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#center of the universe

the day you became our family was the day we first met you. you came to our home with your twin brother. you were the most peculiar looking dog i had ever seen, and the most peculiar dog any of us had ever seen. your ears were soft and droopy, and your fur soft and short. they enveloped your little face, with no fur on it except for little patches around your nose and mouth like feathers.

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but your most peculiar feature was your most notable: where had the hair on your head gone? it became evident right away why you were here. your owners couldn't sell you or your brother because you came out looking like this. the ugly ducklings of the litter.

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it didn't matter to us because you were a gift, literally, and figuratively. you were brought to stay. who would have known you would become the center of our universe? that every moment there on would revolve around you and the way you interacted with the world in your new home? i didn't think much else other than i was happy to have a dog now. kids my age don't have much foresight. i was 13 years old, self-conscious and still afraid of school and people. my memories of having a pet before this were marked with a vague sadness, guilt, and lack of closure. our first dog, Scrappy, disappeared to me when i moved to New York for treatment. our hamsters, Cui and Cuddles, similarly were gone and I was always too afraid to ask the adults what had happened. maybe this was a chance for us to make things right.

we discuss names. what should we call you? that same year, the video game Nintendogs had come out on the Nintendo DS. in the game, I had chosen a husky puppy as my digital pet and named him after a random user I saw on a video game forum, only because i thought their username sounded like a good pet name. it was Flitch. i remember being so convinced that it was a perfect name for you. i think there was so little debate when the name came up when you arrived. Flitch had arrived to our home at last, but you were no husky. you were unlike any dog we had ever seen before.

that night, you slept in the room with my brother and I. we had a small basket that we turned into a makeshift bed, lined with soft blankets. it sat on the floor between our beds, so we could see you while you sleep. but instead of sleeping when the nights went out, you cried. every few seconds you would whimper as if you were scared. we thought it must have been the darkness. the following night, we got you a nightlight, insistent that this would quell your fears. but you were never afraid of the dark. you were never afraid of anything, you just wanted to be loved, and for us to lay there next to you. when we finally do, you stop crying.

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days pass. you no longer cry in the darkness. you begin exploring your new house, stretching your 3 week old legs as far as they could go. we had no pet supplies, so you ate from one of our bowls that we would haphazardly place on the tile floors. i can't even remember if we gave you the proper food for a dog your age, but your appetite was always healthy.

you grow quickly. your puppy fuzz is replaced with translucent, wispy locks that appear golden in the sunlight. your thick tail curls itself upward, and you decide to keep it that way. we never groom you because we decide you are perfect the way you are. you become so comfortable in your new home, your personality begins to conquer our attention every day. no room in the house is off limits to you. you are always the center of attention when we're not distracted by our video games, computers, or television. you are the center of attention when mom and pa come home from work, and you rush to the door to greet them. your playfulness knows no bounds, and you begin jumping on furniture, often to impressive heights. the top of the sofa becomes your perch, where you can survey your home at our eye level. you jump on our beds, and regularly take naps or sleep the night there. if only you could have done that when you were only 2 weeks old. one of our favorite games is hiding behind a pillow and watching as you try to fight your way through it.

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your fur grows quickly. it's long, and you have a mane now. we remark how you often look like a tiny lion. the kingliness of your lion-esque appearance contrasts your peculiar baldness. despite your hair growing, your head and underside remain bald as the day you were born. it's smooth, and makes it easy to pet you, rub your belly, and give you small kisses. your small head must have received millions of kisses. at least one hundred per day by everyone of us.

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your energy knows no bounds. playtime is everyday and frequent. we chase you around the coffee table, lunging at you to trick you into running in the opposite direction. you scramble around the carpet, your little feet struggling to keep up with your speed. once you'd run so fast on the tile flooring, that you lose your footing and run into a wall down the hallway. your ears would tilt to the sides when you'd stop, look at us, and bark. your voice is small and commanding, but never shrill.

after a few indoor accidents, we learn that walking you is an absolute necessity. this will be my primary form of exercise for the rest of my teenage years. when you go for walks, you never want to stop. you command that we walk further every time. walks can last up to 40 minutes at times. even more when rafael walks you alone. he'll take you to and from the other neighborhoods down the major roads. you almost never care how hot it is outside. sometimes i try to trick you by picking you up, and turning you 180 degrees. it works once, and never again. you're too smart for that. walks become your favorite parts of the day. the sound of us opening the drawer where your leash is rings your alarms that it's time to walk again. your greatest trick is to ask more than one of us for walks, in the hopes that we don't know that you already went on one. your same commanding voice comes out when you ask for one. barks that sound less and less like barks, and more like you trying to enunciate something to us.

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we let you out back by the canal behind our house without a leash. you take these opportunities to see just how fast you can run unrestrained. when you achieve maximum speed, you hop like a rabbit in the grass. "salta como un conejo", pa says. it's with this hop that you hone in on a duck you see by the water. you chase him with all your might and jump straight into the canal after him. we're scared for a moment, until we see you doggy paddling. after a moment, you give up on the duck and make a U-turn back to land. you've discovered your distaste for swimming, and from that day on, you dislike baths even more. speaking of baths, when you do take one, your giant mane sticks to your body. you look as bald as you ever do when you're soaking wet. during baths, your little tongue constantly laps up the water.

on walks, your mane flows in the wind. we remark how majestic you look at times. your gait has a signature trot, as if you're skipping. you carry this trait for the rest of your life. mom says you walk like you think you're a big dog. i think you know you're big in your own way. when you meet dogs, you're never scared -- instead, you're curious. you don't bark at them. your pointy tail wags like you've just discovered buried treasure. your ears perk up and your chest becomes more prominent when you want to greet them. you dance in circles around them, asking if they want to play. you will do this up until your very last day on this earth. just how you command us to walk further, you command us when you want to play with another dog or explore a patch of grass. it is your mission everyday to pee in more and more spots. you'll stop dead in your tracks, and bury your nose in the grass for minutes at a time. sometimes we pull you away, but sometimes we give in and let you find the scent you're looking for. you reserve your urine to make sure you cover more and more of the neighborhood each day. you're actually very good at your job.

sometimes your surveying inspires you to dive into the grass, like you want to drench yourself in the smell of sun and leaves. you'll roll around a few times until you've absorbed most of the heat from the warm grass. when you perk your head back up, you lay in the grass, squint and let your tongue hang out while you pant softly, "keh keh keh". when you come back inside, the smell of the outdoors clings to you. in an effort to cool off, you'll splay out all four of your legs so that your belly touches the cool floor. this technique becomes a Flitch staple™ and all dogs henceforth still owe you royalties.

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it becomes clearer and clearer by the day who your favorite is. despite my brothers and i doing most of your caretaking, you always followed mom. when she would arrive home, you'd be at the door wagging your tail and hopping to touch her lap to let her know it's time to pay attention to you. your attachment to her became a running joke; sometimes just to perk you up, i'd say "mami?" -- you'd know immediately what this means and jump up and run to the door expecting her. you're so smart that you begin to recognize her car. many days, you spent hours sitting on rafael's bed because it has the best access to the window by the door. you'll poke your head between the blinds when you hear a car door shutting in the distance. from outside, she'll see your head appear between the blinds, and then swiftly disappear as you storm off the bed and straight to the door.

if she came home before you came back from a walk, you would notice her car in the driveway from the distance and start running as fast as you can back home to jump in her arms. "mi bebe", she would call you. she took such joy in this, she would sometimes hide, and surprise you when you walked in.

you would always follow her. if she walked to the kitchen, you'd follow. if she walked to the bedroom, you'd follow. if she got up from the bed, you'd jump off from beside her and follow. she would reference the Nintendo game my brother and I would play as kids, Pikmin, a game in which you have tiny plant creatures "Pikmin" follow you around. she would say you were like her little Pikmin. she quickly gives in to her motherly instinct and begins coddling you. you are always allowed to sleep on her bed, or any of our beds for that matter. you are always proud to claim your spot in our beds beside us. this becomes a detriment to pa who you often push out of bed, because you always want to nestle yourself between him and mom. even though it affects his quality of sleep, he never protests because he loves you too much. in fact, none of us ever protest. but when you're not sleeping in our beds, you choose instead to stake out one of the dining room chairs. sometimes, they are pushed into under the table, and you relish in the secrecy of your personal bunker. you are found there frequently when we try to look for you.

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after mom, pa is your next favorite, if only for the fact that when he arrives home, he immediately rewards you with a treat from the pantry. you always know his arrival means a treat from the pantry, so you'll hop at him repeatedly as he marches over to the pantry to fulfill your request. when mom's not home, you like sitting on mom and pa's bed anyway while he works on the desk beside it. you become his company when he's alone in the bedroom, sitting within arm's reach at all times.

after pa, there is rafael. your most loyal and attentive caretaker, and your best friend. you always knew to bark at him first when you wanted something. he'd sit at his computer, sometimes heavily focused on something, and you'd trot on over and demand your lunch or a walk. if it was time, he'd give it to you. if it wasn't, he'd pick you up, and gently slam you on the bed as if to fight. he'd playfully jab at your belly and mouth, and you'd playfully retaliate by placing your teeth on his fists, but never biting. sometimes, i would hold you up and he would jab at you like we were ganging up on you. but you'd always win with a small kiss for him at the end, your tongue escaping your small mouth from the side. this is how you two would play, and you'd never stop playing like this. seeing you relax on his bed after a session of jabs and nibbles was a regular sight for me. even though i try to engage in this similar style of play with you, i'm never able to excite you on the same level as rafael. he becomes your most favorite and trusted playmate.

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manny and i are never your favorite. we never mind. we love you all the same. it's part of your personality, and you still command us when you wanna trick us into giving you extra walks or treats or to let you outside in the back patio.

at birthday parties, you always manage to find your way into the photos. less because you're forcing yourself into them, and more because we're forcing you into them. the center of the universe always manages to be a part of family gatherings and holidays.

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and at meals, you sit at the table like a person. you never attempt to steal food from us. you sit patiently and watch us eat our meals. you do this everytime we have meals near you, even when the food is in your reach, you do not take it. we think you're just very well-behaved. you prove us wrong one day when we leave doughnuts from dunkin donuts on the table. a doughnut goes missing. rafael notices you constantly walking in and out from under his bed. each time you walk out, you have your ears down as if guilty of a crime. rafael takes a peek underneath, and finds a doughnut. your "dirty little secret". we laugh and it becomes one of your most famous and enduring acts of self-awareness.

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when you're not begging pa for treats, you beg everyone for bread or fruit. my dad calls you a "panzon" because you also have a taste for bread of all kinds; white, whole wheat, french, italian. you also seem to like to eat all fruits. when we peel a banana or orange, you'll run from across the house, having picked up the scent. we regularly share our fruit with you. at first i think you'll outgrow your taste for citrus, but you never do. you also go absolutely crazy for apples. rafael regularly shares his fruit with you. he still does to this day.

some of my favorite memories are of the things I do to summon you. i could never hide a peanut butter jelly sandwich from you. i would be on the other side of the house making a pbj and quietly and secretly as i could. you would be behind closed doors sleeping on mom's bed. i would cover it and sneak it into my bedroom, and close the door. no way you would detect it in your sleep and behind closed doors. then i would hear it -- scratching on mom's door. you knew, and you were not giving up to get a piece. more often then not, i'd indulge you, and you wouldn't believe that that was all i had to give, so i'd hold up my hands to your face until you seem satisfied there was no more. then you'd trot back to mom's door and scratch it so i'd open it back up again. you would engage in this whole ceremony with rafael as well. outside of the scent of food, you'd also do the same thing if you ever hear me burp. i still do not understand what it was about me burping that riled you up so much.

since you first arrived to our home in late November, we begin to associate you with Christmas. in the cold winter months, we keep you warm with a small sweater adorned with a military theme. we call you Sgt. Flitch.

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one christmas, rafael gets a new Canon high quality camera from my father as a gift. he takes one of my favorite photos of you. mom asks for christmas themed photos of you so that she could make christmas cards using them. we lazily find a santa hat that is human-sized and place it on your head. it doesn't fit so we have to keep readjusting it between photos. you are surprisingly patient throughout this whole process. the best photo is of you looking at the camera while the hat is falling off one ear.

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as the years go by, your dental health declines. a veterinarian informs us it's typical of Chinese Crested dogs, of which you are descended. soon, you are missing most of your teeth except for the small ones in the front and your molars. your lack of teeth cause your tongue to regularly stick from the sides of your mouth. this becomes another trademark of your look. i see you sleeping on my bed while i study for a test next to you. i take a photo of you sleeping with your tongue sticking out; you open your eyes to look at me as i whisper your name.

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one morning in middle school, i end up missing the bus. mom and pa had already left home, and i don't have a key to re-enter the house. i manage to jump over the fence and open my bedroom window which i had left unlocked. after barely managing to fit myself through the window, i land on my bed where you happen to be sitting. i begin crying at the stress of having ran to the bus stop only to miss it. you begin sniffing my face, and lick at my tears. i think you were more interested in the smell and salty flavor, but it's comforting all the same, and i wrap my arms around you until you break loose. i lay next to you for a while before getting up to call mom.

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we enter high school, and mom takes you to accompany her in the van while she drops us off at school. when we open the side door to exit the van and walk to class, you hop off to follow us. you then run to another student to say hi, jumping at their legs. i think they are shocked to see such a peculiar looking dog. but you're also happy, and wagging your tail. we manage to pick you up and bring you back to mom. i think if you could, you would have told her about the new friend you made.

my friends love you. iris regularly remarks how "fucking cute" you are when she pets you. armando loves to tease you and place things on your head. you manage to make it into a few of our home videos and dumb teenage projects.

one day as a teenager, i get a new web camera. i test it out by taking photos with you in my arms. the results are blurry and poorly lit. i love the photos all the same. they are of the few photos i ever have of you and i together.

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years pass, and i go to live on my own for the first time at college. I experience an enduring depression but I don't know what it is. I am immensely homesick and lonely. one day mom, pa, and rafael come to visit, and so do you. it is one of many roadtrips you will make. I'm not sure how well I hide it, but I am ecstatic and relieved to see you. I place you on my college bed and silently smile at how quickly you make yourself comfortable. I feel how much I love you more in that instant than I ever felt before then.

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eventually, the homesickness gets to me and i decide to transfer to a university near home so i can live with you and the family again. i make up some crap that i'm motivated to move back to save money, but that's not the main reason. the main reason is i miss you and the family. when i return, you're just as how i left you. maybe a little bit lazier, maybe a little bit more spoiled. you're 6 years old now. how has time passed by like this? we take a photo of you next to our baby cousin Lynette, as you take interest in her ice cream cone. we take great amusement of telling Lynette that you are older than her by a few months. she has a hard time believing it. to be fair, most people have a hard time believing your age for most of your life; you're always spritely and puppy-like. except for your little bald head, i guess.

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2012 rolls by. manny has a baby. he moves away to a city he can afford to raise her. in the process, he leaves his own dog. your cousin Haku becomes your baby brother. on your first meeting, you are excited to meet him; you sniff him all around, wag your tail, and dance in circles around him. after the first few days, you come to accept him as part of the home -- even if he's a little annoying sometimes. and you now have an extra companion on walks. we always walk the two of you together. despite his empty growls, Haku grows fond of you. it becomes clearer as the years go by that he cares about you. he keeps your spot on the sofa warm today.

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i resume my studies, this time living at home with you. i am much happier and fulfilled, and perform much better in my courses. i try computer science again after failing the year before when i lived alone, and i am able to pass my classes. maybe this is what i want to do after all. my relationship falls apart, but in the grand scheme of things, it seems like a minor loss. you are always home to remind us that everything is going to be OK.

eventually i graduate and get my first job out of college. i don't move out and i don't want to. i get to live at home with you still, and with Haku, mom, pa, and rafael. despite the occasional hardship or disagreement, we all live together as a happy family, with you as the gravitational pull that keeps us all together. every conversation somehow ends up being about you. every familial joke somehow ends up relating you. "who's going to take care of me when i'm older?" my mom would ask when talking about nursing homes. "well, flitch of course!" we would answer, before she swept you up and sang her little song she had made up for when she cradled you -- "do do dooko doo!".

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it's 2015. one day we receive a letter in the mail from your veterinarian. it a reminder that you are 10 years old now, officially a senior dog. it's recommended that you receive more frequent checkups and bloodwork. i stop to consider that for a minute. i see you cutely sleeping on the sofa with mom and pa. if this is retirement for you, you're relishing it. you still love chasing toys around the coffee table and taking mom's shoes out of her closet to chew on, just like you did as a pup.

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since you follow mom everywhere, of course you follow her into the garden. this becomes your secret pee spot in between walks. visiting the garden often meant finding your urine stains on the flower pots, or finding you or Haku in a crevice hunting lizards. you spend a lot of time sitting on the wooden bench while mom works in the garden. sometimes it's sunny. your mane glows in the light when it is.

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i took the photo below and an accompanying video when you spotted a lizard outside. this is just seconds before you jumped off the table and ran to the sliding glass door to catch him.

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i sit with you in the back patio. i begin taking photos of you. upon reviewing the photos, i start to notice the effects of age on you; you have discolored spots in your skin. the top of your head has more visible wrinkles from all the sunlight you get on. i start to feel sad at the thought that you are 10 years old, and consider the average lifespan of dogs. the sadness dissipates when i watch you perk up and run back inside when mom gets home. you appear as spry as i remember you as a pup. you maintain this spryness and peppiness for the rest of your life.

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one Sunday, rafael, iris and I are walking you and Haku in the neighborhood. we take the usual route leading to the pool and mailboxes. as we cross a street and enter a block corner, we notice a large dalmatian in the distance approaching us without a leash or an owner. we've only ever met friendly dogs in the neighbor and think nothing of it. the dog increases his speed and begins heading directly toward you. before we realize he is not friendly, he's already trying to grab you, snarling and barking. you pull away but can't get too far since I'm holding the leash. i try to pull you toward myself, but i can't manage to get in between you and the attacking dog. Haku is barking. eventually the owner runs over, and that's when we hear you howl. we are terrified. you stay silent afterwards, almost in a catatonic state. the owner takes his dog away.

we didn't know that you were in great pain or that your bladder had popped, or that you were going into renal failure. your first visit to the veterinarian suggests you are just in shock. i go to work the next day, but i'm shaken. rafael keeps me updated. he takes you to the back canal where you chased that duck into the water all those years ago. but you're just still, and you won't pee. finally rafael knows something is not right, and you go back to the veterinarian, this time an ER, and finally, they know what is wrong with you.

i leave work. i'm driving to the animal hospital where you are. i expect the worst of news. i scream inside my car at the top of my lungs at the thought of you dying. tears are streaming down my face, and i hear a police siren behind me. i had been speeding. he pulls me over, and i put on a mask of composure that he probably could see through. he takes a look at my registration, and lets me go. when i arrive at the hospital, i'm mentally preparing myself for your death. i blame myself for not grabbing that dog or putting myself between you. it was not long ago i was contemplating your life -- 10 years old, a senior dog, is this it? is 10 years old a good long life? most dogs don't make it past 10.

when we are finally able to see you, you're there with an IV in your arm. you look like you haven't slept in days. before i can process anything the doctor says, i rush to your side to say how sorry i am for letting this happen to you. i kiss you and soon am able to make out the doctor is saying you will be OK.

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you're so happy to finally come home the next day. you adjust to the cone quickly. it soon becomes clear that you appear much sicker when you're at the doctor's office. at home, you're yourself. weaker from the surgery that stitched up your bladder, but still demanding, spoiled, and hungry. you regain your appetite within a day, and you follow mom around, albeit a little slower this time. raf records a video of you vigorously eating an orange. you spend most of your recovery doing what you do best: sitting next to mom and pa on the sofa, and getting fed baby carrots and fruit. your perserverence pays off as it always does. you can cut through the worst of situations, endure the worst pain -- all you ever ask is that you come home.

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over the years, you give us a couple more medical scares. each time you are fine, and each time, you absolutely hate being in the veterinarians office. you shake in mom's arms one time while waiting in the lobby. you know the smell and you know what you're there for. you just want to go home.

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and you do. you spend most of your days at home doing what you love. you have a wonderful and beautiful life comfortable at home with your loving family.

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you travel and meet your nieces.

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the years pass...

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i leave to work across the country for two years, knowing you are home safe and happy. looking back now, i wish i could have just stayed with you. i return in 2019, just in time for the pandemic. for a period of six months, i live back at home. i insist on having my bed be close to the floor. it is one of the best decisions i've ever made. on work days, i'll turn my head to my right, and see you there, in the biggest most easily accessible bed you have in your old age.

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i meet cindy, who will soon become your new doctor. we move in together, and i come to visit you every week. she helps remove a small mass we find on your side, and sends it to be tested.

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mom calls us one morning. the mass came back as malignant. i hear mom's voice leak from the phone as cindy talks to her and can tell she is crying. eventually, cindy recommends a specialist to have deeper margins removed to be extra safe. we all are concerned at the implications of you going under anesthesia now that you are over 15 years of age. but you are you after all, and you handle it like a champ. when you finally get home, you have some demands that must be met.

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i regularly contemplate your passing. i became influenced by some casual reading about Stoicism. apparently, contemplation of death helps with the eventual grieving process. despite that, I also regularly fantasize about you living to 20. we all knew of a dog in the neighborhood, Buddy, who was a friend of yours. Buddy lived to be 20 years old. by the end of his days, he was still taking walks, albeit completely blind. "Flitch could surely beat Buddy", I would think. i obtain a false sense of security because my significant other is a veterinarian now.

one work day, the idea of your mortality hits me especially hard. i tell myself that after work, i will visit for the sole purpose of just spending time to lay next to you. for some reason or another, i make an excuse that i'm too busy and end up not coming over that day. it is one of my greatest regrets in life.

rafael takes many photos and videos of you in your old age. you look magnificient in every one.

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the day before Christmas, Armando brings his new dog, Nico, to come visit. you perk up as if you were 2 years old again. you perch yourself on the sofa, your tail wagging incessantly. i see you bend forward as if to engage in play. that evening is filled with you, Haku, and Nico circling around the living room. it is the best Christmas present in years.

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i'm visiting in the new year, 2022, and you are in the back patio with mom. she picks you up and embraces you, kissing your small head. i decide to take a photo and i notice mom start to cry. it is the first real time i see her visibly contemplating that you will not be here forever with her. i take the photo as a replication of an earlier photo i took of you two, 14 years prior. i consider how old you are, and how much older mom looks too. i feel my heart beat and go to the bathroom afterwards, and sob silently for a minute. we still don't know what will happen to you next month.

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i have so many photos of you, but it never seems like enough. i'm always excited when family share a photo of you that i had never seen before. since you were born in 2005, many of your earlier photos are of lower resolution and poorer quality. this is before the age of smart phones, so they were taken with 4 megapixel dedicated digital cameras. i repeatedly silently wish that i had taken more photos of you as a puppy. i don't think 13-year-old me had the right priorities.

on monday, april 25, 2022, i receive a phone call. it's rafael. i pick up and hear you screaming in the background. you are having a seizure, and my dad is cradling you thinking you are going to die in his arms. you probably wouldn't have remembered any of it, but you must have been so confused when you came to. the specialist we take you to that night says it could be a fluke; after all, your bloodwork is perfect, your physique is extraordinary for a dog your age. the specialist sends us home. rafael and mom keep me updated that night. they send me a video, and you seem to be completely back to normal, waltzing around the kitchen, and asking for snacks. we remain hopeful that you will be OK, that maybe you will make it to 20 years old just like Buddy.

tuesday, you appear to be fine. you have the same aggressive sneeze you've had for the past two months, but otherwise, you are yourself. you walk with a pep in your step. you lick at your lips, and are excited to walk through the grass. you go on a short walk, but your walks have been shorter for a while now in your retirement. i'm relieved to know it may have just been a fluke.

but we know it wasn't. that night, you have two more seizures.

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we spend the entire next day with you in the hospital. rafael refuses to leave your side. mom and pa take time off work to be with you for most of the day. i skip work completely to be there. they've put bells around your neck in the hopes that if you have another seizure, they would hear it. we know something serious is wrong. the shapes land in place when the doctor mentions a possible "structural change in the brain."

we all take turns holding you, hugging you, and kissing you. rafael lays by your side and sings a song to you as you sleep.

I don't care if the sun don't shine Or if it's pouring down with rain There'll be a smile on my face When I see you again

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we walk you outside the clinic, and you're incontinent. you actually have been partially for months, but we chalked it up to old age, just a normality, par for the course. the drugs that they gave you to repress the seizures are taking a toll on your body. you're loopy and can barely walk without falling over. still you manage to mark your newfound territory. like i said before, you're very good at your job.

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the next day, an MRI reveals what we feared the most. there is a structural change; a tumor had been swelling in your little skull for what could not have been a long time. when we hear the news, i feel the relief in knowing just what is wrong. it is shortly followed by the realization of what it all means. the doctor offers some options, none of which indicate you will be comfortable or yourself any longer.

we take you home, the only place you ever want to be. we promise we won't take you to a doctor again. you've always hated it, haven't you.

your favorite person in the whole world sits next to you as we drive home. there is no one in the car with dry eyes.

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by now, you've deteriorated dramatically. all you want to do is rest, and you aren't resting, you are restless. you cry loudly and inconsolably if we try holding you for too long. when you walk, you pace directionless and in circles. i wonder where you think you're going. trying to keep you from walking into things or getting stuck proves to be a challenge. even now you're strong as you ever were -- but it's clear you're uncomfortable and confused. through all the tears, sobbing, and distress, Haku is anxious. he knows something is wrong with his brother. he doesn't playfully bark at you like he usually does.

we spend the whole day with you, taking turns holding you, kissing you, and loving you, tending to your every need. you remember this, don't you? some of your extended family even comes to visit. abuela, tia, lynette. she's younger than you, remember? she's already looking at colleges. you never needed to go to college though because you were always so smart.

we buy you a doughnut from Dunkin Donuts. to our pleasant surprise, even now you can't resist one -- you take some substantial nibbles from it.

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cindy has agreed to help you transition to your next destination. you don't have to leave your most favorite place in the world. home and in mami's bed.

before you leave, you want to go on another walk. this time with mom and rafael. it's begun raining, but you march right through. you go for a long and sprawling walk, all the way up to the main road, back through the neighborhood, and to the backyard by the water where you almost caught that duck all those years ago. you even meet a new friend, a much younger and equally sized dog in the neighborhood. when you see him, you perk up, and your tail begins wagging, like it has since you were a pup. that's how i know that through all the discomfort, crying, incontinence, and stress -- you were still yourself.

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when the time comes for us to say goodbye, you're already dozing off in mom's bed. manny has made the 4 hour drive to be here with you and see you off.

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the five of us gather around to hold you, and kiss your small head, feet, and belly. you're in your most favorite place in the whole world when cindy gives you the first shot that makes you go into a deeper sleep, your eyes barely opened, and your body easing up to the point where you look more comfortable than you have all week. we've all already said goodbye to you. i've already poured my heart out confessing my regrets, how much i've loved you, and how sorry i was for ever leaving your side. we stroke your head, your fur, and hold you in the ways we always have when we wanted to communicate "i love you, Flitch". rafael holds his hand to your chest, feeling your heart beating.

cindy gives you your second shot. and you keep sleeping, wrapped in your beautiful red blanket that was just for you.

then your heart stops.

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cindy carries you to her car, wrapped in your red blanket, and in your bed. we take turns saying goodbye to you, tucked in the bed in the passenger seat of the car. i have a hard time separating myself from you. "just one more kiss goodbye" in my head, over and over. but eventually we have to watch you be driven away.

we walked back toward the house and the small field of grass behind it. looking out at the empty field where you would hop as a baby was a form a self-confirmation that you had raced passed the finish line ahead of us. and just as we do, the rain stops, and the clouds part. it's sunny again.

a piece of the picture's bitten right out of the middle I'm alone and thinner I feel Is this a prayer? Anaesthetise me just til you return I feel the loss like a squandered opportunity to whisper You're all I ever needed

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a month after your passing, i'm on a cruise ship. at night, i step outside to watch the black water as the ship speeds home from the carribean. i look down at the water, barely illuminated by the moonlight. i consider for a moment that it doesn't matter how far i go on this earth; if i plunged to the deepest bottoms of the ocean where no one has gone, i would not find you, and i can not bring you back. the futility of it shakes me. yet the thought that i would do anything to bring you back never leaves.

a year passes. pa tells me that he and mom went to a wake the day before for an old work associate. to prepare for the event, mom looked in her closet for shoes, and picked up a pair. they had your bite marks on them. tiny indentations from your small front teeth, of the little teeth you had. mom sobbed, remembering how much you loved to play with her shoes. i began crying when i heard this.

i'm writing this now a year later. i'm looking through a treasure trove of photos and videos we have of you, all the way back since you were a pup, recounting my memories of you, both painful and fond. when i go to your home, i see a lock of your hair that rafael saved of you. i see the little box with your ashes, resting on your favorite red blanket on the side table, and your bed underneath. i see the fruit that rafael leaves out for you everyday, that he shares with you just like he did when you were younger. I ask the questions that have burned since that day I took those photos of you in the back patio, in 2015:

"Will the life we have with you outweigh the pain at the end? Will it be worth it?"

it is. everyday, every second.

if i could go back, and relive this life i've shared with you, knowing i couldn't change anything, knowing the pain we'd endure, i would. without question.

combing through these photos and memories of you reaffirmed something that pa told us the day before you passed.

you came into our lives unsuspecting. but you molded us as much as we molded you. you left imprints in us just like you had on mom's shoes. and the lasting impact of who you are -- are forever permanent, in us, in your home. i know that although the pain of missing you will never go away, neither will you. we repurpose that pain instead to celebrate the life of the most beautiful little soul we've ever known. and the way we speak of you today is the same way we've always spoken about you -- you find your way into the crevice of every conversation, every joke we make, and we see you when we look at the sofa, our beds, the dining room chairs, crumbs on the floors, indentations in the sheets -- just as you did when you found your way into the crevices of the closet, pulling out shoes, papers, trash, or rice we dropped on the floor. it is in your nature to be everywhere. you are the center of the universe, as you've always been since you came to us that day in 2005 -- a reference point to everything around us.

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hey Flitch.

i will love you with all my heart. for the rest of time. the center of my universe. mi perrito, lindo.

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All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. ...They can see how permanent all the moments are...