Dear Elmo,

These are the things I would have said to you, if I’d been there (I’m so sorry I wasn’t there).

Remember the first time I saw you, when you were so tiny and sleepy, while my brother Michael was picking out his puppy, the rambunctious black and brown one, and you were the smallest, with ears a little darker than the rest of you, and you picked me. You fell asleep on my lap and my heart broke because you couldn’t be mine.

I guess it was luck or fate or something better when dad went to pick up Michael’s puppy later, and your brother peed on his shoe, so he took you instead. And do you remember Aunt Gail’s, the birthday party, when Dad took you out of his car and put you down and there was a circle of cousins screaming and cooing and I was hiding by the tree across the yard because I didn’t want to see the puppy that wasn’t mine? You ran from them and broke away and ran to me just like you knew I was there and recognized me and chose me too, again. You were always mine, no matter what the gift tag said.

We brought you home and put you down in the yard and it was so big, and you just ran and ran, your curly tail straight behind you from the wind, your ears back, and Michael chased you around and around and you were so happy to be home.

I remember that first Halloween, you were so tiny and wouldn’t stay out of my candy bag and I spent hours teaching you to lick the lollipops, not to chew, so we could share (eew).

I taught you to sit and to lie down and to dance and to shake paws with bits of turkey that Christmas.

I remember in the winter, during a Chinook, I needed to go to school for play practice, and I left you out in the yard. Somehow you managed to leap the fence and you followed me there… It wasn’t the only time, either. Some days, after lunch, you’d just appear on the playground, searching for me on the ramps and bridges we’d play on after school.

You couldn’t stand it when I wasn’t home, and I missed you like crazy too. The summer I went away for two weeks, I remember missing you so much it hurt. You missed me too, and wouldn’t eat or drink until Mom sat with you and fed you by hand and promised I’d be home again. When you and Mom and Dad finally drove to Aunt Elaine’s to get me, I couldn’t wait. I started walking, filled with nervous energy, walking in the pouring, pouring rain. Mom was so mad. Bears, you know.

But you knew I was close, Dad said you were going crazy in the back seat, vibrating and crying and so excited, and when you finally got to me, I climbed into the car and you pinned me there and kissed me over and over again while I clung and giggled and cried. You were always good at pinning me and kissing me until I stopped crying and started to laugh.

And then you weren’t allowed inside the house, so I stayed outside with you, in the car out of the rain, for hours. They tied you to a tree by the doghouse, but you were scared of doghouses. I was inside the people house and you chewed right through the leash that tied you and broke free and came looking for me, bursting into the house, all wet and covered with mud.

Then we went camping before we went home again, and you came along. You were such a good boy. We’d let you off your leash and, as long as you didn’t get distracted and wander off, you’d be right there, until Dad and I sneaked off to go canoeing. We were out there, paddling, talking, when I glanced over, and there you were, pacing the beach, because you’d followed my trail to the water and couldn’t understand where I’d gone from there.

Dad let you come in the canoe and you panicked, rocking it so badly until I calmed you down, but you never really liked it.

When junior high got tough and I got stupid, I’d cry on you and hold onto you and you were pretty patient with me, and sad when I was sad.

I never felt that lonely when you were there waiting whenever I came home from school crying.

And when we moved again, to Edmonton, where things got worse than they’d ever been, you were always there to walk with me or play soccer with me in the backyard, or hide out in my room and cry. Whenever I’d get so mad or scared that I’d do something stupid, you’d be there when the panic cleared, confused and quiet, and patient when I’d curl up and cry with you.

We moved again, which was normal. I never really thought about how you came into my life right when I was realizing that it wasn’t normal, that most families didn’t move every two years, that the boys in junior high that I thought I was in love with and the friends too would forget me by the end of the summer, though I wouldn’t forget them for years. I guess that’s when I started counting what I could count on rather than missing what I couldn’t have, and I knew I could always count on you.

Halifax, we went to Point Pleasant Park with Mom and her dog Rowdy (your sister/best friend) and we walked through the forest and I don’t think you’ve ever had so much fun. You ran up to every dog we passed, greeting them with a friendly tail wag (except for the Doberman, who was twice as tall as you were, who looked at you skeptically until you gave up on that and fled).

I remember that day on the Halifax pier, how silly you looked, half covered in mud and so scruffy, prancing happily with me (who was just as disheveled and scruffy) alongside my best friend and her perfectly groomed purebred. How we giggled while she and the other purebreds discussed groomers and breeders, like it was a secret, like we were a secret, with our muddied bloodlines and fragmented heritage. In Point Pleasant Park, a photographer stopped us both to tell us she’d never seen a dog like you, and to take your picture. People tell me they’ve never known anyone like me, either, so maybe that’s why I was always yours and you were always mine.

I had to say goodbye in Halifax, and it broke me in half. I couldn’t keep you, with school and work, so I sent you with Mom and Dad and they promised to take care of you, but god, I missed you. I’d be so lonely sometimes, curled up with a pillow with my eyes closed, pretending it was your breathing and your heartbeat I could feel under my hand and my cheek, but it wasn’t. I got some cats (“replacement dogs”, I called them). They weren’t you, but I loved them. Can you—if Eliot is where you are now, can you tell him how I looked for him? Tell him about the posters, and how much I wanted him to come home, and how he was my baby.

You were waiting when I panicked—I knew you would be—and came home again, hiding in Mom and Dad’s house and trying to figure out what to do next. Remember when Aiden was born and you were so terrified and nervous, and didn’t understand, and didn’t think we understood, because sometimes the baby would cry or fuss and we wouldn’t be there fast enough, so you’d come to find us. You’d pace worriedly when I held him, like you thought I’d drop him. When Aiden got big enough to grab your fur, you’d just wait it out with a patient sigh, and when he learned to walk and frequently walked on your feet or your tail, you’d just get up and move, or look at him and wait for him to find his balance. When ‘Momo’ was one of his first words, when he and I would sit with you while I taught him to be gentle when he played with you, you’d relax more and more until the day when you finally kissed his cheek. You even learned to sleep through it when he ran his toy cars over and over your sides and your back, instead of shuffling nervously away, and you only looked slightly uncomfortable when he’d coo and call you Momo and tackle you in a hug.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, when you were always there for me. I hope you weren’t scared, I hope it didn’t hurt, I hope Dad was good to you, though I know he was. I heard he cried, and he stayed with you the whole time, and I know that if it couldn’t be me, that he’d make sure you weren’t scared. Daddy always takes care of things like that.

I don’t know what Rowdy’s going to do without you, she can barely see or hear anymore, who’s going to help her find her way when it’s time to go outside or time to eat or drink, and who’s she going to curl up with when it’s time to sleep? She’ll never know when it’s time to bark because someone’s at the door.

I don’t know who I’m going to talk to when my stories aren’t going right, or my best friend found a new best friend, or the boy I like asked someone else to the eighth grade dance. Or who’s going to listen when my best friends and I just don’t fit anymore, or when I’ve gotten so angry that I’ve hurt myself and forgotten to eat again. I don’t know how to do this without you.

And I’m so, so sorry that I wasn’t there to hold you when you were scared, after you fell and it hurt and there was no one there to teach you to walk again without it hurting anymore. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there, petting you and telling you not to be scared because you must have been so scared.

I’d have sucked at being a kid and a teenager without you and I don’t know how to be a grown-up without you and I hope you aren’t scared anymore, and you don’t miss me, but I’m going to miss you forever.

Love you, baby.