Whenever my husband used to come visit at my parents’ house, he almost never got the same reaction from Polar, the family dog. He could walk in the house and Polar would greet him, with his tail wagging, pressing his wet nose against his hand, looking for a pat on the head. But if he, say, forgot something in the car, and left for a minute to get what he had forgotten and came back, Polar might start barking, like he does when a stranger comes to the door, seemingly forgetting that his nose was pressed in the same person’s hand only moments before.
Tay took to saying Bye Polar everytime he left the house only it wasn’t “good bye, polar, catch ya later”, it was “Bi-Polar”, as in you’re a crazy dog with two seperate personalities and I never know which one I’ll get when I return.
He said it affectionately, and over the years, even I found myself calling out Bi-Polar, when I left the house and he would wag his tail and look at me with his mismatched eyes, the one brown and one blue.
We got Polar after our first dog, Geisha, died and of course I thought that Polar could never replace Geisha, the collie with the delicate name that I loved so much. But I think we appreciate pets, dogs especially, differently as we grow older – the love that I had for our first dog was nothing compared to the love that I developed for what I initially considered to be the replacement dog. And at first, I didn’t respond to Polar’s frenetic energy that was such an extreme to Geisha’s gentle ways, nor did I realize that this was to be expected of a dog that was old and tired, compared to a puppy that was young and eager. I got used to Polar’s mad energy, his endless excitement, the circles he would run when he was happy when we came home.
None of us that lived in the house could ever deny Polar anything, and we broke all the rules when it came to training pets. We fed him from the breakfast table, scraps of toast that he would go crazy for, fed him from the dinner table, scraps of anything, really, which he eagerly consumed. We stumbled on his love for ice cubes accidentally, when someone dropped an ice cube on the kitchen floor and he dove for it, and all anyone could hear was the satisified crunch of him chewing the ice. We let him in the living room, and into our bedrooms, and couldn’t really bare to see him outside by himself and sometimes, when we felt he deserved an extra treat, we’d pat the sofa cushion next to us and then, when one of our parents would find matted white fur all over the cushions we’d be bewildered. “He must of climbed up on his own when he was home alone,” was the theory, even though a lot of the times, he would be hanging out in the basement when we were all out.
My father tried his best to train our frenzied little dog, and would order him out of the living room when he tried to follow us kids in there, and my father would discourage us from feeding him at the table. He was trying to set an example to the rest of us, and while we never really listened, Polar did to a certain extent – running from the living room when he heard my father’s footsteps coming up the basement stairs and throwing himself on the kitchen floor, sprawling out like he’d been there all day. Polar knew when to break the rules and how not to get caught, and sometimes, perhaps when my father thought we weren’t looking, he’d break the rules for Polar, patting the floor next to his recliner so that the two of them could watch television together. Or tossing the dog bits of food from his dinner plate because he got a kick out of seeing Polar jump in the air to catch whatever morsel was headed his way.
My father couldn’t resist him either.
During the time that I lived in Halifax and Tay lived in Denver, we did most of our communicating online, both of us logging on at an agreed time every night. We’d spend hours typing back and forth to each other and Polar took to keeping me company into the early hours of the morning. What I remember distinctly about that time was the nights that I would sit and stare at the computer screen and miss Tay desperately. We lived apart, in different countries for about fourteen months, and at twenty years old, fourteen months seemed like forever. I’d never really understand sadness or longing really until that point and it was quite possibly the first of the adult emotions that I would feel. While it might have been unfamiliar to me, it was recognizable to Polar and he would always, without fail, get up from where he was sleeping next to my desk and would nudge his nose against my leg and onto my lap and he would stare up at me, again with the brown and the blue eyes, and I would stroke his fur and sometimes I would cry and lean over and hug our dog and Polar, Polar never minded when his fur became damp from my tears.
I moved away from home at the end of those fourteen months, followed Tay to Vancouver and from there to Toronto and didn’t get home to visit nearly as much as I would have liked. But when I did travel home, about once a year, sometimes twice, Polar always seemed to recognize me and would always wag that tail of his when I walked through the door. He would run circles and when I would leave again, I’d chirp Bi-Polar, and know that he’d be there, waiting, the next time I came home.
When I visited last year, in late October, Polar still remembered me but he didn’t run circles the way he used too, nor did his tag wag quite as fast. He’d get up to greet me, but it was a struggle for him and I swallowed hard when one of my siblings had to show me how Polar sometimes needed help getting to his feet. They’d let him out the back door to go for a pee and after he was done, he stand at the bottom of the porch stairs, waiting for one of us to come help him up and I would watch my brother go to him and gently lift him into his arms and carry him back indoors. He had gotten old, when I was busy living life on the other side of the country and everything about him seemed tired, even his teeth which could no longer crunch ice cubes the way they used to. Before I left, my father cautioned me that this visit might be the last visit that I would have with Polar and that I should be sure to say goodbye before I left. I sat with Polar one evening, and thought about those nights when I needed him and he was there, his head in my lap and the comfort that he gave me. On that night, he sat with his head on my lap, and I stroked his fur and murmurred soothing, comforting words to the dog I loved. I don’t know who was comforting who.
I’d like to think that I comforted him, a little bit, the way he comforted me all those times.
When I left at the end of that trip, I put a smile on my face and called out “Bi-Polar!” as I left for the airport and refused to accept that it would probably be the last time that I would say those words.
Except that it was.
Stacy told me earlier today that they would be taking Polar to the vet tomorrow, when both my parents are back and can be there to say goodbye. When I got her text message today, I sat in my office and bit back tears, and reread the text messages we had sent back and forth throughout the week as we talked about our puppy with the mismatched eyes.
My brave baby sister told me about taking care of him while my parents have been away, how hard it’s been to see him suffer. I don’t know how she’s managing, how she’s going to manage tomorrow. I remember getting Polar when I was probably in my teens, I imagine my sister doesn’t ever remember him not being a part of her lives. I know that I could have done what she’s done all week, but I don’t know that I could do what she’s going to do tomorrow.
I don’t know that I could say Bye Polar, the proper way, and this time for good. This, right here, is the only way that I know how, and even this doesn’t feel like enough.