I just lost my best friend.
While he was alive, I never thought of Brownie as being my “best friend.” Sure, he was the one who patiently waited for me until I arrived home. While I hung up my jacket, he’d rush into the den, and I’d hear his big paws pounding the carpet, in joyful harmony with the sound of his favorite squeaky toy.
Brownie and I both loved to run, and he viewed our evening runs as a miniature vacation. There were smells to be investigated, squirrels to be corralled, other dogs to show off to, seedlings and street signs to be “marked. As we approached home, I felt relieved yet refreshed. I’m not sure how Brownie felt. But I know for a fact my friend would forego water and dinner to do it all over again.
One hears frequently about “unconditional love.” I believe that phrase was coined over a dog. Yes, children exhibit love without condition. But eventually they mature, lose their innocence, and often grow distant. I have a tendency to lose my temper, and one time I went too far with Brownie. He tolerated my harangue until I grabbed him too roughly. Then he let me have it (I still bear the scarlet letter, on my palm). But, only seconds later, he was nudging up to me, desperately seeking my approval.
Brownie was an Australian shepherd, or “Aussie.” Their breed is very protective and family-oriented. Brownie was happiest when the whole family was together. He expressed his contentment by laying at the nucleus of our little circle and licking the carpet. “Brownie, stop licking the carpet!” my wife would scold. It didn’t bother me. Perhaps this was his way of licking all of us at the same time.
We didn’t know Brownie had cancer until it was far advanced. Just before being diagnosed, on my first run without him, Brownie stood looking out the glass door with his ears perked. “Why aren’t you taking me with you?” he implored. I walked until I was out of his eyesight, and only then started to run. When I returned, he was waiting for me outside. The vet later said that the moisture under his eyes was probably caused by fever. But I don’t know.
So now I’ll be running alone. I knew this day would come, but of course, I never expected it to hurt so much. My partner, my compatriot – my best friend – is gone.
I believe that, even though I didn’t know it when he was alive, Brownie knew he was my best friend. That little pink line on my palm reminds me. Oddly, it’s not a scar that elicits a bad memory. The brief anger I felt toward my friend, a very human moment of weakness, was obliterated by what transpired immediately afterwards, something far more powerful: Brownie’s unconditional love and forgiveness.