I remember the afternoon when we brought the new dog home from the pet shop. It was a beautiful spring day, a month before I was due to graduate from Junior High School and the grass and flowers were in full bloom. The shop was filled to capacity with howling newborn birds, cats and puppies. The odor was enough to make me postpone my breathing inhalation patterns in an attempt to avoid the delicious fowl.
I wanted the Shih Tzu with the golden-colored patches on its body. It was overly friendly and carefree; it jumped around and smiled at me endlessly. Meanwhile, a darker-colored Shih Tzu lay in the corner like a lump, quiet as a mouse and did nothing to show enthusiasm for wanting a home with humans. However, she was chosen by my sister on the basis that the two shared the same birthday. I was overruled and furious. We brought the lump to her new home and named her Lillie (Tigerlily.)
The infant puppy never cried. She never barked to be released from her cage. Lillie was the most obedient baby I have witnessed up until that point. Once she was house broken Lillie began to do something quite peculiar: Lillie followed me wherever I went. She slept at the foot of my bed begging me to pet her. It was as if she knew I wasn't the least bit impressed with her earlier mannerisms. To make a long story short, I came around and before long Lillie and I were best friends. I became protective of my pet sister from my human brother and sister's roughness claiming Lillie enjoyed it. "If she likes it so much why does she come running to me when she's scared?" was my general response.
There was no doubt that Lillie loved everyone in the family. But, as my brother put it, "
I shed my tears on the way to my parents’ house the afternoon of her passing. I wanted to remove it from my system to stay strong for my family when I arrived. I thought about death which of course reminded me of my diagnosis. Considering it was Thanksgiving weekend I tried my darnedest to find what to be thankful for in this situation. I was thankful that Lillie was only sick for a handful of days- which meant her life till the very end was healthy and prosperous. I couldn't say the same for my other dog where there are arguments that we dragged on his suffering too long. "Would my family do the same to me should HIV take a turn for the worse?" I thought.
Suddenly my thankful thoughts turned to anger and resentment. I was angry that Lillie died on us. The weeks when yours truly was on his deathbed, as I've referred to it, with early stages of the HIV infection, Lillie was beside me as much as I would let her. Looking at her eyes I could tell she knew I was sick and there was nothing her paws could do, except to cuddle with me. I felt her pain for my pain and I loved her for it. She may have only been a dog, but a spirit nonetheless that I was able to count on the most in my life.
When I returned to the city at the end of the weekend I met up with a guy whom I was recently dating. I told him about Lillie and her death mixed with my realization of my HIV diagnosis, the nonsense that makes New York, my ADAP troubles and my forced decisions to leave the city to go back to my childhood home where I'd be isolated and alone mixed deeper with my fatigue and my unhappiness had finally taken its toll- my anger from the past few weeks turned to exhaustion. I'm physically and emotionally exhausted and all I want to do is take a nap. Then, he said something I'll never forget; He explained that an argument the two of us had wasn't about me and him, but that he realized all I need in my life is a friend. Someone to tell me everything is going to be okay.
I have friends, of course. Some very close friends that are dear. And after I spoke with him it dawned on me that he's right- I don't have a friend, a best friend, the kind I speak to almost everyday where we check on each other and can't go to bed without speaking to one another. Lillie, should she have been human, would have been that friend.
I didn't want her. And now I didn't want her to ever leave. If she was here and was able to speak to me I'm confident she'd say this to me, "Christopher, so what if you're HIV positive. You're better than this. You're my best friend and I know you better than anyone on this planet ever will. I know all your secrets, your happiness, your sadness. I forgave you when you left me for school. I forgave you when you left me for
Lillie is right. I need to make the arrangements, send for an extra supply of medications and get the hell out of the presence I'm in. It's time to say good bye to
I will always love and miss you, Lillie.