Sunday, January 11, 2009

Charlie and me

I had read the book Marley and Me long before it ever got made into a movie. And it immediately became my favorite book despite the fact that the ending made me choke up and cry. Sob is more like it. Which is why I was so hesitant to go watch the movie version of the book. I wanted to see it and yet I didn’t want to see it. I was afraid if the movie was anything like the book I would burst into tears in the movie theater itself. I finally watched the movie this weekend and yes, the movie did make me cry but it also inspired me enough to pen down bits and pieces of my journey with my own dog.

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CHARLIE AND ME

Charlie at eight weeks old

Charlie today (three years old)

I didn’t really need another dog. I already had a dog. And yet I couldn’t just drive by the house advertising German shepherd puppies without taking one small look. Just one look, I promised. I had absolutely no intention of getting another dog. I was only going to look. How much can a look hurt, really?

I had barely stepped out of my car when I saw a small patch of brown fur wiggling free out of the small fenced in backyard. Seven other puppies yapped around him, cheering him on as he burst through the small opening, dove right past me into the blueberry bushes along the side of the garden. “Oscar!” I heard a voice shout out, “Come back here, right now! Oscaaar! You’ll get yourself run over, you silly puppy!” Excited over his new found freedom, he joyfully sniffed through the bushes, running around in large dizzy circles all around the garden, before finally coming to a stop right at my feet. Panting heavily, he looked up at me with his big brown puppy eyes, a blueberry colored tongue sticking out on one side of his mouth, inspecting me with a cheeky grin on his face.

Before I knew it, I had laid out a blanket on the car seat next to me and he was coming home. “Oscar, huh?” I said to him as I picked out burs and dry leaves from his blueberry infested coat. “What a solemn, grown up name for a dog as goofy as you. You don’t look like an Oscar to me. You need a more goofy name. Like…maybe…hmm…Charlie?” “Charlie?” He perked up his ears and cocked his head to one side and looked up at me. And Charlie it was.

A little girl came up to me one day, not too long after I had brought him home and asked me where Ears was. “Excuse me?” I said. “Ears. You know, your puppy with the big ears. That’s what all the other kids call him.” For the longest time thereafter, everyone in the neighborhood called him “Ears”. Strutting down the street with his happy go lucky personality, and his big, oversized ears, he soon became everyone’s favorite puppy.

I remember the first time he saw snowfall and puzzled over the soft white flakes that fell on his face. He looked up to the sky with the most perplexed look on his face. “It’s snowing, Charlie!” I shouted out happily to him, rolling up a snowball and throwing it at him. “Woof!” he barked as he caught the snowball midair and bit into it, baffled over where the ball had disappeared. A few more barks later, he was in love. He jumped in and out of the white blanket that covered the ground, burrowing his nose into the snow, biting at it, coming up with a brain freeze, and trying to figure out where it all came from and where it all disappeared to. Winter is still his favorite season of the year.

And then there was the day I came home to an exceptionally quiet Charlie. Gone was the rambunctious little dog who would greet my arrival with sloppy kisses and instead he just lay there, tired and exhausted, barely able to lift up his head. “Want to go to the park, Charlie?” – his favorite sentence of all time and nothing. I brought out his red ball and tossed it in the air. And still nothing. No reaction from him whatsoever. He just lay there on the carpet, not even wanting to eat or drink. I frantically called up one vet office after another, only to find them all closed for the day. I would just have to observe him through the night and get him to an animal hospital first thing in the morning. As I sat down on the floor next to him, he placed his head into my lap and let out a big sigh. I stroked his head and sang softly to him and hoped and prayed that he would be okay. The next day, the vet declared he had panosteitis – a self limiting, fairly common, not-so-serious disease, equivalent to growing pains in dogs. A few days later, Charlie had recovered completely but to this day when Charlie is afraid or ill, he nudges into my armpit, places his head on my lap and doesn’t settle down until I sing to him.

He is my sunshine on cloudy, gloomy days. No matter how miserable a day I may have had, he makes me laugh in his own silly, goofy way. Whether it’s the day he was chasing a ball and ran into some ice and went skating on all four paws or the splashing around in the lake that he calls swimming, it’s hard not to laugh when you’re around clumsy Charlie.

And then there are those days when I just need to talk to someone and he listens. There was the day right before I quit my PhD when I wondered where I was going in my life and called home and cried over the phone in sheer frustration. After I placed down the phone, I was consumed with the enormity of what I was about to do, and a flood of mixed emotions swept over me, and as I sat down on the couch, tears suddenly flowed down my cheeks. And there was Charlie, sitting by my side, licking away the tears as they poured down my face. Or the day when I had a terrible fight with Joe and just lay in bed too angry and upset to talk to anyone. There he lay, right by my side, nuzzled next to me as I hugged him and cried.

When I first got a dog, everyone warned me about how destructive dogs can be. They told me about how they’ll chew up slippers and shoes and furniture alike. And how noisy and yappy they will be. About how they’ll break things. And how they’ll pee and poop all over the place. But Charlie did none of that. He turned out to be an incredibly obedient dog and amazingly easy to train. What no one ever warned me about however was how he would trample all over my soul and leave his indelible paw prints scattered across my heart.

Life wouldn’t be life without Charlie in it. He shows me how to laugh out loud. And he shows me just how unbelievably irrelevant a lot of my fears and anxieties are in the bigger, broader doggy context of life. How my job is just a job and does not take precedence over playing in the park. How it is so much better to sleep and dream of chasing squirrels than it is to lie awake in bed worrying over tomorrow. How it is so important to just be comfortable in your own skin and accept yourself as you are – big, silly, clumsy goofball and all. How nothing in life is quite as important as a walk around the neighborhood every evening. And how sloppy kisses from a dog who loves you just for you can make everything seem better.

From the first day since he stepped into my life till now, it has been quite the journey for Charlie and me. Over the years, I’ve changed careers, moved apartments, moved cities, almost had to return home, gotten a new job, gone through the happiest moments of my life to depressing, abysmal moments when nothing seemed to go right, and through it all the one thing that has remained constant is his presence by my side. No matter how circumstances may have changed the chaotic background of my life, through it all there has always been Charlie and me.

There are dogs. And there are dogs that leave a paw print on your heart forever. And then there is Charlie.

~vagabond~ © 2009

To see more photos of Charlie, click here.

17 comments:

alok said...

Wow… what a ride!!! nice to know that the journey is ever so strange but beautiful, with every bit of life in it :)

You have a wonderful week ahead, Charlie you too.

kunal said...

u know.. u just made realise the importance of few things.. ur dog has is beautiful.. hope it can keep u company forever.
great post.. will read this blog whenevr i feel lonely.

i have to tead the book as well

Cuckoo said...

As I wrote you in the mail, this post moved me. Don't want to say anything else.

~vagabond~ said...

@Alok: Yup...it has been quite a ride, and I wouldnt change any part of it for anything in the world.
You have a great week ahead too. :)

~vagabond~ said...

@kunal: Thanks...I'm glad you liked the post. And I too hope and pray that Charlie stays by my side forever.
Yup...you've got to read the book...it's a must read for all dog lovers. :)

~vagabond~ said...

@Cuckoo:
Thanks Cuckoo...havent checked my mails yet...will take a look. :)

Inner Vision said...

Very touching, good luck to you and Charlie...

~vagabond~ said...

@Inner Vision: Thanks! :)

Just call me 'A' said...

ohh this is so heartfelt. You've found your soulmate vagabond. Charlie is adorable.

alok said...

You are tagged! check my blog ...

Dust Unsettled said...

Very touching post... I liked the way you described the confused Charlie when he watched his first snow fall, and the way you made a bond with him when he was sick, and the way he returns the kind gesture when you are dull... Hope you two enjoy each other's company for a long-long time...

~vagabond~ said...

@ A: Thanks...and yes, he is my soul mate.

@alok: Nooooo...not another tag!

@Dust: Thanks for telling me what you liked about the post :)

Winnie the poohi said...

Ah! everytime u said charlie i wanted to fit my "sweety" in.. shes all that and foreversomore for me!

~vagabond~ said...

@Winnie:
Glad to know you could relate to my post. Do share photos of your "sweety" too! :)

Rahi said...

charlie sure has lovely ears. and in the first pics she looks all set to pose with her ears up. wow.

Winnie the poohi said...

Ah I shall leave the link from home.. am in office now and stupid firewall blocks everything!

Dhanya said...

I'm a first timer here.. Got hooked to your photos.. n this post made me very emotional.. I also had a German Shepherd named Sony and she was part of our household for about 13 long years.. But she died 6 months back and I miss her so much now :(