Column: a Tuesday nightmare

Senior Rachel Jackson reflects on the pain experienced when a beloved pet passes away

Writer Rachel Jackson reminisces on the day that her dog Rexx, pictured above with Rachel in 2007, was put to sleep after health complications.

Courtesy of Lisa Jackson

Writer Rachel Jackson reminisces on the day that her dog Rexx, pictured above with Rachel in 2007, was put to sleep after health complications.

I was only 9.

I came home to find two anxious parents, fiddling with some item of clothing, unable to reach my eyes. My brother was the first to speak.

“What’s going on?”

My dad, finally gaining an ounce of courage to look us in the eyes, replied:

“It’s Rexx; he’s not doing so well.”

I felt my heart drop. Suddenly the ground beneath me crumbled and the stinging behind my eyes became apparent. Nine-year-old me didn’t know how to respond.

Just like that, my typical Tuesday night turned into a nightmare.

This was my best friend we were talking about, not the cliche family pet that rested on the foot of my bed on nights I couldn’t sleep or fetched me my slippers when I came home from school.

This was my only friend when I was in third grade. This was my company on the lonely nights when my mom and dad had to work late and my brother was out with friends. This was my whole world and it was about to cease to exist.

I don’t remember the car ride there, but I remember the long wait with Rexx on my lap, lifting his head every few minutes, just long enough to throw up, then laying back down.

A few individuals would walk in with a variety of pets and it seemed they’d always be called before us, almost as if Rexx didn’t seem to be a priority to anybody but me. Although, if I had known this was his last night, I wouldn’t have minded the wait as much.

My brother played his Nintendo, my dad was on a conference call, and my mom sat reading. I remember thinking this was an inconvenience to them.

A white door opened as a tall man in a white coat walked out calling Rexx’s name. My mom closed her book and walked over to him. They talked for a minute before he gestured for my family to follow him.

As we walked into a room, the chairs were the first to catch my eye. Navy blue fabric with plastic grey legs. Ordinary seats for an abnormal event. The tall man instructed us to sit down. We did as we were told.

He then turned to me. His arms stretched out to take Rexx, but my grip tightened. I couldn’t let him go. I wouldn’t.

How could I let my first friend go? The one who helped me with the moves my dad’s job required. The one who knew when I missed a meal and played with me when I didn’t know any of the other kids in the neighborhood. I couldn’t let that go.

“Rachel.”

I looked up to see my dad. His smile seemed genuine as he nudged me to follow the tall man’s orders.

I swallowed a hard lump in my throat that I hadn’t noticed forming. My arms felt like lead as I nodded and the tall man crouched down, burying his arms underneath Rexx then carrying him to the table in the middle of the room.

Rexx seemed so unphased during all of this. Almost lifeless.

He then went on to pull a syringe out of his pocket and I felt myself shrink. I looked away as he placed the needle in Rexx’s paw.

He almost pushed the plunger down, releasing the deadly substance into Rexx’s system. I almost lost my chance at a goodbye.

My heartbeat seemed dangerously high as I scrambled to get to my feet, just so that I could pet him one last time. I just needed to, once more, then I’d be OK.

The tall man asked if I was ready and I lied, nodding my head.

The next few days were the hardest.

I missed him in the little things, whether it was the empty dog bed placed in the corner of my room or the afternoons after school when none of my family members got home until 6.

I wasn’t the only one either. My mom didn’t have her soap opera buddy anymore. My dad didn’t have his late night work pal and my brother picked up the leash a few times just to get a hard shock of reality, then promptly placed it back in the exact spot he’d found it.

There was no denial in it. We all missed him.

But as time went on, I started to make friends with people in my neighborhood. I went over to their house after school then returned home in time for dinner. Suddenly the lonely evenings weren’t so lonely, and my mom quit her soap operas for scrapbooking. She used to take me to Hobby Lobby after dinner and we’d share a bag of candy, my choice. Then my dad got a promotion and only worked until 7, devoting the rest of his time to us. After a month, my brother threw away the leash and decided to invest in a fish.

Life kept moving forward and whether we liked it or not, we had to move with it.

On Dec. 10, my family still goes out of their way to celebrate Rexx’s birthday. When I asked my mom why we continued the tradition even years after his death, she replied, “just because he’s gone, doesn’t mean we have to forget him.”