By Lena-Jean Charles-Loffel, open story section winner, Dungala Kaiela Writing Awards

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I remember the day so clearly. There was so many emotions. Including so much uncertainty. Was I ready? Could I handle it?
But just like that, you were placed in my arms. Like it was nothing. I embraced you and my world changed. I didn’t even know that love could happen that fast.  Looking into your eyes, it was as if you chose me. You were wriggling, but I held you tight. And I knew, there was no turning back now. You were mine and my heart was full. And in that moment I was ready for our wonderful journey together.
****
I was so nervous to bring you home. I held you tight in my arms. You had no idea what was happening. But I was ready to protect you. The ride home was overwhelming. That’s when I knew this was real and there was no going back now.
I didn’t sleep well that first night. I couldn’t help it, but I constantly got out of bed to check up on you. At one point you started crying. Without hesitation, I picked you up and offered the comforts of my love. You immediately stopped whining and I knew I couldn’t leave your side.
I shouldn’t have bought you back to bed with me — but I couldn’t help it. I needed you just as much as you needed me. When you fell back to sleep, I saw peace in your breathing. My heart was full. How did I get so lucky?
We eventually became settled with one another. Your personality and character grew. You were a cheeky one.
*****
I had not named you straight away. You were perfect and needed the perfect name. But it didn’t come easy. Could you be a Luna? How about Elsie? They were cute but not for you.
And then suddenly your name came to me. Out of nowhere. Without any thought I started calling you Sadie. It felt so right. You looked like a Sadie. And everything about you was a Sadie. As you grew more and more into your name, I also began to call you Saddles. It was a unique nickname, but you seemed to love it too.
****
As time went on, I started to wonder how I ever lived this long without you. There was a new happiness to my life. All the things I once thought made me happy, never compared to how wonderful it was to be with you.
Time apart was always a struggle. You played so much on my mind, and I always longed for us to be reunited and back in each other’s company. I believe you felt the same. No-one was ever as excited to see me, than you. There’s no feeling quite like knowing you are loved in return and so unconditionally.
I couldn’t believe how fast you grew.
*****
We shared so many first moments together. On our first walk, the sun was out and it must have been spring because I remember the purple flowers that had bloomed from the tree across the street. We spent so many walks together after that. It was one of my favourite ways to bond with you. I had this sense of pride walking with you. We would walk the streets and people would all look at how cute and beautiful you were. My heart beamed and I loved showing you off. You were mine.
The first time you went swimming was also great. It was a hot day and we all decided to head down to the river. You didn’t understand or know what water was. But you were curious. We gently walked into the river together. At first it was hard to tell if you liked it. I guess you were unsure. But as the day went on you became more comfortable. In the end we couldn’t get you out.
When you have so much love for someone, it’s hard to imagine that you could ever be angry at them. But that’s not true. I remember the first time you ever frustrated me. We were at the park. You were running around like mad. You were carrying a giant stick — and you weren’t listening to me. You thought it would be funny to run in the opposite direction to me. Like it was some silly game I missed the memo about.
When I finally I caught you, you whacked the stick hard into my leg. I heard a rip. I don’t know what made me angrier — the pain in the back of my calf muscle or the fact that you just tore my favourite leggings?
That was the first time I yelled at you and actually meant it. I think that was the first time you knew I really meant it too. You stopped what you were doing immediately and your eyes looked straight at me as if to tell me you were sorry.
I still wear those leggings because obviously they are my favourite. And every time I see that ripped hole, I am taken back to that day. However, the anger is gone now and it’s all just a cherished memory.
*****
Before you, everything was about me. It was all about what I wanted and what I needed. That changed when you came along. Suddenly everything was about you and your happiness. And I guess what came with that was the need to constantly spoil you. And spoil you I did. I don’t think I could go a single week without buying you a new toy or a new outfit.
In the back of my head, I kept telling myself that I am being ridiculous. But I couldn’t help it. I was addicted to watching your little face light up every time I came home with something new for you.
*****
I thought spending a couple of days without you was hard enough. But then came my first overseas trip. Six whole weeks away from you.
I did not know what I was in for. I spent so many days wondering about you. Were you okay? Did you worry where I was? I even feared that there was the possibility that you forgot me. That really scared me.
I usually used to hate coming home from overseas trips. There was just this huge sadness about it. Like I was returning to my boring old life. But after six weeks, coming home never felt so easy. The two-hour drive from the airport was ridiculous.
Being away for so long made me realise that overseas trips will never be the same again.
****
As you grew, I soon learnt I had to share you. It wasn’t just me that was head over heels for you. Pop also loved you as much as me. I’d never seen him so in love before.
Pop has always been a stern man. Not the type to show his feelings. Even if Pop cared about you, it was done in a less obvious way.
But then there was you. Everyone knew he loved you. Not only did I spoil you, but so did Pop. You needed a new bed — Pop made you one. It was cold during winter — Pop got you extra blankets. You enjoyed swimming — Pop got you a tub to splash in. Between Pop and myself, you never went without.
I’ll never forget when I wanted to take you to Melbourne for a week. Pop didn’t want you to go. He asked me if you could stay. But I was feeling selfish and wanted you to come with me because I would have missed you too. He gave me various reasons as to why you should have stayed behind. He tried to say I’d be too busy to look after you. It wasn’t enough to convince me.
That week must have felt the longest for Pop. He was so excited when we finally returned. I don’t know who was more excited to see each other — you or him?
I am so lucky to share your love with Pop. Your love has created an even stronger bond between us that I didn’t think was possible.
***********
It’s strange to think that we wake up every single day and have no clue what truly lies ahead of us. We assume it will be just like any other day. Well, at least I did that day.
It was meant to be a pretty ordinary Monday for me. All was going to plan. I woke up and went to the gym — had a mediocre workout. After my shower, I planned to meet my friend for her make-up and tanning assessment. She needed a client to pass her practical exams and I was excited for free make-up and a free tan.
I don’t know why, but she decided to use green eye-shadow on me. I thought that was a little different, but went with it. During my make-up we spoke about our weekend, our birthday plans, what our goals were over the next few months and just other general gossip. I told her our plans for us and how I was in the middle of trying to secure my first full-time job so we could move back to Melbourne.
After my make-up was done my friend went to get the tanning studio ready. Whilst I waited, I scanned the social media on my phone, took a few snaps of my face which was now styling green eye-shadow ready for a night on the town.
Suddenly a message rolled down the top of my screen. It was a message from Mum. She said ‘‘call me when you can’’. It was strange because she never texts me. A bad feeling had come over me and I knew something was wrong. There was no way I could wait until after my tan to know what the message was about. I dialled Mum immediately.
As soon as she answered, I could hear there was something wrong. When I told her where I was and that I was waiting for my tan, she was reluctant to tell me anything. She wanted me to call afterwards. But how could I do that knowing something wasn’t right?
Worried for dear life, I asked if Pop was okay. She said yes. As soon as I knew Pop was okay — I knew you weren’t. Mum knew I had figured it out too. She didn’t have to say much more. I could hear her getting upset that she had to make this call. And before I knew it, my heart felt like it had dropped straight through my stomach.
I was hunched over screaming. The make-up that my friend had just had done was now in green smudges all over my face.
I had caused a bit of a scene. Everyone was looking at me.
My friend quickly rushed over and tried to offer me comfort. I was distraught. She walked me outside. Through my hyperventilated cry, I tried to apologise for ruining her make-up exam before she could be assessed. She didn’t seem to mind.
I tried to make my way to the car. Many people asked me if I was okay as I walked past. I’d never been so open about my raw emotions in public before — I didn’t even care.
I sat in my car with my body over the steering wheel. Time stood still. I don’t know how long I sat there crying before finding the courage and energy to drive.
When I finally got home, I couldn’t get out of my car. I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. Instead I sat there crying the words ‘why?’ Eventually I got into the house where Mum was waiting for me.
I don’t remember if we spoke. My instincts told me to go to bed. I laid down and cried myself to exhaustion. It seemed like the only way I could stop this nightmare.
I don’t know how long I actually slept for, but when I woke it was like an automatic switch went off again. Before I knew it, I was crying heavy all over again. I never knew sadness like this, where I couldn’t turn it off or even pretend I was okay.
It suddenly appeared to me, that if I was this devastated — what about Pop? How had I forgotten about him? After all, he was there when this all happened. Surely he was ruined too! A huge part of me didn’t want to go and see him and confront the truth. The other part of me told me to be brave and do it.
Driving to Pop’s was horrible. What usually takes only five minutes, felt like hours. I didn’t know what to expect.
When I got there, Pop was in the garden. He was digging a hole on the front lawn to try and fix a water pipe.
It was going onto night time.
As I pulled up his driveway, he looked up. As soon as he saw me, he broke down. I had not seen Pop cry since Nan died. His first words to me were ‘‘there was nothing I could do’’. My heart broke again knowing that Pop felt responsible for the accident.
We cried a lot that night. Our lives had changed forever.
The next few days that followed felt like I was stuck in a deep dark hole of ultimate sadness. How could this happen? It all seemed unfair. You were so young.
I imagined all the ways I could have prevented this from happening. I wondered if I should have spent more time with you? I could have taught you more about the danger of roads. I suddenly felt guilty because I didn’t even see you in the hours leading up to the tragedy. I chose to sleep in instead.
I wondered if you were in pain. Visions played in my head. Without even being there, I imagined you running across that road without a care in the world. I imagined the force of the car taking your life away from us faster than you knew what happened.
I prayed that you were taken too fast and you didn’t have a moment to feel fear or pain.
As I wondered these things through countless amounts of tears — I couldn’t help but cry for Pop. He saw all of this. I had an imaginary vision of what this tragedy looked like. I didn’t even let myself see you lifeless. The imagination was enough to haunt me in my sleep.
But Pop saw everything with his own eyes.
I never thought sadness could hurt so much. The idea of finding happiness afterwards seemed impossible. How were we supposed to live on without you?
****
I’ve spent so much time trying to pretend you were never here. I avoid thinking about you too much because all it does is bring an overwhelming sense of sadness and my heart breaks all over again.
But that’s not fair to you. Because you were such a beautiful blessing to me. You showed me what it was to be loved unconditionally and how powerful it was to give your heart to something that never had to express love through words.
You deserve to be remembered. And I’m sorry I have struggled to do that. I want to remember you without the heartache. Maybe one day I will? I try to find comfort in the good memories and knowing that your last moments were spent with Pop knowing you were so loved.
I purchased a necklace in your memory. I hope that it can ease some of this deep sadness. Whenever I miss you, I will look at the necklace, see your paw print and remember how lucky I was to have a dog as beautiful, smart and cheeky as you.
*****
if“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.”
— John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog
My reflections of my dog Sadie are for all of those who not only have felt ultimate sadness through the loss of a loved one. But also the sadness through a loss of a pet. Some might find it foolish to be sad over a pet. But they show unconditional love more than most people can provide. They fit in our world like family and when they depart our lives, it can be like as if we lost our own children. I hope that I can find comfort in knowing Sadie’s memory lives on in this story.