... I had assumed that my next visit here would be a happy one. I have been lurking since I've been in East Africa, but (shockingly) the internet leaves something to be desired. I have noticed that some of the babies are getting big (Koolies and Kelpie!) and I can't wait to be back more regularly. Anyway, I'm actually here for a selfish reason/shameless venting. I don't really have close friends here, and I need to write this somewhere.... The day before I left for Kenya three months ago, I put my beloved Mammoth to sleep. We waited in the office for hours before they would see him: my big, beautiful dog strapped to a metal cart. He screamed when I left to fill out paperwork and I didn't stop crying until I ran out of air. My best friend in the whole world was dead and it was all my fault. They asked me if I wanted to euthanize and I told them yes and they killed him. I let him die and then I left him there when all he had ever done was love me with all of his heart. On Thanksgiving, my dad casually mentioned to me that my grandfather had been hospitalized. There was no warning--my grandfather has always been comically sturdy, but miles and miles away I curled up and cried. He was going to die without anyone to bring him the orange sherbert that he routinely demanded...no one to remind him that he wasn't allowed to die because he was a stubborn old ******* who was supposed to live forever. Last month was the four-year anniversary of my best friend's death. I realized then that I had forgotten his laugh. That I had lost the weathervane he had welded me. That I never gave him his dance and hardly remembered the shine of his root-beer colored eyes. This morning I received word that my other animals, Capo and Dillinger, had died at home. I packed them up before I left: printed an exhaustive care booklet detailing every possible scenario from fin rot to impaction to bloat to popeye. I left vet numbers, I cleaned their tanks and I left them alone with my parents. And they died, because I didn't think to leave them somewhere safe, where they wouldn't be subjected to absentmindedness and callousness. Someone else's voice rings in my ears. Lazy. Stupid. Bitch. A monkey could do that. Dumbass. Get. OUT. In two weeks I will go home to an empty house. My dog's bed will be in the corner, his collar looped around the door handle that leads to my room--filled with things I don't want or need. No one will rest his heavy head on my lap while I eat, waiting for me to finish so I can devote my whole soul to his. My dad will be halfway gone, his mind desperately trying to drag the rest of him away to my grandfather's side. Every motorcycle that rounds the corner will be Jake's, and the truck will smell like the gasoline he slipped on--tumbling end-over-end into the woods. I will be home again, where I'm always on my toes. Where I hoard food and sleep under the bed. Where I'm never competent or safe. Where the nightmares hunt me down and the only thing that kept me alive was Mammoth's smile--the short little tail wag that belonged only to me. The tilted ears and the low, soft whine. I can handle it because I have to. The obligation to live is enough, but it doesn't ward off the broken heart that keeps jumping into my throat. I just want my best friend back. I need my buddy.