I have had the Marley and Me movie for awhile now, sitting in my DVD collection, collecting dust. I kept telling myself to watch it, but I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready. I had already read the book, (like everyone else on the planet) so I knew about the heart-wrenchingly sad ending. I could barely get through the book without weeping, so a movie would surely push me over the edge. And crying is something that once I start, there’s no stopping the floodgates. I honestly didn’t think Kleenex made a big enough box.
I knew deep down that the real reason was I never truly had a chance to grieve for my own dog. My dad brought her home from the pound when I was seven and she was “my dog” from the start. Princess was young and energetic, with soft brown fur and gentle eyes. One of her ears stood straight up at attention, the other flopped down to the side. She was a mutt, a mix of Collie and, my brothers and I liked to think, wolf.
At our first meeting, my younger brother was petrified of her and ran into his room to push his dresser up against the door. I was in love. She was my best friend from the start. I recently found the very first picture of Princess in an old photo album. There I was, standing in our kitchen in my pink pajamas and Dorothy Hamill haircut, wrapping my arms around her and grinning like crazy. I was beyond thrilled that my dad had brought her home to us, rescuing her from the cold and lonely streets.
I spent every waking moment giving her hugs and kisses. She slept with me at night in my white canopy bed, peacefully curled up on my legs. I would drift off to sleep feeling her warm, soft heaviness at my feet. She was my constant companion, my security blanket, my guardian angel.
When I was feeling blue, I’d take her for a walk. Sometimes her sheer enthusiasm for walks would be enough to snap me out of my funk. We’d go to the nearby playground at dusk. I’d unhitch her leash and off she’d run, dog tags jingling in the shadows. We’d sit together in the field and look at the stars. Those moments were some of the most content and magical of my life, Princess by my side, doing nothing but simply enjoying the peacefulness together. She understood me like no one else. With her, there was nothing but acceptance and love.
As sweet as she was, Princess was also tough. In her early years, she had managed to break every single cable leash that clerk at L.L. Bean’s swore were unbreakable. She’d be out in the driveway, sitting in her doghouse. My brothers and I would jump on our bikes and zoom off, only to turn to see her galloping after us with a grin on her face and a broken leash dragging down the road behind her.
When I finally went off to college, my parents told me she would sit by the door where my bags were, her head down, waiting for me to come back home on the weekends. It broke my heart to leave her even for a week.
By the spring of 1991, she had become old and frail. She had arthritis in her legs and soon she didn’t have the strength to stand up. I rubbed her hot swollen legs for hours trying to comfort her. Maybe if I did that enough, she’d be okay. My dad told me with tears in his eyes that it was time we called the vet. I had never seen my father cry until that day.
After she was gone, the house was heavy and silent, almost suffocating. Later that summer, my dad told me about a dream he had. He was in a huge gorgeous green field and Princess was there, bounding over to greet him. He said it was the most vivid dream and seemed real. Not too many months later he would die as well. The grief for my dad was all-consuming and looking back, I don’t believe I ever had the chance to grieve for my sweet girl, Princess.
Now, almost twenty years later, it was time.
As I slid the movie into the DVD player I thought, “Can I handle remembering her again?” I felt a sudden chill. “And, if I do remember her, will I then have to finally let her go?”
I sat curled up on my couch alone and watched Marley and Me. At the end it happened. The tears came. My body went limp as I sobbed. I could feel the pain of loss bubbling up and releasing in waves almost too big for my soul to handle. I heard Owen Wilson utter the final lines of the movie:
“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”
Princess did just that. And finally, I can say that no, I don’t ever have to let her go.