Teah Dowling | Always Five Steps Ahead

Running through the woods, Sam panted his way back to the house cold and wet with porcupine quills on his face. Crying for Mom, she rushed out, put him in the car and took him to his least favorite person: Dr. Sue.

Dr. Sue had known Sam for eighteen years. It wasn’t a shock to her to see him with quills on his face again. Porcupines were his favorite animal. That was the sixth time he poked his nose into a place that it didn’t belong.

After a visit with the doctor, Mom gave him a peanut butter cookie. Peanut butter cookies were his favorite treat ever since he was little. He was a pig sometimes, and he was spoiled. But he was spoiled because he was a troublemaker, and Mom felt bad for him.

I remember one early morning. It was dark, and my stepfather, David wanted to go hunting for deer. Of course, Sam tagged along, always in the front, five steps ahead. But Sam didn’t wear orange that day.

Off in the distance, my stepfather heard a gunshot, one, now two, echoing through the trees. David ran toward the sound to see two hunters standing in awe, and Sam crying on the ground, bleeding from bird shot wounds in his back.

My stepfather ran with Sam in his arms back to the house, leaving a trail of blood behind him. They called Dr. Sue to get him into surgery as soon as possible. After pulling out about 40 small bullets, Sam returned home sore, drugged, and sleepy.

Sam was always a troublemaker. After recovering, Sam continued to be rambunctious. Sam took on the habit of lying in the middle of our back road to take a nap in the sun and of traveling too far in the woods to be scratched by a bear. Luckily, he was fast enough, but he wasn’t fast all the time.

On a check-up visit to Dr. Sue’s, she discovered a tumor on Sam’s lefthand side of his stomach. It was cancer. Sam was fourteen. Sam didn’t see the seriousness of this situation; he felt fine. But he got surgery to get the tumor removed.

A few months later, it returned along with two others. We didn’t understand why this was happening. Sam was healthy and had so much drive and spirit that he didn’t feel any pain.

Dr. Sue decided not to remove the tumors. She said they would keep coming back. She said Sam only had six months to live, but we didn’t believe her. We couldn’t.

Sam outlived Dr. Sue’s death sentence. At eighteen, Sam lived with three tumors on his side, still getting into trouble as always.

Sam took medication to subside the pain and get him through the day. Sam didn’t care. Actually, he loved taking his medication every day because he was able to have his favorite breakfast: sausage and gravy. Mom would cut up his pills and put them in the gravy, something Dr. Sue recommended.

However, after a while, his pills didn’t work anymore.

Going on walks was one of Sam and my favorite things to do. One day when we were walking, he walked beside me. He wass always in front of me, at least five steps ahead waiting for me to get as fast as he was.

That day, I looked over at him, and he looked like he had aged by 60 years.

We used to always go swimming in the river after our long walks. That day, he lay in the hot sun. Walking up the hill, the one who was always five steps ahead was five steps behind. I knew that walk was going to be our last walk together.

The day after Thanksgiving, a year ago, he died. We buried him at the top of Au Sable Forks cemetery, a place where he liked to walk up to and visit when we would go to Grandma’s house.

Placing a peanut butter cookie on his grave, I stood there after the service, re-reading the text on his homemade cross.

“Here lies Sam, a great dog. We love you.”

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