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My dog Sunshine passed away a few days ago. We had her for nearly six years. Robert asked me to write something about her for the newsletter, so I’ll try my best:
Before I met you I never knew a creature could be so afraid and still love so much. It made my attempts at love feel insignificant. I had always held back, because I didn’t want to deal with the pain, because I didn’t want to open my eyes to the full spectrum of light. Even the smallest speck of sun could get inside, damage the nerves, hurt me in ways that I never imagined. And it would be all the more painful because I knew I was the one who welcomed it in.
You knew that too. And yet there you were - before you belonged to us - outside the gate in our Austin home. You waited there every day for us to open the door and let you in. You smiled even though it hurt. You didn’t know how to stop.
We didn’t name you Sunshine, but whoever did must have seen what we did. Not just your yellow coat but the way your entire body lit up with happiness no matter how hungry, hot, and hurt you were.
At first we thought you were a stray. Robert fed you jerky in the driveway and we’d see you out in the street, chasing cats so that you could eat the food left out in tins. We found out you belonged to the neighbor across the street, but they didn’t take care of you. Sometimes they’d put you inside the gate, sometimes not. You’d wander outside at night, but mostly you’d come to sit outside our house. Once a couple of kids called your name and you ran terrified into our house.
We said we couldn’t afford a third dog. At the time this was true. Robert had been laid off from his job and I was going to school. We owed six months of rent and were living off of unemployment.
But we didn’t pick you, you picked us. We started bringing you into the house and feeding you because you were hungry, and you’d stay for days at a time before the neighbor came to get you.
You sat on the floor and looked at us like you were asking for permission to stay, like at any moment you thought you were going to get kicked out. You wouldn’t even come into the back room, but would stare furtively down the hallway. It took you forever to even step a foot onto the bed. It was obvious that someone had hurt you.
Once you stayed at our house for a whole week and we came home one night to find that the neighbors had taken you back and locked you up behind their gate.
You waited for Robert to come get you, your head and paws at the bars. He opened the gate and took you back home. You never left again.
You came with us to California when Robert got a job in San Diego. That’s when we found out you had heartworm, like almost any outside dog without medication in Texas, and would probably have been dead within a year. You went through treatment and came out still alive, although there was a good chance you wouldn’t have made it if the worms had pushed their way out of your heart and lungs.
I was so afraid for you. You were already my Sunshine.
I never knew how much I needed you until we took you to the beach, and I saw you chase the little white line frothing on the waves. When you swam after seagulls and I had to carry you through the water because you were too afraid to swim back. When we took you hiking and you trotted through tall grass, chasing after bugs, your little tail wagging. When we’d take you home and wash you off, then wrap you in a big fuzzy robe and feed you treats. We started waiting in the line at In-N-Out every Friday, even though it took over forty minutes to get you burger patties to eat. Everyone said you were so beautiful, and so sweet. I didn’t know why you picked us, but you did, and that meant we were going to give you the best life we could.
A part of me hadn’t been alive until I met you. Family was always a bad word to me. A snarled and bloated overgrown parasite, something best left discarded and forgotten. Something to run away from. Family was the bad blood the leeches couldn’t suck out of you.
I understand what family means now because of you. You were the missing piece I didn’t know was missing until you filled the space it left.
Robert would point to himself, me, then each of the dogs. He’d say, “Robert. Autumn. Kid. Pris. Sunshine.
Family wasn’t the necessary amputation, the thing you cut off to keep living. Family was the only reason to keep living.
It seemed we only had you for a little while, but looking through six years of pictures I saw we’d done so much together. You went from eating cat food in the street to eating steak and traveling across the entire country. You saw snow for the first time in Oklahoma and was so excited that you ran outside and rolled in it. You spent hours chasing the frogs outside my grandma’s pond. I took you camping and on hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
And for the entire six years you were with us, you’d always look at us with such love that it hurt me. I knew I needed to protect you because that kind of devotion deserved nothing less than everything I could give you. I started to heal in a lot of ways because of you.
You were one of the reasons I stopped staring at hell, and found a way to follow your gaze into heaven. I wanted to see what you saw. I wanted to see the light that always remained in your eyes, even when the dark came. I wanted to know how a creature could be hurt so much and still be so happy.
There was sunshine everywhere you looked.
We love you, our sweet lady. I still can’t believe you’re gone. I’m glad that you knew you were loved until the very end, and that we gave you a life at least half as beautiful as you.