A Lost Piece

If I had to think of one single event or incident that changed me in a monumental way, I’d probably not get much further than “Uh” or “Um”. Life so far has been a series of lessons and I’ve been in a constant state of evolution, just like every other human being, I’m sure. There have been numerous people who’ve changed me, for worse sometimes, but mostly for the better; I’ve finally reached a point where I’m happy being who I am, without needing reassurances or approval from others. Accepting myself and most importantly, loving myself was taught to me, funnily enough, not by any wise adult, but a wee child.

People who know me closely are all familiar with him, no matter whether they’ve met him or not. In fact, it’s been almost 7 years since I saw him myself, so that says a lot. But there are times when I’m home, I catch myself expecting him to peep into my room and walk away (he always did that to annoy me). He was with us for three years – three beautiful, unforgettable years. I still remember the night he went away, the clueless idiot was so happy to get out of the house, he didn’t even realize he was never going to come back to us.

Imagine yourself in a cozy house, full of warm lights, happy vibes in every corner. And now suddenly, the lights start to go off, one by one. Each room by room. The chill starts to set in, the warm cozy feeling starts to fade. That’s how it felt, after he left. I didn’t speak a word to anyone that day, even till I went to bed. Silence had wrapped itself around me like a cold blanket. I thought I’d cry or miss him terribly, but for as long as I lay awake that night, I didn’t shed a single tear. All I felt was a frigid numbness. It was hard to believe that he won’t be there when I woke up the next morning, or won’t be ecstatic to see me when I got back home from school. It was simply hard to imagine life without that tiny monster.

You know when you’re told that you only realize what you have when you don’t have it any longer, they aren’t really that far off the mark. I’m not saying I didn’t value him when he was there, I truly did. But the void, the sharp pain I always felt in my chest when I thought of him, when I still think of him, registered his importance all over again.

I remember the day he was brought home, such a tiny baby, whining and whimpering. I’d never held something so delicate in my arms before. I spent the whole night, holding him, stroking his head, whispering and shushing. Little did I know, my life had already begun changing right then. I still think about that night, when he was sleeping calmly in my arms, sighing and huffing in between, taking those adorable snores – I was mesmerized. It was the first time, I felt like I was comforting someone, that I could comfort someone. I had someone to take care of, to look after, I wasn’t the baby of the house anymore; I was a grown-up now. I think we all know, when we were fourteen that meant the world.

The next few days had passed in a blur; the foremost task at hand being finding a name for him, nothing ever seemed to fit him! We spent a couple of weeks calling him different names, variations of those names, not that it really mattered since he probably didn’t understand us at all. All he did was eat, sleep and leave little gifts for us when we weren’t looking. You would think it would be hard adjusting your life to a new member of the family, but it never felt like he was new, rather he was the missing piece that suddenly made our family complete. I’d never known such happiness in the household. Every face lit up when he was around, everyone wanted to hold him, everyone wanted to play with him. And he reveled in each moment of this. The pampered brat loved the attention.

When something or someone becomes such an integral part of your life, when almost every waking moment is spent fussing over them, thinking of them, looking for them, running after them, trying to feed them, cleaning their mess, scolding them, or just loving them, you never really stop to wonder about a time when they won’t be around anymore. We had a little taste of that when he fell ill a year later. A nearly fatal disease took hold of him, the doctors said, the survival rate is critically low and we should be prepared for the worst. The next two weeks were hellish. We barely slept, waking up every now and then fearing the worst. I’d look into those mesmerizing brown eyes dull with sickness, listen to that labored breathing and my heart would break every time. I’d pray every day to the Gods I never really believed in, to make him well again. And maybe they heard my plea, or maybe my mother’s care had done its magic, but he survived it. The world wasn’t grey anymore, the nights weren’t filled with terror, and the mornings weren’t filled with dread.

There came a point of time, when my mother got confused between my name and his, she’d be meaning to call me, but shout his name. He had taken over our lives, absolutely hijacked very routine we had. Weekends were spent taking him out to play, trying to teach him things that he never bothered to learn. Summers were spent chilling in front of the cooler, lazing around; winters spent, cuddled around the heater, wrapped up in woolens and his special blanket. There wasn’t anything special about those days, nothing eventful ever really happening, but I’d never felt such contentment.

What I miss the most are the quiet moments we had, when I’d call out his name, and he’d come to the door of my room, look at me in a bored way, climb on top of my bed, and just sit there with a long sigh. Or sometimes he would just walk by. As if he knew I didn’t really have any purpose behind calling him. How could a two-year old possibly understand that? But he did. He always did. He’d know when I was upset, he knew when I wanted to be left alone, he knew when I needed him to just stay put and listen. Although it wasn’t all nice and dandy. The hellion decided one day that he had more of a right on Mother than I did, and I never got to spend time with her alone, or even hug her, after that. He always ended up wedging himself between her and myself.

He was a force of nature we had to keep up with, leaving behind exasperated sighs and laughter, but lots of love. Time really flies by when you have that kind of an energy in your life, bouncing from day to day. But it was the child in me who never anticipated an end to this, maybe if I’d been older, I would have been more prepared for what was about to happen.

It had been almost 3 years since the day he arrived, when we got the news of Dad’s transfer. Nothing new, considering we shifted almost every three years because of his transferable job. Sometimes we almost lived out of boxes. So, naturally, we welcomed this news quite normally. Until we found out, our new colony, didn’t allow keeping pets. We tried finding a new place, but everywhere we went we heard the same rule, it was infuriating and terrifying. Where would he go? Why should he have to go? I didn’t want him to go.

Tango, of course, was oblivious to all this turmoil going around the house, we hadn’t even started packing to move, when his doctor came to pick him up. I went around the house, picking up his toys, folding his blanket, packing his bed, looking for his favorite knick and knacks, anything he might need. And there he was in the living room, bouncing ecstatically, at the prospect of an outing. He hated it when I touched his things. It was our little game, I’d pick his favorite ball, it didn’t matter whether he’d not played with it in the last few months, but the moment I picked it up, he come dashing and grab it with his teeth, ferociously fighting for his possession. I found that ball under my bed, while I was looking for his things, I didn’t pack it – I couldn’t. I still have it with me, it oddly smells of him, or maybe that’s just my brain playing tricks on me, and I’m thankful if it is.

I still remember his shrill barks of excitement as I brought out all of his stuff packed in a bag in one hand, and his leash in the other. He couldn’t wait to get out. For a minute I forgot about what was to come, I just looked at him, picked him up and hugged him, as if nothing was wrong, just like I had a million times before, he got agitated, impatient to leave the house. Sometimes I wish he knew, so he’d at least have stayed quiet and let us say a proper goodbye. But that wouldn’t be Tango, he did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. We never got around to training him either, we still suspect he learned everything but just didn’t bother enough to do as told.

It’s been seven years since we saw him tugging on his leash eagerly, almost dragging his doctor behind him. He didn’t turn around once, and it was good in a way I guess, I don’t think we could have kept our composure if he had whined or didn’t wish to leave. We called the doctor the next morning, asking if he was fine, and he said he was enjoying himself quite a lot when he got there, playing with the other dogs. Trouble began when the night rolled around. He wanted to come back home then. He was outside, with the other dogs, and kept whining the whole night. I think I lost a part of me that day. I still have nightmares sometimes, where everything is dark, and Tango is in a corner, whining, and I can’t go to him, I can’t call out to him, and he just keeps crying. And there’s nothing I can do.

My mother says she’s kept a dozen dogs till date but none had ever been as willful or troublesome as him, and none had been as close to her heart either. He’d been more than just a dog to me, more like my baby brother. We’d never needed a language to understand each other, never needed any words. I don’t think any kind of love is as strong. We grow up, we change, our needs change, but their love, is always constant, unconditional, invaluable. I look for him in every dog I encounter now, I try to give his share of love to every dog I see. If I make them happy, if I love them, then I’m making Tango happy and giving him my love, wherever he is. He will always be in my heart, guarding my happiness, reminding me of all the good there is in life.

Ex animo,
Dodo