My Papa, my perfect, loving, intelligent and strong Papa, achingly surrendered to his knees that grew weak. His face was contorted, trying to fight back the tears that were drowning his eyes. As I heard his bones meet the floor, he embraced Fritz. There was Papa, clutching onto his best friend. Hanging on for the last piece of our childhood. Hanging on to the past 16 years on Prestonshire, in our beautiful red brick home that had become the setting of all our memories. Papa knew Fritz wouldn’t be home when he returned from the work that night, so there he was, on the floor. Trying to thank Fritz for all the times he made the house warmer. Trying to say goodbye to the clinking of his paws walking across the house looking for him. Trying to remember what it felt like to have him in his arms one last time. Trying to fit “thank you for the past 16 years of my life” into one embrace. Fritz’s skinny and hurting body felt so loved by my Papa, I’m convinced.
Rewind. It’s 2000. I’m five, Laura is ten, and Karin is fifteen. Mama warned us, “don’t even begin to think we’re getting a Dog. We’re just here for fun.” She stated this, of course, before getting out of the car and seeing twelve eight-week-old English Springer Spaniel puppies frolic in the lush green yard. Us sisters fell to our knees beside the mountain of fur, and as soon as Mama closed the car door, she fell to her knees right next to us. A few minutes later, she stepped away from the cuteness and distanced herself from the small crowd. When I saw her reach out for her blue Nokia, I knew the call meant business. Puppy business. She walked away and when she came back, her look said it all. My sisters and I jumped as we discussed and disputed who our pup would be. Finally, we decided that the first one to follow us to our car would soon become a Ruiz-Roehrs. We hadn’t made it two steps away from the litter when one particularly precious pup followed right behind us. Fritz Ruiz-Roehrs. It felt right.
The sound of my Papa’s knees popping as he got up brought me back to reality. He lifted himself from the floor without taking one look back. He grabbed his backpack, wiped the tears from his face with the sleeves of his scrubs, and went to work. We had a couple of hours until the appointment at the vet, so I did the only thing left to do in order to give Fritz a spoiled goodbye. I made him a peanut butter sandwich with extra PB, fed it to him in pieces, taking the spot my Papa’s body left warm, while I watched the morning news. I drift into my thoughts and tuned out the network commentators’ endless political chatter.
Suddenly, I’m seven again and eating dinner on the patio. Mama and Papa were always strict at the dinner table with all of us, except for Fritz. He could beg all he wanted, but we couldn’t place our elbows on the table for a hot second. That night, dinner was a weird culmination of food including, hot dogs, jello, mashed potatoes, jelly and peanut butter. We were properly eating our dinner with light conversation when Mama asked Papa to pass a spoon. Papa loaded the spoon with a heaping amount of mashed potatoes and used the cutlery as a catapult. Suddenly and out of nowhere, Mama had potatoes on her face and we were stunned. What. Was. Happening. Moments later all of us were doing the unthinkable: food fight on Prestonshire. After all the food was smashed all over our bodies and backyard we all fell to the grass and laughed uncontrollably. And there was Fritz. Eating the peanut butter and any other food from our arms and legs.
Fritz was extra cuddly his last morning. I made sure to take some last pictures with him, although I haven’t been able to look back at them yet. I held his old paw and snapped a photograph for my family, and maybe for myself sometime in the future. I ran upstairs and took a quick shower, and after having been away all summer, the only clean clothes I had left hanging in my childhood closet were a black blouse and black shorts. I went downstairs and I could hear Fritz’s paws clanking on the floor followed by a plop. He wasn’t strong enough to stay standing anymore. We left the house and took one last picture in front of my tree.
My mind travels back again. It’s November 2007 and Karin was home for Thanksgiving after being away at University for what felt like, an eternity. Taking advantage of the perfect family role-call, we documented the moment and took a photograph in front of my tree. The pink myrtle tree I planted when I was five had grown and was the perfect picture backdrop. So there we stood, Papa, Mama, Karin, Laura and middle school me, shaded by the branches of my tree. Fritz, six years into being at home, knew the “picture” drill. Without even the slightest of commands, he pranced up to our feet and sat perfectly placed centered in front of our family. Of course, he couldn’t be left out. That picture made the best Christmas card we’d ever send.
I carried Fritz into the car and sat in the back seat with him. Mama and I faked merry conversation as we drove to the family vet. We desperately clung to the hope that Fritz was just feeling a little down and that we could take him back home with us later that day. The vet’s office was all white with sunlight beaming through the windows warming my back in an otherwise frigid waiting room. “Mr. Fritz! Come on back!” called the vet. The lump in my throat grew. After a long check up, the vet somberly looked up and told us that it was our decision, but Fritz was hurting. Mama and I didn’t be the ones responsible for making this heartbreaking choice so we called Karin, we called Laura, and lastly we called Papa. We all knew the decision we had to make. But Mama and I were the ones who had to sign the papers. As soon as we hung up, we began our last goodbye. When we embraced Fritz, he started crying. He knew. He was crying and my heart broke like it never had before. His whimpers still haunt me.
In that moment I was five, I was ten, I was fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one. As I was crying into Fritz’s fur I was hugging puppy him, and thinking of what we could name him. If I closed my eyes tight enough I was playing with him in the backyard tossing the ball. I was at my tennis tournament looking over to him watching quietly with Mama. I was not just hugging Fritz. I was hanging on to my childhood.
My Mama, my perfect, loving, intelligent, and strong Mama achingly surrendered to her knees that grew weak. I heard her bones next to me and felt her arms on top of mine, hugging Fritz. She was also hanging on for the last piece of our childhood. Hanging on to the past 16 years on Prestonshire, in our beautiful red brick home that had become the setting of all our memories. Mama talked to him. Mama tried to say goodbye to the clinking of his paws walking across the house looking for her. Tried to remember what it felt like to have him in her arms one last time. Weakly and softly and with a choke in her words, my Mama whispered, “I’m gonna miss you.”
I still ache. I still mourn for Fritz and for my childhood. The most beautiful chapters in the Ruiz-Roehrs family book had come to an end. My Papa’s heart still lays on the floor where he said goodbye to Fritz. Mama’s heart is in the vet where she said goodbye. For months after that day Papa would cry at the slightest memory of Fritz. It was the first time I saw him cry. It was the first time I really saw Mama cry. Fritz leaving exposed that it wasn’t just my nostalgia that longed for easier times.
As I was in the middle of writing this essay, my phone buzzed on the table and Papa’s name lit up my screen. The hospital keeps my Papa running from one crisis to the next, so hearing from him is always special. He just called to say he loves me, and that he misses having me home. I told him I was writing a story about Fritz. There was silence.
I know Papa won’t read this. Mama will. She’ll tell me it’s beautiful but not to be offended that my Papa probably won’t read it.
Though my house is still my home because of the love that runs deep through its walls, tear still make puddles in my eyes when I imagine the stillness of my once bustling home or when I realize that my parents constantly mourn the end of Fritz and the era he represented. Karin, Laura and I are grown up and Fritz is gone. We live and create our new lives, but Mama and Papa must live in the remnants of our once life.
And on this day, I think back to what they’re doing in the empty house on Prestonshire.