The first time I met Gabe, it was by way of his wet puppy nose in my ear as he roused me from a dead sleep.
I was sleeping on the floor of a friend’s house, needing a place to crash for drill (Army National Guard) weekend. Her new puppy kept me up all night, clearly thinking that “on floor” equals “chew toy”. He was damn cute, all chubby belly and big paws and wet nose and wiggly-licky-waggy-sniffy, like all black lab puppies, but that night he drove me nuts. I’d already had too much to drink and I really needed to sleep it off if I was going to be standing in formation the next morning.
If you would have told me, that one year later, I would make an impulse decision to take him home with me to save him from the shelter, I would have called you crazy. If you would have told me that 13 years later, I would sob like a baby as I cradled his still body, saying goodbye to one of my best, oldest friends, I would have thought you were off your rocker.
But that’s what happened. In August of 2012, I lost my Gabe, my friend of over 13 years, and I miss him so much.
My memories of Gabe are wrapped up in so many other feelings. The most predominant of these is guilt. Since he was with me from age 22 to 36, a great deal changed in my life during that time, and I pawned Gabe off on a lot of family, boyfriends, caretakers, and kennels as I ran off and did my thing.
Did I do a good job with him? Was he better off with me? Did I deserve the unconditional love he gave me? Was I good enough for him? These thoughts of my inadequacy as his caretaker are like worms, burrowing away at my happy memories of him, casting a shadow on the light that he brought to my life. It is these thoughts that make me hesitate to get another dog, though I am sure that Duke, our remaining dog, is very lonely.
The day after I brought Gabe home in May of 1999, I was using a knife to put an extra hole in his dog collar so it would fit him properly. Needless to say, this did not end well. I slipped, cut my finger, and started to feel faint after seeing the blood and knowing I would need stitches. I called my then-fiancé, M, and told him what happened, that I would need a ride to the ER, then hung up the phone and sat on the floor, a towel around my hand, trying not to pass out.
Gabe stood between me and the door. When M came in the door, Gabe took a defensive stance and would not let M come near me until I convinced Gabe it was OK. Gabe never liked that guy. I should have paid more attention to that.
When I was single, Gabe loved to sleep on my bed with me. This is my favorite memory of him. Soon after I got into bed, he would amble over, hop up, do about 1 ½ turns, then plop down with a little groan “mmmmmph…” before he closed his eyes. I would often stroke his head before I drifted to sleep. Most nights, I would awaken at some point to a muffled “thump” and the sensation of a bowling ball landing on my stomach, which was Gabe shifting position and laying his head on my stomach. I swear, his head weighed at least 20 pounds.
The sadness of his loss, four months after the fact, sometimes feels like a kick to my stomach when I am reminded of it.