her Bestest Fwend, who would bark at her incessantly until she would pet him, who would sprawl out in the middle of her double bed with his legs stretched, leaving her with no room to sleep or move, who would lose his mind when she so much as touched his leash to suggest going for a walk, who would sit with her by the pool while she read.
After college, Bethany moved to Chicago. Though she was excited to begin her new adventure, she was a little concerned about her Bestest Fwend. After all, he was 12 years old when she moved, and she didn’t think dogs lived a whole lot beyond that. She made sure every time she came home to give him lots of extra love and attention, just in case it was the last time.
He kept living, though, and made it to his 13th birthday, and then his 14th birthday. His health had clearly deteriorated. He had developed arthritis in his hips in 2013, and by 2014 seemed to have come down with a case of canine Alzheimer’s. When Bethany returned to Chicago after #gradfest2014, she gave her parents her permission to put him down. But they didn’t. He made it through Thanksgiving, and then made it through Christmas as well.
It was quite clear to Bethany at Christmas that her puppy would not make it much longer. He could no longer eat from his bowl easily–she would hand feed him when he seemed hungry–and he never seemed to know what was going on or what he needed. It was heartwrenching.
One evening when Bethany was home, her Bestest Fwend stood over by his food bowl, looking generally confused and out of it. Bethany’s parents thought perhaps he should go outside, but no one could get his attention.
“Louie!” Bethany called. “Louie, come here!”
He didn’t move.
He turned his old creaky neck, looked at Bethany, and waddled over so she could let him outside.
Bethany knew when she returned to Chicago that he would not last much longer. She said goodbye. Not goodbye as in, “See you later.” Not goodbye as in, “Until next time.” Goodbye as in forever–a hopeless goodbye. A permanent goodbye. The most heartbreaking kind of goodbye. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because it should.)
On Tuesday, Bethany’s dad sent an email to her and her sister, informing them that he and their mother had decided, and their brother, home for spring break, had agreed, that it was time for his life to end. They would allow him to live through his birthday–March 18, a date decided upon by Bethany because March 18 is her half birthday–but then, at 9:30 a.m. (Michigan time) on March 19, would take him to the vet to put him down.
Though it came as no surprise, it was still difficult to swallow. Bethany, though substantially improved from two weeks ago, still certainly had her mourning moments over her ended relationship, and really felt as though she had gone through enough permanent loss (and enough tears) for one month, thank you. But life has its own timing far beyond Bethany’s control.
She FaceTimed with her family and her puppy one last time on Wednesday night, both to wish him a happy birthday and to see his face once more. And she ended the conversation the same way she has for years and years and years, “So long, Bestest Fwend.”