My sister and I sat on the couch and did our best not to make a noise. We clamped our hands over our mouths and our eyes squeezed shut and you could barely hear the sound of stifled laughter escape from between our fingers. We were in hysterics.
In front of us, resting on her favorite mat, our dog Junie was having a dream.
Junie B. Jones had always had the prime piece of napping territory in our house—a big, white, cushy mat plopped smack in the middle of our living room. She loved her mat. She would sleep on it all day if she could, and sometimes, when she found time amongst watching three noisy kids and two other dogs, she would have a dream during her snooze. These dreams were pretty darn funny.
Junie was always running in her dreams. She would pump her legs and grit her teeth and try so hard to just go go go. It was absolute comedy to us kids, sitting nearby and squeezing pillows to our faces until one of us just could not take it anymore and belted out a huge laugh, waking Junie immediately and causing her to rise up and wheel around to check if we were alright.
We always felt bad then; we never wanted to wake her up.
We loved Junie a lot. She died last week after 15 years of being the World’s Greatest Pet. Fifteen years for a boxer—that is a pretty long time. It is enough time for a dog to become your best friend, best secret-keeper, best pillow, best kitchen buddy, best backyard pal, and best I-want-to-be-alone-but-I-want-someone-to-talk-with confidant. The perfect pet. There was no one better.
To be honest, there are not too many times in a college kid’s life when you want to go home, but last week, I really wanted to go back to Junie. Sitting in the hallway of your dorm with your sister on the phone makes you feel far away from a lot of things, especially the idea of your furry friend finally saying goodbye. The funny thing is, it never occurred to me that Junie needed me—it just occurred to me that I needed Junie. I needed a warm hug and a gentle tongue licking my hand and a dry nose twitching up toward my face and two big old eyes wondering why I was crying. In my hour of need, I wanted my dog. I know my sisters felt the same way, and my mom and dad too. We are all really different people, but we all had one best friend—the dog that used to smash and crash through the house when she was a lanky puppy, and the dog that used to go room to room every morning as a good old friend, just to make sure we were each waking up alright. Junie was so good, so loving—she treated us like we were a part of her family. I hope she felt like a part of our family too.
The hardest thing to imagine is the empty space. A bowl on the kitchen floor without food in it. The spot in front of the window vacant. A favorite mat sitting lonely in front of the couch. The space under the table big and hollow—no one there to sneak scraps of tortilla or smuggle bits of hot dog. Two other dogs missing their friend as well. These things have always come along with Junie. She has been watching after our house for 15 years—ever since we picked her up out of that cardboard box and decided to take her home.
Coming home used to be easy, because you had a welcoming committee of three crazy dogs, with Junie as the chief coordinator of all the festivities. Now, I cannot imagine what the summer will be like, and walking through that door and not seeing the best friend I ever had coming over to just remind us that Don’t worry, I remember. It feels impossible.
Say what you will about heaven, but I know that God has a special place for all of our best friends. He has a special place for dogs who were loyal, and loving, and gentle, and happy all the time. He has a special place where Junie can have another bone, and go on another walk, and take another nap, because in heaven no one cares if you pooped on the carpet or ate a sock or shed all over Mom’s favorite chair. In heaven, Junie can do whatever she wants, because that is what you are allowed to do when you take such good care of people.
On the day when Junie would die, I asked my father if she was alright. He sent me a picture of her. She was looking right at the camera, calm and peaceful and wise and knowing, and right underneath the photo, my dad wrote, “A-ok.”
That is all you need to know—Junie is A-okay now. I can see her running somewhere, probably chasing some sneaky rabbit or squirrel, and she is so happy and so excited. A-okay. Just running and running and running—she does not have to dream about it anymore.