When I was a kid, my parents worked hard to keep me away from sad experiences. They especially worked to keep me from experiences connected to death. That all changed at about the age of seven. It was the summer of the best game of tag.
My heart was still thumping hard from running with her. It was the best game of tag I ever played, and I played it with my dog, Queenie. She was a spunky little golden Norfolk terrier and she played tag better than any human. She and I were a perfect match for playing outside. Around and around the house we ran. When I escaped far enough ahead of her, I’d flatten myself frozen against the edge of the next corner to watch her wiz by without noticing me. “Ha ha!” I’d finally burst out, causing her to skid into stop, and then chase me in a new direction. I laughed so hard running with her, my stomach hurt. We must have played for hours that afternoon.
Both of us huffing and puffing, we finally decided to take a break. Our hearts, still racing, seemed to beat to the same rhythm. The gentle breeze blew cool enough under the sun and felt good going deep into our lungs. I didn’t notice the clouds coming in the distance, when I laid back onto my elbows on the wide cement steps of our front porch. With Queenie sitting at my feet, we sat resting and watching the cars swoosh by.
Queenie and I may have noticed my sister drive up at the same time. It was easy to spot my sister Lisa’s shiny new red Camaro, as it carefully pulled up to the curb across the street. She was settling in to park directly in front of us. My sister Lisa has a heart of gold. She took care of all of us like a second mom, especially our little dog, Queenie. Queenie’s meals, baths, and veterinary visits were all made possible by my sister, Lisa. She styled a short haircut like Pat Benatar, and I wanted to grow up to be just like her.
It took a split second for me to notice the movement at my feet. My eyes flashed between Queenie jumping onto her feet, then looking back up at my sister and down again. Still breathing hard from the best game of tag, I caught Queenie’s eyes the moment they lit up at the sight of my sister. Her ears perked and her tail bursted into dance. In an instant, she crouched down, positioned herself to launch, and with her tiny bum in the air…
She ran towards my sister with all the love and joy that a little dog could have at the sight of the person who cared for her. She sprang across the grassy yard, and then exploded into a flash. Leaping and darting… leaping and darting… full of life, she ran. Her golden hair flattened against her tiny body, as she flew across the yard. My sister’s car, not yet fully parked, finally came to a stop. Maybe my sister noticed Queenie in that moment, maybe we both watched our tiny dog flying away from the house, bouncing off the curb, and into the street. She rolled perfectly beneath the first tire… like a toy, like a bad dream.
“No… Noooo! Stoooop!” I lurched onto my feet, as the sound of my screams echoed through my insides. But I don’t remember if the words stayed stuck in my throat or if they broke free from my lips. My screams, out loud or paralyzed inside, dissolved into nothing. She was a little dog, but nothing could have stopped her. Nothing could have stopped it from happening. My eyes closed tight, but I couldn’t erase the images from my mind. I inhaled from somewhere deep, covered my ears with both hands, and…
I ran away into my back yard, still smashing my ears against my head, trying to force the horrifying images away. I don’t remember breathing. Or crying. Or screaming. I charged into the back door of my house. Where was I going? Where could I hide? I didn’t know where to turn. The tears rolled off my sweaty cheeks and I heaved, struggling to breathe. My world was sinking, and it felt like drowning.
“¿Qué paso?” I heard a distant voice from the living room, and then suddenly my father appeared before me. “¿Qué te pasó?” he asked, scanning me over for injuries or missing limbs. But I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t catch my breath long enough for words. He crouched down, took me firmly by the shoulders, and shook me hard… just once. I could feel the air come back into my lungs and the world began to move again.
That afternoon, my sister Lisa carefully wrapped Queenie’s body in a white towel and buried her in the furthest place of our back yard.
Queenie remains in my memory, not because she died that day, but because she lived. We lived out joy, running, laughing, and breathing life in deeply. It is my best memory with her, and that painful moment secured that joy filled memory deep in the place where love lives. There is joy to every life experience, even loss. What a joy it is to have had something to love, fully, to know joy and run with it.