By Lily Saunders

I hopped in the car after a short day of school where I learned about addition, subtraction, and new vocabulary words involving plants and animals. I immediately pulled out my yellow assignment book, where I had neatly written my few homework assignments in each column corresponding to their subject. I look up at my mother, 44 at the time, with a contagious smile. There I was, a little 6 year old girl, illuminating with joy at the fact of her organized school assignments. Flash forward: 10 years later. I speed walk to my car parked in the single-handedly farthest spot on school campus, struggling as I carry clothes, assignments, lacrosse gear, and my backpack along the way. Once I arrive to my dark blue land cruiser, I swing my backpack into the backseat, almost injuring myself because of the cement-like books filling the space. I grab my keys from the pocket in my backpack, and I open the car door slowly to slide into the front seat. As soon as I get myself into the car, puddles of tears form surrounding my eyelids. As I hardly blink, the tears begin to flow. My mind wanders from place to place as I put my car into reverse and speed out of the campus, desperate to escape the enclosing bounds of reality.

Change. I had never been a girl who adapted to certain situations at the drop of hat. I cherished tradition, and because of my unending love for unchanging things, I despised whenever my family, friends, or teachers introduced me to something new that would eventually replace another. As I developed from my early childhood years to my current life in high school, I needed to adapt to new surroundings daily. For example, all of the teachers in different grades at Hutchison have a different teaching style from one another; English teachers would prefer different writing styles, math teachers would tell you to use a certain method to solve a problem, and history teachers would each differ in terms of how they ran their classes. Throughout my years, the social scene began to drastically become more a part of my daily routine. Additionally, sports became more intense; pre-seasons for these sports deprived me of energy and time for my schoolwork, and games and practices consumed any possible free time I could spare. However, from my times as a young, organized, joyful 6 year old to my current stressed, overworked, and tired 16 year old self, one thing never changed: Nellie.

Nellie was the best friend I had ever had. Although she was only a dog, a perfect, quiet, loving golden retriever, she had always been there for me. I was the one who Nellie followed around wherever I walked, for it showed the strong bond we shared. After the easy days of school in my lower school years, she was the first thing I would run to whenever I arrived home. I remember as vividly as if it was yesterday how I would swing my garage door open wide, sprinting inside, looking cautiously for her. As soon as I laid eyes on her, I dropped everything I had and ran to her with open arms. I would squeeze her as tight as my miniature muscles could squeeze, and she always would struggle to be released from my grip. After she escaped my trap, she would immediately jump on me, licking my face and showering me with kisses. This routine occurred for years, for it was a tradition.

I remember spending holidays with her when I was little kid. Whenever Halloween rolled around, I would beg my parents to buy Nellie a costume. I would always encourage them to buy her a dog’s version of a Peyton Manning Jersey, and I never gave up on trying to break through to my parents; I wanted Nellie to be dressed exactly like me. Whenever all of my friends went trick-or-treating, I would always ask my parents to bring Nellie with them to the parent party, for I wanted her to be with me at all times. On Christmas, I remember special, quiet moments with her. I recall that my family’s Christmas Eve party had just come to an end after my whole family departed until the next morning. My mother, father, and two sisters were cleaning up the house by doing dishes, cleaning the table, picking up empty glasses, and storing away left over treats from the party. Since I was young, my father had not given me any chores to complete, so I often found myself sitting on my living room floor, staring at the lit-up Christmas tree above me. I heard a few clicks of paws against the hardwood floors, and I felt a furry creature plop down on the spot next to me. I put my arm around Nellie, and together, we took in the glory of the astounding Christmas tree lights and ornaments hanging from its branches. When it was a little warmer, my family and I always took a trip over Labor Day Weekend to my aunt and uncle’s lake house in Heber Springs, Arkansas. On this weekend, my family and I focused on relaxation and time with our family members. We would indulge in country music, yummy food, and quality laughs with our extended family. However, one particular year, in 2008, my mother persuaded my aunt to allow Nellie to join us on the trip. Nellie was ecstatic when we arrived; she jumped out of the car and jetted to the dock that overlooked the lake at sunset. I have never seen her that happy before. She was running around from the dock to the woods and through the house, for she had so much energy after being stuck in the car for three hours. The day after, I remember floating in the water when I heard my family members encouraging Nellie to leap from the dock. This had always been a challenge for the other dogs, for their fear got the best of them, but once Nellie worked up the courage, she jumped off of the dock and splashed into the water. When she popped up with her yellow life jacket, she made eye contact with me and started doggy-paddling towards me as fast as she could, wanting someone to comfort her. Once she reached me, she threw her arms around my shoulders, and although I left with a few scratches, she held onto me tighter than she ever had before.

In the summer, I always had this weird urge to jump on my trampoline with sprinklers on; it was something I had done for years as a kid. For some reason I enjoyed being pelted with water while jumping up and down, but this love of mine created many memories. Whenever I encouraged my friends to jump with me, I always tried to get Nellie on the trampoline with us. Our little bodies could barely hoist Nellie up onto the bouncy surface, but a couple years ago, our combined muscle lifted her up with ease. I remember seeing Nellie sprint back and forth along the width of the trampoline, panting while being splashed with water at every turn. Sometimes she’d even try to drink the water with her mouth wide open, following the sprinkler wherever it turned. She always amused my friends and me with her playful personality, and it meant so much to me.

Flashing forward to my teenage years in high school. During freshman year, I was a stress case. Freshman year was the year when “grades really start to matter” and “when you find your true friends”, and both of those aspects of the year consumed me with worry. After getting a bad grade on my history test, Nellie was the first thing I went to for comfort. Whenever I was crying over my friends or a dumb boy, she was the animal I resorted to. Her. She was my everything; the best I’d ever had. She was always there for me through the good times and the bad--especially the bad.

Towards the end of my freshman year, I started to realize certain things about my grandmother. Grandma, as I called her, was one of the most influential people of my life. Whenever my mom and I went to visit her in Atlanta, I remember walking into her single condo with my huge suitcase, dragging it upstairs to the twin beds, and running downstairs to give her a massive hug. Her hugs were so welcoming and warm. We always talked with her in the kitchen while she poured me my favorite cereal of all time, Pops. She would ask me about all of the generic things going on in my life, but she would also ask me questions that went deeper. These types of questions would lead to long talks for which she and I would sit together in the kitchen for hours at a time. Another reason I loved visiting her in Atlanta was because of her condo and all the memories that came with it. In her basement, my cousins and I would always attempt to make our own little town around the edges of the room. We would use different colors of chalk for driving lanes, parking spots, and restaurants. We would take out her wiggle cars, thinking they were the fastest go karts created, and race around her basement. We practiced parking, doing sharp turns, and trying to win the race against our competitors; we would stay down there for hours. We also used the plastic foods she had in the basement to create our own gourmet restaurant. Whenever we would finish our play time down there, she would always call us up for a delicious dinner. In addition to our long talks and memories in her condo, I remember playing with polly pockets in her playroom, for she’d always come up there with me to play. Even though she probably had better things to do, she would always talk to me as if I was her own age. Together, we munched on snacks, played board games, and dressed up the polly pockets. I made some of my best memories with her and in her house: memories I will never forget. Also, I remember the sentimental things she would buy me for different birthdays and holidays. One year for Christmas back when I was little, she got me a small, white bunny from Atlanta. When I called to thank her for it, she told me that she remembered in one of our talks how I said that I never had that one stuffed animal I slept with every night. Now I did, and I still sleep with that bunny to this day. Another distinct memory I have of Grandma was the collection I had of glass animals that she gave me one year. For every holiday or birthday, I remember opening up the package to reveal another glass animal with a letter from her. These presents had so much sentimental value to me. One day, my mom filled me in on the truth with grandma’s situation. Her health had been declining, and she was starting to have eye troubles, a hard time walking, and trouble forgetting certain things. My mom is a very blunt person; she only tells my sisters and I the bare truth whether we like it or not. However, during the situation with Grandma, my mom never told us much. This led to me to a state of confusion, and Nellie was the person I resorted to to help me calm my worries. My mom told me months after Grandma started worsening that she and my aunts and uncles had just moved her into a nursing home where she’d be under constant watch and care. I was happy when I heard this: Grandma is going to be okay. She’ll make it through this tough period in her life. All of these small problems happening in her body won’t make her leave us forever; she’ll be okay.
I remember the exact moment. I was sitting on my red couch in the living room, reading Pride and Prejudice as the birds chirped outside the window. It was a cloudy day, so no sun was shining. Just me, the red couch, and a single book. I hear a door open and close from the kitchen, and my mom slowly walked down the hall. She stopped across from the couch, waiting for my eyes to meet hers. When I looked up, I saw tears streaming from her face.
“Lily, she’s gone.”

I dropped my book where it was. My heart sank to my chest. My face scrunched together within seconds, and my face dropped into my hands. Tears flooded from my eyes, one following another, rolling slowly down my face. I was so lost, so confused. How could this have happened? How could the lord take her away from me? All of our memories would dissipate with sorrow, all of our laughs would make me cry, all of our talks would never be revived. Having her be snatched from my fingers was something I did not expect. It was something that I never imagined would actually happen. I stood from the couch and ran to the kitchen. As soon as I entered, I saw Nellie, lying on her bed in front of the window. I ran over to her and threw myself beside her, holding her as I sobbed silently. Nellie’s presence in my life was unmatchable, for she was always there for me to love on her whenever I needed to. She never struggled to be released from my grip; she just sat there, letting me hug her. She was always there for me. Always. She was the one unchangeable thing in my life; she was the boulder that kept be stable and secure.

As I got older and older, Nellie aged alongside me. She began having a hard time walking, and she often began to limp around my house. She was never able to get much exercise, for she could barely make it across the room. I would often overhear my parents’ conversations about her, and I heard them discussing what they should do to help. They took her to the vet, but the only reason that this was happening was Nellie’s old age which weakened her joints. There was nothing we could do to help. Nothing.
It was November of 2016, and it was the night before a very important day for me. The next morning, I would be leaving for a No-Excuse lacrosse tournament in Atlanta, and all of my friends would meet at my house to start the seven hour journey there. That night, I was in a huge rush to pack all of my forgotten things to prepare for the ride. I was going to and from the laundry room in an effort to check certain items off of the list in my brain as I shoved them into my patterned sleepover bag. Around 10:30, I was preparing for bed. Then, I realized that I forgot one of my t-shirts, so I made my way from my bed to the laundry room. When I entered, I grabbed my t-shirt, and I spotted her. She was lying on her bed, silently sleeping. Her health had been really bad these past couple of days, and I had trouble living with the fact that she was in so much pain. I knelt down beside her and rested my arm over her stomach. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers as she stared at me silently. I sat with her like this for a while, soaking in her presence. I then gave her a kiss on the top of her head. The next morning, I was in a huge rush. I woke up a little later than I planned, around 7:30, and I realized that I needed to be packed and ready to leave by 7:45. When I sprinted into the kitchen and stopped to grab some breakfast, I could tell there was something off about my parents; they weren’t acting like usual. When it was time to say my goodbyes, I hugged my sisters, mom, and dad in our living room, and then ran for the door shortly after. I never realized that I forgot to say goodbye to one more. As I hopped in the car, my friends were all acting weird as well. Usually we joke around with each other, talk, and laugh a lot, but this morning, everyone was silent. I reasoned with myself that it was just the early wake up that did this to them.

The tournament passed by slowly. My mom texted me every hour to see how I was doing, how my games were going, and what plans we were making. In the blink of an eye, I was less than five minutes away from my house on the drive back from Atlanta, and I started to gather my headphones, book, phone charger, snacks, and water into my bag. As soon as they dropped me off, all of my friends emerged from the car and gave me a huge hug goodbye. I went into my house, and the first thing I looked for was Nellie. I dropped my bags where they were, and I began yelling for her. I realized she’s probably having trouble getting up, for her walking had gotten worse, so I went to look for her. Every corner I turned, every place I scanned, every room I entered, Nellie was not there. I went into the kitchen, looked outside, and peeked in the laundry room, but I didn’t see her. My parents heard me calling her name, and they entered from the kitchen, with the same gloomy look on their face as before. My dad asked me to sit down. It was then, in that moment, that they explained everything.

The morning before I left for my lacrosse trip, my dad woke up very early to take Nellie outside. When he called her name, she didn’t appear. My dad looked for her in the kitchen, and he spotted her in the laundry room, the same place she was the previous night. He then continued to call her name, but she wouldn’t move. She couldn’t. There was nothing she could do. Her muscles, they stopped working. She was alive, he explained, but she lost her ability to walk. It was then and there that my parents decided that Nellie couldn’t suffer like this. She didn’t deserve to. Dogs were put on this earth to walk, run, love, and bring light into the lives of the families they touch, and Nellie couldn’t do half of those things. It hurt my parents to see Nellie living a life of misery, suffering with every passing day. My dad then lifted her off of the ground, and he took her into the car. He drove around for a while, not knowing exactly what to do. It was then when he decided then decided to take a pit stop. He parked the car near a turf field just outside of Germantown, and he took Nellie out of the car and laid her on the field. Nellie had always loved coming to my lacrosse games and running along the turf, and my dad gave her one more chance to be in her favorite place. The sun was rising, and my dad snapped a picture of the glorious moment. There, sitting on the turf field with the sun rising slowly in the background, sat Nellie. She was in so much pain, so much misery, but she sat, content with her last few moments on earth. My dad told me and he remained there with her for almost thirty minutes, soaking in her last morning sunrise. It was her last few minutes on this earth, but she remained with a smile on her face.

Nellie was the greatest thing I had ever known. She had an impact on every person that she knew. She was my biggest listener, comforter, and friend. She was there whenever I needed her. She was always there. Through thick and thin, the good and bad times, my tough and joyful days, she would always be there right when I got home. Right when I entered my kitchen, I would just see her face and my mood would be lifted. She taught me everything I could be one day. If there was a version of her in human form, I would strive to be like that person every day that I lived. I want to be that stable, unchanging rock for all of my friends, family, and people I know and love to confine in. I want to be able to be there for others whenever they might need me, and I want to show them love even during my hardest times. Nellie showed me the kind of qualities I want to have as a wife, daughter, friend, and teammate. She showed me how to be thankful for what you have in life. She was my one and only, my all in all, and my everything. Losing her was one of the hardest obstacles in my life that I had to overcome; if I knew that the night before I left for Atlanta was going to be my last with her, I would’ve stayed up all night. To this day, I still think of her. Whenever I encounter something difficult in my life, I remind myself to stay strong like she did. Whenever my friends were experiencing a tragedy, I would always push myself to be there for each and every one of them like Nellie did. I always think of her impact on my life, her presence throughout my growth, and her unconditional love for the people around her. I pray for her every night. The Lord truly blessed me by putting her on this earth alongside me. She was the best I’d ever had.

The Lord put dogs on this earth to bring us joy. These loving animals impact every family they touch. From the short 10 to 15 years they are with us, they are truly with us every living and breathing moment. However, as humans, we know that these animals will be taken away from us in a short time period; but this is what makes our time with them so special. I knew that Nellie was going to have to leave us soon, but that only motivated me to spend all the time with her that I possibly could. I learned from my time with her that you have to love like there’s no such thing as a broken heart. Most people fear the heartbreak they will encounter after their dogs leave them if they form a strong bond with them, and this is something that must be changed. For over 13 years of my life, Nellie was a part of it all. She was there through my crises, heartbreaks, mental breakdowns, and tough times. She was there through my glorious moments, laughs, memorable times, and blessed breakthroughs. Whenever I would get home from my easy days in early childhood, she would be awaiting for me at the door. Whenever I would return from a stressful day in high school, she would by lying in the kitchen just as happy to see me. Through trips with or without her, spend the nights with my friends, walks in Shelby Farms, or times where I needed to get things done, she’d always be there for me. Having her stripped away from me was one of the most painful feelings of my life, but it only made me cherish the times we had together.

“A dog is the only thing that can mend a crack in your broken heart” Judy Desmond

To Nellie

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