Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Best Friend

This is Rowdy's Blog. I always thought I should do a blog. Many people have said I should. I’ve decided Rowdy would want me to, so here’s my first post, dedicated to him. My best friend.

I hope this eulogy helps me move on. Well, sort of. A BIG part of me doesn’t want to move on. I big part of me believes that any joy, that moving past this, is a betrayal of him. Like I'll forget him. Of course, I also was afraid that Rowdy was a replacement for Pepper (the family dog we already had), which was nonsense. Rowdy turned out to be one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. In fact, most , if not all, of the great things that have happened to me (Lunsford-Stumbo, Richardson, Charlie Wilson) came from me wanting some other campaign or being very upset I had to take those jobs. Interesting lesson. Rowdy is the starkest manifestation of that lesson. The best things in life don’t come from planning, they just happen. Mild OCDs like me, who overthink and overanalyze and over-worry, have a hard time with that. Thankfully I was lucky to have Rowdy in my life, who humbled me and taught me to not be so self absorbed and to just live life, take it as it comes, and not worry so damn much. As Spock said, the universe will unfold as it should.
I lost Rowdy this week. He was my dog, my family’s dog technically, but he was special to me, and I to him. A little over 10 years ago my sister was volunteering at a kill shelter contemplating becoming a vet. (She’s now a vet tech). She saw this little scared shivering Irish setter mix in a cage. He was terrified and alone. She was the first to know how special he was. He was scheduled to be put down in 24 hours. I was just out of college, very bossy and sure I knew everything. I had (of course) moved back home while I looked for a job and career. We had a dog, my beloved border collie Pepper. In addition we had a cat named Salt who had replaced our cat Sport who had died after just a few years. Pepper’s predecessor was Bogart, the dog my parents got to make sure they could handle kids. Pepper though, was my dog. So I was against adoption. My Dad was too. My mom though, agreed to at least meet this dog my sister wanted to save. After meeting him, my mom was his second disciple. The family was now split 2-2 on adoption, so obviously that meant he was adopted into the Bratcher family. I was upset, I admit it. How could they betray my beloved Pepper and bring her replacement into the house before she was even sick? But then I met him. The rest is history. Less than 24 hours from death, Rowdy had a home and life.

Rowdy, the six month old excitable Irish setter mix, was aptly named. He used to get so excited he would annoy the crap out of everyone; he’d bark at the dogs next door, bark at the leaves moving, bark at the neighbors coming home. Everything he saw was exciting. “OH MY GOD THAT’S A TREE!!!!!” “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT BLADE OF GRASS!!!” “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THE HUMAN!!!!!!!!” More than once I had to LITERALLY sit on him to calm him down (it rarely worked). He was aggressive, badly disciplined and wild. He fit in well with us. Pepper eventually got used to him and quickly asserted her dominance. Being an unemployed recent college grad, I spent the bulk of his puppyhood with him every day, raising him. To say he won me over is to say Hannibal rode ponies to Rome. I fell in love with this dog.
He went everywhere with me, was everything to me; in ways I didn’t understand until this week. No creature on earth that didn’t birth me or raise me has ever been that close to me. He was my brother. We knew what each other were thinking. I knew when he wanted to go outside and pee and when he was just pretending to want to go outside so I’d get up and play with him and get him people food. I knew when he was scared, happy, angry. And he knew when I needed him.

I see him, and miss him, in everything I do. I come home and he’s not there to greet me, wagging his tail excitedly and sniffing the fun new smells I bring him. When I moved around too much in bed (Rowdy obviously slept in my room, even when I wasn’t home) he would get excited and think it was time to get up and play. He would wait for me when I went to the bathroom. He was afraid of thunder and lightning and we’d hide out in the bathroom until the danger had passed. I dread the next thunderstorm now. Much more than he ever did. It’s hard for me to get through the day. Everything I do, it’s first time I’ve done it in 10 years without him if not near me, not very far away from my heart. He hated being away from me. The only exception is when he could go outside and just run and run and run in our big backyard. He was a spectacularly gorgeous runner. It was so graceful and artful. It was sheer beauty to watch him chase a bunny, or run over to bark at the dog next door, or to chase a leaf.
I miss getting my fingers licked raw. I miss wondering just how long he could lick his own butthole without coming up for air (usually farting down his own throat). I miss him drinking from his water bowl for 5 straight minutes. I miss watching him pick a fight with Grimm the Pit Bull and never realize Grimm was stronger and would go low and knock him down and win. I miss Rowdy running to my legs to hide while Grimm had a "pit fit" and ran around the house at full speed for no discernible reason. I miss the first clap of thunder and Rowdy perking up and immediately running to cower under my legs. Or to wake up with his face to mine, begging me to follow him to the bathroom, and safety from the thunder and lightning. I miss his begging for people food by putting his face in my lap. I miss him taking a nap with his head firmly rested on my leg. Sometimes he’d add a paw. I miss him sitting on one end of the couch, me on the other, and raising his paw high in the air and then SLAMMING it down on the couch, DEMANDING I sit next to him NOW so he can lick my fingers and get petted. It always worked.
I miss our going to bed ritual. As we went to bed he got a whole piece of bread! Every night. He loved bread. Just like me. I miss him chewing the dirt out of his paws. I miss him and Grimm literally having pissing contests. I miss Ghost the cat cleaning his ears. I miss having to sit on him to keep him calm. I miss that first time Salt (our dearly departed cat) saw him, and slowly backed away in terror. I miss his destruction of stuffed animals and later use of them as pacifiers whenever he got excited, which was whenever I came home. I miss seeing his face in the window barking excitement when the car came into the garage. I miss the time as a puppy he came in from outside and got on the couch next to me to present me with his greatest gift, a little dead bird he’d caught. He was so so proud of himself and was sure I’d shower him in praise. I still feel bad for screaming and running away.

I miss him getting his piece of people food, eating it fast before Ghost or Pepper tried to take it, and then jumping *LEAPING* onto the couch in triumph, rolling around on his back, scratching his nose with his front paws, and smiling. Yes, he smiled. I couldn’t help but then rubbing his belly. Which got him excited again; which meant he wanted MORE people food. It was a vicious cycle of which I was not the master. I miss when he would be asleep on the couch and would roll over onto his back, front paws WAY up in the air like a little puppy Nazi. It was cute. I miss how I couldn’t go to the front door without him losing his mind, thinking pizza was coming. He loved pizza (see, we were soul-mates). I miss being outside in the backyard with him and knowing he was ready to go inside when he’d come up behind me and head butt my legs to get them, and me, moving back inside. I miss how he steadfastly REFUSED to let me do laundry alone. I miss his pouting corner; when he knew I was leaving he’d go sit in the front room looking out the front window hoping to see me and starting the watch for my return; not caring when it would be. I miss defending him at Thanksgiving when everyone in the family was mad at him for wanting people food. We showed them and would just sit down quietly under my legs and wait for his dinner. I miss my sister and her husband blaming me for spoiling him.

Rowdy was the ultimate friend. He was ALWAYS there, ALWAYS loyal, ALWAYS happy and ALWAYS ready to make you feel better. Maybe because he was so close to death when he came to me is why he loved life. Rowdy loved being alive. It was that simply. Rowdy loved life the way I wish I did. That was his gift. He always waited for me to go to bed, even in the long stretches when I wasn’t there, he would wait outside my room, pleading for me to come home from afar. The scratch marks are still on my bedroom door. For awhile he would go into my parents’ room to sleep. Eventually that wasn’t good enough and he slept in my empty room, waiting patiently for me to come home. Rowdy always waited for me. Rowdy never judged me for being not being with him. Never judged me for my silly decisions, my selfishness, my myopia. He rarely left my mind, even on the rough and tumble campaign trail or in my DC period of interesting choices. I always knew he was with me.

My entire family is torn apart by this. I feel like my soul is ripped apart. It was so sudden. We’ve gone through this with other pets, but this was different. He was different. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen my dad sob like that. I can’t remember the last time I was in a fetal position covering my eyes and ears and sobbing uncontrollably on the bathroom floor either.
I can’t look at pictures of him on Facebook. Grimm goes into my room looking for him. My mom, who likes to talk through emotions and grief, is having trouble understanding why I just can’t do that; why I can’t express myself through simple words. Why every reminder of him is like a fucking dagger through my heart. Like my soul is being shredded and torn apart. How every tiny reminder makes me experience it all over again. I can’t eat without thinking of him. I can’t do laundry without thinking of him. I can’t sleep without thinking of him. I literally can’t do anything without thinking of him because most of the things I do, he was next to me. I’ve never loved any creature THIS much. I hope he knew that and I hope he forgives me for not being able to save him.

Thanks to my Dad for taking the brunt of the “cleaning up after his accidents” duty and for day-to-day pet maintenance. Thanks to my Mom for being Rowdy’s doting grandmother, who sheltered him during scary thunderstorms when I was too busy trying to be a DC guy. Thanks to my sister Lisa for, you know, finding and saving Rowdy and conspiring with my Mom to convince me and my Dad we should adopt him. Thanks to my brother-in-law Frank for being a rock and carrying Rowdy to the car so we could take him to vet. He couldn’t walk and I was physically incapable of forming sentences. He had little pain and went peaceful is all that is needed to be known. I wasn’t with him though, I wasn’t able to protect him, to save him. I’ll never forgive myself for that. But I had ten years with him. Amazing years. We saved him from a kill shelter. He then proceeded to by my unwavering best friend and companion for 10 years;  some of them were horrible years. He didn’t care. He didn’t care when I left either. It was always hard to leave him.

I end this with three anecdotes. I moved to D.C. in 2009 after the Obama inauguration. I was there  for a year before I came home for a visit. It was for Thanksgiving and my sister’s wedding. It had been at least a year since I had seen Rowdy. When he saw me he reacted like he was still that six month old puppy who had to be sat on to get to calm down. He jumped on me, ran around the house in joy, and finally had to go outside to tell his puppy neighbors I was home. It had been a whole year, and his joy was overwhelming and infectious and unconditional.
The second story occurred about six months later. I had to move back home to Missouri. It was a crushing blow to my ego. Failure and shame stuck to me. I was depressed and miserable and ashamed of myself. When I came home with my tail between my legs, I was at my lowest point. I hated being home, and hated everyone I was around. No one on earth was happy I was back in Kansas City and was angry and difficult. Then I walked in the front door of my parents’ house. He was there. He was as ecstatic to see me as he had been for Thanksgiving. He didn’t care about any of that nonsense. All he knew, all he cared about, was that we were together again. It was exactly the response I needed. At my lowest moment, ego shattered, dreams dashed, Rowdy was beside himself with joy. Just for me. And that was enough for him. I will never forget his joy, honestly his faith in me. It will never leave me and I will forever be indebted to him.
My final anecdote is Rowdy’s early days. We had trouble figuring out where he should sleep. He wanted to sleep with me in my room, which I was against it as I knew I would never sleep anywhere else. At first we had Rowdy sleep in the basement. He hated it. He yelped and banged on the door for hours on end. His scratch marks are still on that door as well. Then we tried having him sleep outside. That was fine….as long as it didn’t rain. This might be why he was terrified of thunderstorms. . I vividly remember trying to coax him to come inside before bed because I knew it would rain that night and never being able to get him inside, as he was terrified I’d make him sleep in the basement. All I could hear was him running around the yard. It was like a horror movie. Finally, I let him sleep in my room. I was right. He never left.

And he never will.

This kind of UNENDURABLE pain means I had the equivalent level of barely endurable, always challenging, never boring, love. Love that never judged. Love that was always happy just to see you, no matter what. Thank you Rowdy. I’m forever grateful and I won’t let you down. See some day in the future.

-Aaron Bratcher
Rowdy’s Friend