Diamonds Are Forever
Diamond – Photo courtesy of Tom Mailey
"Get the ball, Diamond!”Just a whisper of those four words would perk up our Lab’s ears like they were attached to invisible wires. Her dark eyes, set so perfectly inside her square white face, would lock on the tennis ball in my hand and grow wide…attentive…expectant. If she were lying down, she’d sit up. If she were sitting, she’d stand. Her mouth would pull back in one of those goofy grins enjoyed only by happy dogs and mad men. Sometimes I would tease her, cocking my arm as if to throw but then holding it there. And she would wait, eyes still locked on the ball, an eager but limited patience rippling through her body. If I held the pose a moment too long, she’d glance from the ball to me and let out a couple short, pointed barks that were basically dog for, “Throw it, you moron!” And then I would chuck the ball and she would be off like a bullet, racing across the grass of a park, the sand of a beach, or the asphalt of our street. She’d trot it faithfully back and plop it at my feet—where it oozed with an ever-increasing slobber (that I never did quite enjoy)—and she’d wait, still wearing that same drunk smile and panting like a joyful steam engine, until I picked up the slimy sphere and we’d do it all over again, for what seemed like hours, then months, then years.
When she grew too old for that, we’d take walks at the creek behind our house where she could get her sniff on. Sometimes I’d still bring a ball and, if she seemed particularly spry that day, I’d surprise her with a “get the ball” and roll it out a few yards in front of us. It was like watching a senior league softball player trying to hoof it down to first, but she’d still go after it, her eyes still full of cheerful eagerness, her mouth carved into another big smile. And if I teased her by holding the ball too long, she’d still bark and call me a moron.
We had to put Diamond down in March. Thirteen years she was with us. She used to sleep upstairs in our room and if either Vickie or I got up at night to use the bathroom, Diamond would wake and walk us there—the entire five feet—just to, you know, make sure we made it OK. When she got too old to climb the stairs, she slept at the bottom, and every morning when I came down, she’d rouse herself from her bed and sit up, just in case I needed her for anything.
She wasn’t perfect. If she were left alone for too long she became so anxious that she would utterly annihilate curtain sets, blinds, and the screen door of a friend who was watching her. She was an incorrigible beggar, although that, I acknowledge, was much more our fault than hers. She shed hair like New Year’s Eve confetti. And, most disturbingly, she had an uncanny knack for taking huge dumps at the most inopportune times—usually on a sidewalk, with people around, and on days I forgot to bring a bag.
But damn, she was smart. Intuitive. Quiet. Gentle. Beautiful, too: With an arctic-white coat and coffee-colored eyes, she looked like a fur seal pup. It was really kind of ridiculous.
Nothing prepares a pet owner for that moment when you have to decide what’s best for your animal. It sucks, flat out. And there in the vet’s office on that crummy day, all I could do was scratch her ears like she loved, and as she faded away, I leaned down and whispered, over and over, the only words I could think: “Get the ball, Diamond. Go get the ball.”