Ode to My Oaf

On loving fully

You gallop toward me, tongue hanging sloppily out of your mouth, hair tousled by the harsh wind. With each stride you become more jubilant, beginning to zig-zag playfully through the gravelly sand. I laugh and follow you as you bound joyfully into the cold September air. You are faster than me, but you look back every couple of seconds, checking to make sure I’m still there.

I knew we would be best friends from the moment you clumsily skidded into our apartment—and my life—when I was seven. Your paws had grown faster than your body, so you looked like a four-legged Bigfoot, your claws unable to gain traction on our wood floors. You were confused—you had grown up in a small world of cows in rural New York, until a four-hour van ride transplanted you into a confusion of concrete and skyscrapers. I’ll be honest: You weren’t exactly a looker. Your fur had been shaved, showcasing your strangely eggplant colored skin (hence your name, Babaganoush). You were clumsy and nervous, but so was I. That night when you rested your massive, wet snout in my lap and sighed, I felt an uncontrollable desire to be near you. You exuded love that day; you still do.  

Don’t get me wrong though, you came into yourself quickly. Your fur soon masked the purple as it grew into a curly golden coat, and as your body caught up with your paws; you became undeniably handsome. My mom insists you’re regal-looking; I contend that you’re goofily adorable. You quickly gained the adoration of the neighborhood—it was, and still is, impossible to go on a walk with you without being stopped. Coos of awe and excitement escape from children and businessmen alike, and you always stop and let them admire you. You stand patiently as the timid toddler approaches you, and allow him to yank your tail, accidentally step on your tender paws, and hug you just a little too tight. Sometimes I wish you weren’t so insanely loveable, just so I could walk at least one city block without interruption.  

My dad has always insisted that you hold your own, saying “nobody messes with Baba.” And it’s partly true. With dogs you’re certainly no pushover—in the dog run, the other dogs always follow you. They scurry anxiously behind you as your lean body strides confidently around the perimeter of the park. And if one of those brave dogs ever tries to mess with you, you mess back. You use your bark sparingly, but when you do, it instills fear in anyone and anything around.  

But you must admit, Baba, you are no Einstein. You bump your head on tables, you eat the cat food every night despite the stomach aches, you always look for the ball even when you clearly saw me hide it behind my back. But it’s this lack of obvious intelligence that informs your contagious lovability. You trust everyone—my family always jokes that if a murderer came you would greet their gun merrily at the door with a tail wag. Your naivete is one too honest to exist in humans: It makes you that much more special. Despite your surface stupidity, you have a unique gift to understand human emotion. You know when we’re getting ready to leave the house—you crawl into your bed and sulk. You know when you’ll be coming with us—you wait eagerly at the door. You know when I’m upset—you rest your snout in my lap. You know when I’m happy—you dance through the kitchen with me.   

For the past 13 years, you have seen me grow up. Watched as I’ve transformed from a bucktoothed seven-year-old into a 21-year-old college junior. You saw me through braces, through my Avril Lavigne obsession, through the death of my two grandparents, through the SAT, through my tearful departure for college. And you were always there—a goofy, happy, loving, silly, marvelous ball of fluffy golden fur. My friends bypass me to find you when they come over. My boyfriend asks to talk to you on FaceTime. You are part of me.  

Anticipating grief is a strange concept. It’s the disconcerting spot between loving and appreciating you now and knowing you’ll soon be gone. And I do know this. I can see you start to hurt—the bounce in your step has diminished, you dance with me less. I just don’t know how to prepare myself for life without you, because it will undoubtedly be far less magical. For 13 years you have been there, tail thumping on the floor in the morning, panting at night. And I can’t begin to know the endless ways I will miss you. But for now, you continue your rhythmic panting, tongue slung sloppily out of our mouth, looking back to make sure I’m still here.