Millie always brought you a gift when you got home. It could be an old shoe, a book, even someone’s homework.
She loved to ride in the car, though anything above her cruising speed, 35 miles per hour, was too fast for her. With her long eyelashes and eyebrows, I suspected that riding was the only time she could fully see.
Millie was messy, with a constantly slimy beard, burs in her fur, and muddy feet. But she was beautiful. And when you told her she was beautiful, she’d look at you with eyes that said, “I know it.”
Millie loved to sing. She’d sit at my dad’s feet under the piano and croon to whatever he played, though she was particularly affected by minor chords. Her favorite song was Billy Joel’s, “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.” We called it The Ballad of Millie the Kid.
Millie contracted cancer in the fall of 2019. It was devastating for the whole family. I spent much of Thanksgiving tearfully thinking about her, wishing I could hold her, but I was in Colorado.
By the time Christmas came, all I wanted was to go home to see her. I tried to spend as much time as possible with her, praying it wouldn’t be the last time I held her heavy, dirty paws and pressed my face against her big, meatball-like nose. Sadly, the hug goodbye was the last time I felt her wiry white fur against my skin.
It was Super Tuesday and the U.S. had not heeded the COVID warnings yet. I was home, cooking a late dinner, when I got the call. It sucked the air out of my lungs.
I am so fortunate to not have lost any relatives who were particularly close to me. But Millie — losing Millie was like losing a sister.
I couldn’t concentrate at work. I had cried the whole night through. I barely kept it together when my co-workers gave small, sympathetic smiles. I drove away, toward family friends in the mountains, and sobbed to The Ballad of Billy the Kid.
I haven’t been able to listen to that song since. Every time it comes on shuffle, I skip it. My dad and I tried to play it on piano and drums over Christmas, and we couldn’t do it.
We called Millie “the Queen of Good,” because she was the sweetest, most genuine dog we have ever had the great fortune to know. If I think about Millie too much, tears always come to my eyes. No other dog in my life has made me feel this way, and I’m not sure another dog will.
I miss Millie immeasurably, but I know she is free of pain wherever she is, eating her favorite cereal, Cracklin’ OatBran, galloping across green fields, and taking many car rides.
Sometimes I think I don’t know what love is; then I think of her.