I was an angry little girl. Well, I’m still an angry little girl, but when I was younger I didn’t possess the skill of instant sweetness and charm as I do now. I was distant and cold and hard to get to know, especially to the men my mother dated.
I wasn’t interested in any man who wasn’t my father and it took a lot for me to trust anyone my mother brought home for me to meet. And if my mom was really serious about a guy, I was always the last one of my sisters to meet him. I was the deciding factor. I would determine whether or not he would stick around. Because if I didn’t like him, I would let anyone who would listen know about it. Apparently most dudes weren’t interested in dating a woman with a demonic nine year old.
I don’t remember meeting Daniel, my eventual stepfather, for the first time. I don’t remember if I was polite or if I made some rude comment. But I do remember the first time I looked at him without judgement or genuine disgust, as I typically did with most people I met.
He lived down the street and invited my mother and I over for dinner. He was trying to impress me rather than her at this point. They had already been dating for awhile by now, so if he was meeting me, it was already pretty serious for her.
I walked in the door and laying on the couch was the most beautiful dog I had ever set my eyes on. I had only seen Basset Hounds on greeting cards wearing silly top hats and drowning in a puddle of their own drool. With ears that flopped to the floor and eyes that looked as if they were being pulled down by magnets, I immediately fell in love. His name was Harley and he became the glue that held mine and Daniel’s relationship together.
After figuring out Daniel had a deep love for Basset Hounds, he showed me photographs and told me stories of all the dogs he had owned and tales of when Harley was a puppy. He had books and little knick-knacks of Basset Hounds. I was mesmerized. I’m a strong believer that everyone has a breed of dog that is just their breed. Evanne’s is a Boxer. That’s her breed. My sister’s is a Pit bull. You just find a particular breed of an animal and it strikes a chord with you so deep that you can’t explain it. You just know that you’re meant to own one. Doggy soulmates.
I had found mine.
As time passed, eventually so did my fascination with Daniel and his dog. Eventually, I grew up and moved away and left Daniel and Harley behind. My relationship with Daniel quickly diminished as I entered my teenage years and my attitude towards him shifted as, I have learned, is normal when it comes to teenage girls and their father figures.
I was laying in the bed I was claiming as my own in an apartment I paid for under the table when my mother called me and told me that Harley had passed away. My heart was broken, and I knew Daniel’s was as well. I skipped school that day and mourned the loss of my first best friend alone in my temporary home.
With the loss of Harley, Daniel and I needed something new to keep our relationship from completely falling apart. With Harley being the original source of our fondness for each other, I knew that another dog was the only chance of us reconciling our relationship. Our hostility towards one another was beginning to cause problems between my mother and me so something had to be done. An effort had to be made. I began obsessing over the idea of getting a Basset Hound puppy. I smothered Daniel in photos of puppies and begged him to buy one for me. I lived on my own which meant I would take care of him by myself and Daniel could babysit whenever he wanted. It didn’t take him long to cave. We found a Basset breeder in a neighboring town and made the call.
Atticus at 4 weeks old. This was the photo that was the deciding factor on which puppy I wanted. This was the one for me.
The last trip I ever took with Daniel before he died was the drive to pick up Atticus. We reminisced about Harley and he told me stories of when he took him home for the first time and how he howled the entire way home. I laughed and said that Atticus was going to be perfect. I thanked him over and over again. I had never owned my own dog. I was over the moon.
The moment I saw him, I changed. I held him in my arms and I regret to this day ever putting him down. I never knew I could love another living thing as much as I loved this animal. To this day, I’m convinced I’ll never love anyone as much as this dog.
I eventually took Atticus home to my apartment and Daniel would call and ask if he could babysit. I would let him, knowing that Atticus was helping in the healing process of losing his Harley.
Daniel’s sickness was quickly taking a toll on him, but he insisted on running around with Atticus, who was a wild little thing.
One day, Daniel was carrying Atticus outside because he possessed four stubby baby legs, he couldn’t climb the steps on his own. In doing this, Daniel tripped and fell down and hurt his leg. Being too sick to properly heal, he went into the hospital and never left.
Atticus was the last thing Daniel did for me. The last thing that we truly connected over, which I’m forever grateful for because before Atticus, our relationship was, for lack of a better word, garbage.
After the death of Daniel, I buried myself in Atticus. He was my rock. He slept beside me every night. He licked my tears and made me forget why I was crying in the first place.
Daniel’s death was extremely confusing for me. I didn’t know how I felt about all of it since our relationship was so rocky. I was confused, angry and guilt ridden. No one knew what to say to me. I didn’t know what I wanted to hear. But Atticus, being a dog, couldn’t say anything. All he could do was be there to love me. And it turns out that’s all I really needed.
While being the love of my life, he was also a puppy and a handful, especially in an apartment. Struggling to finish high school and also working a full time job, I just didn’t have the time to give him the attention and care he needed. He headed towards my sister’s house, who also couldn’t keep up with him so she handed him off to my mother. We eventually decided apartment life wasn’t suited for him and his energy level so a close friend of mine with a massive back yard took him in. I spent the night at my friend’s house that night and cried the whole time because I didn’t want him sleeping outside on his own. He was used to cuddling and being warm. But he was outside, cold and alone. Turns out he loved it. I was just worried and emotional because hey, it’s me.
Whenever I came home from college, I went to visit Atticus before I even went to see my mom. He was my top priority at all times. He knew it was his mommy coming to see him, too. He would throw himself onto my lap and try to climb on my head like he did when he was a puppy. I was never happier than I was when he was in my arms.
Still not having a stable place for me to live, I couldn’t reunite with him just yet. He was moved to another friend’s house who had a fenced in yard and a small kid whom Atticus loved. He had finally found a good place for him to stay until I got my shit together. I made it a rule that wherever he went, I had to know these people because I had to be able to go visit him. He was still my dog. I was trying to get my life together so we could finally be reunited.
I was living with my sister and her boyfriend at the time and had the entire day off of work. It was a beautiful day outside and I hadn’t seen my baby boy in awhile so I decided to give the guy who had him a call.
“Hey, is it cool if I come see Atticus today?”
“Oh, shit…did no one tell you?”
The moment those words left his mouth, tears filled my eyes.
“Tell me what?” I stuttered, not fully wanting to know exactly what he had to say.
“There was an awful storm a few months ago and a tree fell down and broke the fence. Atticus got out and we haven’t been able to find him.”
Everything after that sentence is a distant memory I have no interest in trying to remember. I’m sure it consisted of more details of how my dog ran off into the middle of the night, in a strange location, during a massive storm and never made his way back home. I’m sure the guy apologized profusely and talked about how loved Atticus was and how they searched and searched for him but I’ll never know fully. All that was running through my head was last Christmas, Atticus and I snuggled on the couch and watched To Kill a Mockingbird, the book and movie from which he was named. Every time someone said “Atticus”, he would pop his head up and look around. That’s all I could think of until I eventually hung up the phone.
My sister’s boyfriend, Adam, was always very respectful of my privacy. He never opened my bedroom door without knocking and making sure I gave him permission. Not once.
The moment I hung up that phone, I screamed so loud that Adam came bursting in my room without hesitation. It was fifteen minutes before I could even say more than Atticus’ name.
My baby boy was either lost or dead. I would never know. And the worst part was that it had been months since it had happened and no one felt the need to inform me. I didn’t even have the chance to search for him. He was gone and I’ll never know what happened to him. I’ve never been an optimistic person so I don’t picture him with a loving family. I picture him wandering around in the cold rain, looking for me, wondering why I left him in the first place.
I’m self destructive, what can I say. Some things never change!
Loss is nothing new to me. I’ve been losing people close to me pretty fucking consistently since I was five years old. And I’m talking major people in my life. I’ve lost aunts and uncles that I hardly knew. Grandparents that I barely talked to, but I’ve lost parents. Close friends. People that when you lose them, it really fucks with you.
But none of those losses has stuck with me like the loss of this fucking dog.
On December 4th, every year, I mourn the loss of my father. I take that day to remember him and feel sad about it.
February 3rd, every year, I mourn the loss of Daniel. I take that day to remember him and feel sad about it.
Other than those two days, when they cross my mind, it’s only for a few moments and I don’t dwell on it. I move on pretty quickly.
It’s been about two years since Atticus went missing, and to this day I can’t talk about him without losing my shit.
I look at old pictures and cry. And I’m not talking about “aww, what a cute boy I’m so sad I miss him” tears…I mean hysterical, I can’t fucking breathe, someone needs to sit with me and hold me tears. They’re brutal. They’re exhausting.
He was more than a dog to me. He was more than a part of my family. He was unconditional love. He was a reminder that no matter how shitty everyone else in my life was to me, I still had someone that would love me no matter what. Someone that didn’t care how much I drank. How many drugs I did. How often I hurt myself. He didn’t love me any less. He wasn’t disappointed in me. He didn’t get an attitude or threaten to abandon me.
He was a tangible representation of Daniel and the relationship we never got the chance to fully reconcile.
If you’ve ever lost a pet, I’m sure all of this makes perfect sense to you. And if you haven’t lost one yet, please go grab your fur baby right now and never let it go.
I would give anything to feed him fruit snacks and watch them get stuck in his teeth one more time. I would kill to smack him in his face with his long floppy ears.
And if you’ve never felt this strongly about an animal in your life, it’s probably because either
A) The people in your life probably fulfill you emotionally so you don’t feel the need to mask your loneliness with a different species.
B) You’re a serial killer.
Either way, I hope I have broken all of your hearts with my hearbreaking tale of how I lost my first born child.
I don’t know why but Atticus Finch Nieporte has been on my mind a lot recently and I just needed you all to know about him. For all he did for me, the least I can do is honor him through a blog post that’ll probably get 13 views and two likes on Facebook.
Let’s all let out a howl and chew on some shoes in honor of all the puppies that wandered off into the night looking for their mommies.
I love you bby boy. Forever.
See ya, crybabies.