When I was 13 I was awkward. I spent all my evenings after school writing medical drama fan fiction, eating marmite rolls because I was vegetarian but didn’t like any vegetables, envying my friends for their clothes, faces, hair clips, and wondering why some kids ended up in S Club Juniors and I only ended up as the least useful part on the netball team.
And then we got a dog. His name was Mahley, much to my dismay, because everyone’s first reaction was “Oh my god, like the film?” and I had to explain it was not a copy, it was spelled with an H, because my parents gave him a cute version of their favourite composer’s name, Mahler. I didn’t forgive them for approximately seven years until I realised it was cool to have musician parents, forgivable to be a bit middle class, and Mahley looks fun written down, and sounds like a sigh, with a diva twist.
And that was Mahley in a nutshell. Both horizontal as a lazy Sunday, full of love, warmth and endless affection, and a bloody liability.
Mahley grew up with us. Our house has never had a life without him. He came on long car journeys to drama school auditions, athletics tournaments, funerals, weddings, holidays, leaving a trail of white fur wherever he went. What’s the point in life without an unclogged hoover?
Mahley ate everything. My Nokia 3310, a packet of batteries, a box of creme eggs. Several condoms he found on the street. My mum’s engagement ring. He almost choked to death digging one of my very first tampons out the bin so he practically went through puberty with me. And nothing solidifies a relationship between girl and dog more than having to manually pull shoelaces out his bum in the queue for the cash point.
Mahley greeted everyone. From postmen, to paramedics, to people I actively tried to ignore in the school car park. He humped my best friends at every sleepover without ever asking permission – experiencing teenage awakenings with us at every moment. He gatecrashed parties, pub visits, theatre trips, old people’s homes. Life was all about Mahley. The world was his best friend, his curiosity was boundless, his enthusiasm for everyday life was unstoppable. Like Alec Baldwin in Friends, but better.
Mahley was broken from the start, but his flaws made him. He had epilepsy as a puppy, which was a right barrel of laughs. Followed by an allergy to beef (much to his dismay) and chronic bronchitis despite never smoking a day in his life. As an old dog he got severe arthritis, but still somehow managed to escape through the front door to greet someone on the opposite side of the road, get hit by a car and walk away unharmed.
Mahley could swim for days.
Mahley could share.
Mahley once looked after a huddle of lost ducklings who had lost their mum.
Mahley didn’t understand the concept of “fetch.”
Mahley was more scared of guinea pigs than they were of him.
Mahley knew nothing about personal space.
Mahley could fly.
Mahley could never bark – not until doggy dementia got him at the age of 12 and he howled like Lupin at a full moon.
Mahley was everything.
13-year old me was delighted to not only have an Andrex puppy rolling around the house, but a companion, a reason to invite new friends over, an endless source of funny stories. And it stayed that way forever – until, 13 years later, he finally left us.
I left home when I was 18 and haven’t been home for longer than about two weeks ever since, which means Mahley is my most successful long-distance relationship to date. But it also means I’ve learned to live a life without him already. Which must be why, when he got really ill, and it looked like it might be the end, I was a bit of a robot.
Out of everyone in my family I was the only one who couldn’t be there on the day – because you know, work is a thing – and I felt slightly outside of myself, as I talked to everyone on the phone, pondered from afar how you bury a Labrador successfully, and psyched myself up to go to a three hour improv class that night, because comedy cures everything right?
So I didn’t cry. Not on the day – or the day after. Or when I went home at the weekend. I didn’t cry for another three weeks. To the point where I thought I might be dead inside.
And then on Friday night when I got home from work – out of nowhere I got into bed and cried in the most deranged way. Wailed. Heaved. Sobbed for my dog. For how I miss having to get his fucking fur off my school blazer every single morning and how I miss resting on his giant thigh like a pillow and watching him swim and watching him try to eat an ice cube and telling him stories and comforting him and getting comfort from him and seeing him in the back of the car asleep and seeing him in the front of the car with his paws on the wheel like a human and thinking he looks like a seal and showing him off to people on the high street and watching people love him as much as we do.
So I finally got some of the dog sadness out of my system – and it probably wasn’t a coincidence.
It’s a rubbish time of year for my family. A year ago we lost my treasured uncle very quickly so whilst it’s crisp and sunny outside and Christmas is around the corner and ghost pumpkins seem to be a thing this year it’s also, for my family, definitely now a time of absolute, permanent change, healing, remembrance and grief.
And seeing as I write about pretty much everything else on this blog, I just felt somewhere on here there needed to be a tribute to my dog. Because even though he was “just a dog” of course, without a doubt he made our family who we are today. Of course we exist without him – but he definitely exists in us too. In all our madness and strange illnesses and eccentricities and uniqueness he’s one of us.
So here’s to you Mahley dog. Thanks for the fun, the mess, the moments. You were one of a kind.