My sister and brother-in-law sounded shaky. After I put the phone down, I did, too.
It was that kind of news.
“We have to put Quaccia down.”
For as long as I knew him – and I only knew the ol’ guy for a small part of his 14 years – Quaccia was the poster child for the idea of “Family Dog.” Big. Friendly. A little clumsy sometimes, a little slobbery sometimes. But with fur that was made for comfort and a heart made of solid gold.
The name, pronounced “Qua-cha,” came from a minor league ballplayer. That was the only thing minor league about him. The whole family could tell you that.
Funny thing, though. When I think of Quaccia, or Q as he often got dubbed, one image keeps coming back to mind. A picture taken right after my nephew Gil was born. The baby asleep, Q curled up alongside his rocker, totally comfortable, totally protective, the message clear as crystal.
“This is my buddy. Mine. You want to get to him, you’ve got to get past me.”
Somehow, I know that’s the Q that’s going to stay with me.
We do that a lot with those we love, it seems. Somewhere along the line, a picture gets set in your brain – maybe an actual photograph, maybe just a strongly-held memory – that seems to epitomize someone, to crystalize all your memories of them in one place. A thought that captures a life.
If it seems strongest with pets, it may be because they compress so much love into so short a time, leaving behind those pictures to last a lifetime. I know that my own mental photo album holds a lot of loved animals, both here and gone, caught at a moment that says “Yes. This is me.”
Our rescue dog Duchess, grinning in the mountains, free of anxiety for the first time in too long.
The eyes of our cat Twinkle, gleaming from behind the headboard of a bed at night, waiting for a finger to be dangled down.
Our bearded collie Max, charging a guest at full tilt in love and excitement. Or the cautious orbit of my folks’ dog, Hailey, a distant background presence taking the measure of a stranger – for days, sometimes.
Each one just a moment in the life. Each one as true as if it had happened yesterday. Each one real, in a way that any velveteen rabbit could understand.
There’s a danger, of course. Sometimes we become too reliant on the shorthand, let the reality fade as the picture replaces it. But usually, I find, it’s the opposite. Like a bookmark in a novel or a shortcut on a computer monitor, that single image unlocks an entire story. By holding on to the tip, you can suddenly raise the entire iceberg.
That’s a comfort. Even a joy.
It makes me wonder what pictures I’ve left in others’ minds. Maybe I’d laugh. Maybe I’d cringe. Or maybe it’s just enough that they’re there, lasting and defiant in the face of time.
As solid and real as a big ol’ dog by a sleeping baby.
Thanks for that, Quaccia.
Thank Q very much.