It’s been almost a month since we lost our yellow lab, Rocky. He was born July 4th, 2008, in Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains became his namesake. Hailing from a lineage of competitive show dogs but born with a crooked tail, he’d never be eligible to compete. So that’s how we were blessed to have him as our family dog for twelve-and-a-half precious years.
He showed up in Naperville on September 26, 2008. It was a Friday, and I had just returned from the over-night school trip at Outdoor Ed. It was a gorgeous day outside and we were enjoying the sun when my mom ushered us in, insisting that we all watch Enchanted in the living room. I remember sitting in our green butterfly-backed chair with my legs over the side when I felt a sudden wetness on my foot. Specifically, I felt something lick me. Immediately, I assumed it was our neighbor’s dog Sobie, as they would occasionally bring her over. I jumped out of the chair calling her name, only to see a small yellow lab with a giant red bow around his neck, running back towards my parents. We chased after him outside, where my dad introduced us to our new puppy, Rocky.
Suddenly, we were tasked with the responsibilities that come with a new dog: potty training, kennel training, walks, and giving him attention. We’d chase after him when he went exploring, fish him out of whatever body of water he decided to jump in, and absolutely lose our minds when he stole another loaf of bread out of the pantry.
Shortly after the new addition to our family arrived, the movie Marley & Me was released in theaters. Rocky paralleled his fellow yellow lab in his rambunctiousness and chaos, but we loved him all the same. He’d jump on visitors to welcome them to his presence, and he would whirl his tail around in circles in untamable excitement.
Eventually he grew out of his kennel, and he could no long be left to sleep alone. He would go to my parents room and slide himself under the bed skirt like a game of hide and seek. Then, he began sleeping on their side bed, making late night rounds through the upstairs to see what the kids were up to. And then you’d hear a giant plop, as he would decide around 3 AM that really best place to sleep was the middle of the hallway on the hardwood floor.
When his arthritis became too much for him to walk up the stairs, he moved into my mom’s office. You could hear his collar jingle as he turned over, his sleepy sighs, and even his snores if you left your door open.
He was such a staple in our home. Every Christmas and Easter, he would sit in the living room to be in the company of everyone else. If one person was on the couch, he would come and join, testing out all his favorite spots until he was comfortable. And if there wasn’t room for him when everyone was present, he’d steal you seat when you got up to grab a snack or go to the bathroom.
Dinner was the same way. Rocky made an appearance at every meal in the hope for scraps, but truly just wanted to be with his family. He’d lay at our feet, wagging his tail or taking a nap. Whenever we were in the kitchen, he laid in his bed and simply took everything in—unless I was cooking, in which he’d follow me around hoping I’d drop something that he’d pick up.
Rocky was always one to greet you at the door. He learned what the garage door opening sounded like, and would be ready to welcome you home with a wagging tail and a beg for scratches. And if he wasn’t there immediately, a simple call of “Rocky” would have him prancing over.
There were days where I would read on the couch, and I couldn’t go a page without his paw clawing at my hand for me to give him attention. Or if I was outside, he’d lay at my feet for hours at end. During quarantine, he’d heard my voice on zoom in the basement and wait for me at the top of the stairs.
He was a constant companion within our home. Almost all of us got to be there at the end, giving him final moments of love as he slipped away. And then we came home to the silent change that’s our new normal.
It’s quiet at night. I can’t hear the jingle of his collar, nor do I wake up to the clicking of his nails on the hardwood. There’s no greeting when we walk in the door from dinner or mass, and he isn’t there to lay around on a lazy day. Rocky’s gone and his presence is missed desperately, but I look back on the past 12 years with a smile because he truly embodied unconditional love and I know he held it for all of us in the same way that we loved him.
Rest In Peace, sweet puppy.
One thought on “A Quiet New Normal”
A Wonderful story. The only dog in our family when I was kid was named LODGER. He always stayed in the kitchen until we went to bed. Then he would sneak in to the living room and spend the night on my mom’s favorite chair. Of course when we came downstairs in the morning he was back in the kitchen. A smart dog!!