On my tenth birthday, I was in the kitchen in our house in San Jose. It was a Saturday and there was gonna be a small party that afternoon. My dad said, "Why don't you go in the back yard, your mom wants to show you something." I thought, 'oooh, maybe a present?'...So I went out back and looked around, hmm nothing. I walked further into the back, to the lawn and suddenly I saw a little Beagle puppy running towards me. At first I thought it must be a neighbor's dog who had gotten loose. He ran up as I knelt down to pet him. His tail was wagging at full speed as he jumped up and tried to lick my face. He was the coolest little dog! Then my mom emerged from somewhere and said, "Say hello to your little brother!"
"He's your new dog!"
I was speechless! We had discussed getting a dog before, but I never actually thought it would ever happen. My dad would go on and on about the responsibility of owning a pet...the care and feeding, cleaning up after it, and endless scenarios in which pet ownership would not be a practical or desirable thing. And yet here he was! An endless and permanent smile was glued on my face as I played with him on the grass. And he seemed just as joyous. He indeed became my 'little brother' as I grew into my teens and young adulthood. Nicky was my buddy, and he was part of the family. When we finally had to put him to sleep it was devastating to all of us. I was literally numb with grief for a few days. But he'll always be with me, not just in memory but in spirit.
Because he still visits me in my dreams.
Whether it's actually 'him' is almost beside the point, because the visits are real enough in a spiritual sense. In other words, when I do dream about him, he's never a 'walk on' character in some bizarre dreamscape...it's always just him, coming to say hello with his wagging tail and gentle and intelligent eyes...and he looks me in the eye with his doggy smile. After I wake up I always think, "that WAS him...it had to be."
I dreamed about him last night. It doesn't happen often, maybe about five times at the most since he died. And each time I think the same thing, "Oh my God! Nicky!...are you okay?...it's been so long since I've seen you or fed you!!...you look okay, oh man...you must be, what 41 years old now? You look good for 41...where have you been??" And he is old, he looks old...but he still smiles and wags his tail, as if he's just happy to be here. It indeed feels like he's visiting, just to say hello. No messages from beyond, no forewarning of impending doom like in a cheesy movie...just a visit from a happy soul from...somewhere...they do say all dogs go to heaven.
This time, I woke up and Nicky was still laying on the bed! "Nicky? Is that really you?" He grinned and woofed, as if to say, "yup!" He got up and moved to the edge of the bed to jump off. "You're so old buddy, be careful!" He looked back at me and jumped off. I sat up in bed and realized I was still dreaming, because I was on my hands and knees in a forest...a redwood forest I recognized. A voice said, "Here's what he saw." Who's voice that was, I don't know. I was then looking up from about a foot off the ground, and I saw myself with my cousin Joe, we were both kids, running up the hill...I was looking through Nicky's eyes!! I saw me and Joe run past and I joined in the chase, and I didn't exactly hear...but felt Nicky's voice, if he had been capable of having one...in a sort of 'Dick and Jane' vocabulary,
"danny! joe! run run! let's run! run danny! run joe! let's go! let's go! go go go! ball! where's the ball? throw it! throw it! I'll chase it! c'mon let's go! run run run!"
Then I slowly woke through the fog of that dissipating dream, the kind that you wish could never end, and I remembered the sheer joy of running with them. The pure undistilled joy of what a dog must feel when he's playing, and the unconditional love of a pet.
Maybe I should re-title this, "Nicky's gift."