One insignificant thing was a really bad version of Meg Ryan's haircut in You've Got Mail. It's my own fault for going to A Great Cut to have it done, but hair grows, so it wasn't the end of the world.
The second insignificant thing I received was a noticable amount of weight gain, a result of being bed-ridden and given mostly brownies to eat. The reason for being bed-ridden was because of one of the more significant things I received that year:
A patch to cover a hole in my heart. I was told it was Gore-tex in material, but really, that didn't matter too much to me. What mattered was that after having my sternum broken in two and my heart man-handled, I woke up. That's really all you can hope for in a situation like that.
The second significant thing I received near the same time as my surgery was a yellow lab puppy named Honey. She wasn't just my dog, but I always put it together that we got her as a result of my open-heart surgery. Maybe she would be a good replacement if I didn't survive, and if I did survive, she would help me make it through high school, as my older sisters were going off to college one by one.
There I was, chubby, sporting a terrible haircut and a healing wound right down the center of my chest, with the prettiest, sweetest dog by my side. I was a lucky girl.
As I healed and Honey grew, we spent a lot of time together. Who can tell what a dog really thinks, but context clues pointed to the fact that Honey's favorite activity was going to Shelby Farms, a large park in Memphis. As soon as we'd enter the parking lot, she'd start whimpering to get out of the car. I'd let her out, we'd walk through the gate together, and in a flash, she'd take off for the nearest body of water. I'd walk along the trails while she ran vast circles around me. She never grew tired.
The same wild dog had a soft side. Many nights or mornings, she'd climb in my bed. I couldn't sleep with her through the night because she snored, but her affection was the sweetest. Or maybe she was needy. She'd follow us around the house all day. She always wanted to be near someone, and she always wanted a good pet. How do I know? Because every time you sat down, she'd get right next to you and put her nose on or under your hand. If you gave in to pet her, she'd wriggle slowly, tail wagging, until you were scratching her rear end.
She was never mean, maybe disobedient, but always loving and always sweet. Always.
This Christmas, Honey was 13 years old. She could barely walk around or get up and down. Many times she'd fall down or slip. No more walks with her or trips to the park, but she was still the prettiest and sweetest dog.
Last Monday night, my last night in town, my sister Ginny told Catherine and I that we should go in and sit with Honey on her bed, a palette my mom made her out of sheets and cushiony things in our dining room.
"You never know if she'll make it through the night," she said.
We walked in the dark room and all three sat around her. Honey woke up and we talked to her and pet her and told her we loved her.
I left town for Knoxville the next day, and two days later, Honey died.
When I talked to my sister Catherine yesterday, I asked her why we even bothered having pets. We are all completely devastated.
Today, after a night of sleep, I know my question yesterday was selfish. Honey gave far more unconditional love and affection than I could ever learn how to give. She was a dog worth giving a home and loving as best as we could.
But, oh! How badly we'll miss her.