Tank and I pulled an all-nighter the other night. Our first and last. And it was memorable, from us both sleeping on the tarp on the bed due to her vomiting and incontinence to me carrying her outside once the world went to sleep to stargaze together. We weren’t taking time for granted. She was our little miracle, after all. Thirteen years old? A bulldog? We got 5 amazing, extra years with this precious pup. What a gift. But what raw grief now that she is gone.
When Tank was a puppy, I couldn’t help but nuzzle her sweet little manatee face and sing softly, so close to her that my voice reverberated against her skin, “I love you…a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and so much more.” Those first three words would calm her, and I’d sing the beginning of that old song over and over to her in her lifetime. Only the first stanza because I couldn’t remember the rest of it, and even those words I’m now aware that I’ve botched all these years. This was a song I remembered from my childhood, before I found out that not every family dinner in America dissolved in fits of laughter with parents breaking out singing old tunes in two-part harmony around the kitchen table.
That song stuck with me when I first fell in love with Tank; it quickly became our song. For the years that followed, I’d sing that to her often, so often that when she lost her hearing, I could still sing it into the soft spot behind her ear and she’d relax, feeling my voice on her head and knowing without a doubt what that cadence meant.
Tank lived up to her name. She was a beast, a tank – Tankers, Tanky, Tankini – as many of our loved ones called her.
Grammy used to look at her in horror and say, “Meli. That is a face only a mother could love.” She was right. Being an English bulldog, Tank wasn’t feminine. Dainty. Timid. But I don’t think she would have fit so well into our small family if she were anything other than who she was. She lost many of her teeth from ramming her head into the doors in the house, pissed at us for closing them and determined to get through the wood to where we were on the other side. She made doing laundry a drawn out task as she’d climb into the basket and just sit there until I moved her. She put her Rhodesian Ridgeback pal in line for years, thinking her little legs were just as long as his. And she loved her best friend, Nesta (Marley) dearly. He kept her young as they spent hours together. And as much as her flatulence and drooling annoyed me at times, it was a constant source of laughter.
Spunky, sassy, and full of life, Tank reminded me to not be afraid to be me. She was unapologetically her, and we couldn’t have loved her anymore than we did. We often pondered whether she was born that way or if she took on some of our characteristics along the way. When we first saw her, the runt of the litter who had been picked on, we knew. She was ours. Our first anniversary gift. And our best. The lessons she taught us over the years were too many to count.
Tank battled a brain tumor, but you would have never known it unless you witnessed one of her seizures or her having a bad day. To live as she did – a happy dog content in her own skin, giving unconditional love while enjoying life up until the very end – is such a powerful reminder of how to live.
I’ve never been next to a loved one before as they’ve slipped away.
And I have never been shy of saying “I love you” – I probably say it so much to those I love that it becomes an annoyance. But to me, I never want my last words to someone I love to be anything but that, so if something were to happen to them or me, there would be no question. It takes me awhile to love, but when I do love, I love deeply. So it didn’t matter that Tank was now deaf – that she couldn’t hear my words on our last day together. Because I never held back telling her I loved her, I have no doubt that she knew. As I held her one last time, the drugs were administered as she was in my arms; it would be a matter of seconds. But there was enough time for me to bury my face in hers one last time and sing softly into her soft fur, “I love you…” She relaxed, and she knew. She was greatly loved by her parents.
Love. My life was so incredibly enriched by this little bow-legged pup that no other word can define it.
I found this sign cut out of metal a few weeks ago. In recent weeks leading up to Tank’s passing, she was inconsolable if she knew I was home and working in the “barnyard” out back or in my shop in the basement. Sometimes I’d carry her down, the perk of her hearing loss being that she didn’t care if I ran the loudest power tools Home Depot could provide. She just wanted to be with me. So I started building and working on small projects the living room, where she could easily see me.
This is made out of 200-year old barn wood and metal:
Love. And allow yourself to be loved. Whether it be a four-legged friend or two, just love. Unconditionally.