I had a pet Pomeranian called Terry. We grew up in the same household for 12 years. He came to us when he was two weeks old. Instantly, we became best friends.
Pomeranians get a bad rep. They can be moody, and the yelp their lungs out at the hint of a mouse fart. And like every Pomeranian owner would tell you, mine was different.
Terry was a crossbreed, which meant that his hair wasn’t fluffy, like other Pomeranians. More tellingly, he lacked the frantic energy that his breed was known for.
Terry was a mellow goofball.
Some mornings, he would scratch at my bedroom door until someone opened it. Then, he would run and excitedly lick my face to get me out of bed. Once I was up, he would scurry under the bed and refuse to come out.
Terry loved cheese cubes. He would turn into a ghost child from an Asian horror movie whenever I opened the fridge. He was there – right behind me – as if to say, “Nice try, buddy.” Sometimes, he stood so close that he risked the chance of getting trampled.
When he was bored, he would annoy neighbors’ pets until they started barking – and then, he would run away. People never suspected us because they couldn’t think of us as troublemakers. I was an unassuming, short kid who barely spoke, and Terry was a timid Pomeranian who felt anxious around cats.
We would also roller-skate together. I held on to Terry’s leash – as he ran as fast as he could. My sister tried that once – and she ended up taking a nasty, bloody fall. My dad blamed it on Terry and gave him a walloping.
I was angry at my sister for thinking she could roller-skate with Terry. That was our thing. I was possessive because of how much I loved him. But it wasn’t some unconditional love. I was bitter and lonely for most of my childhood. Twice, I lived in neighborhoods where there weren’t any other kids to play with.
Terry was the only friend for many years. I gave him a lot of attention, and he returned the favor. We didn’t need anyone else to give us company.
Terry also helped me get through difficult moments. He would sit down next to me, with his head on my lap. He would listen to me whine and complain for hours. I never waited for him to sense that I was feeling troubled. I would tell him straight up, “Terry, we need to talk.” Since we spoke different languages, it was easier to be honest. And we could communicate our concern for each other just fine.
I tried to be there for him too. Whenever he got injured, he would come to me – with his tail tucked in-between his legs. I would stroke his head, plant a kiss on his wet nose, and tell him that it would be okay.
Even as I finished high school and went on to join college, Terry and I remained close pals. But I also started spending a lot more time outside the home. By then, the years had taken their toll on him. It wasn’t very noticeable, at first, because he was always laid-back.
When his eyesight became poor – and he started often getting sick, it became clear that Terry wasn’t going to be around much longer. I was in denial of it because I couldn’t imagine life without him. It was still hard to see him in that state. I couldn’t see him as an old mutt. He was always just Terry to me.
One summer morning in 2001, I heard him groaning under the couch while leaving for college. He was in pain. And so, I let him deal with it – and left.
Later that evening, when I came back home – my dad was sitting in the hall, reading a newspaper. He didn’t look at me, which was strange since he always had something to say. My mom was in the kitchen – and I noticed that she was in tears.
When I asked her what was wrong, she gargled a string of words, like a bulbul with a sunken heart. Then, I asked my dad if something had gone wrong. In a matter-of-fact tone, he told me that Terry had died of a heart attack. And he went back to reading his newspaper.
I didn’t react either. I squinted and scrunched my nose. Seconds later, I politely asked for my dad for the car keys, as my mom’s crying got louder.
I drove to the beach and parked by the side of the road. I sat there and cried. And I found out later that my dad drank a lot that night to drown the sorrow of losing Terry.
It’s what many south Indian men do when we want to cry – we disappear out of sight under the misconception that expressing one’s emotions equates to showing weakness.
But I still feel weak in the chest when I think about Terry. I wish I had the chance to say goodbye to him. Perhaps, just a single pat on the head. Maybe a casual “I’ll see you soon” or “Take care, Terry” remark before I had left home that morning. That would have been nice.
These days, I don’t have a single photograph of him either. Well, there was just one faded photo – to begin with, and it had gotten lost when my city was flooded in 2015.
Sometimes, I worry about growing so old that one day I might forget Terry’s face. I hope that never happens because he was an important part of my life. And his time on earth meant more to me than he could have ever known.
Thank you, Terry, for being my best friend.
(A poem for Terry)
I grab a piece of paper
to make a list of things
to shelter from the rain;
I write down “awkward doggy
kisses” twice and fold the rest
into a paper plane.
(Say hello to some of my recent canine friends)