Madam Curie was a dog. Not the chemist, the dog. My dog. She was a shaggy black mutt with the intelligence of a dolphin. If I had asked her to kick a football, I think she could have. This was her talent.
I don’t remember what age I started begging for a dog. My mom would probably state it was out of the womb, but that would be silly. We had a dog then, undeniably mom’s. A giant Irish Setter named Shaun. If I think hard I can remember him and how I would try to ride him. I was not very old when he died. The unfortunate result of a car.
After this, we had a dog named Bear. I don’t remember when we got him or when he left, because he was insane. At the time I claimed he was always nice to me. That is, he didn’t bark at me as much as the rest of the family. My belief in this was firm. Bear was taken to the animal shelter because he bit a neighbor girl. That’s what mom told me, and I have no wish to disbelieve her.
It was several years later when I finally convince mom to let us get a puppy. My sister had a friend whose dog had some mutts for free and mom took us over. I have no idea if I had been demonstrating responsibility or she just wanted to shut me up. It was a normal house just a few streets away. The puppies were enclosed in one of those fences people by for the inside of the home.
The choices were down to a girl and a boy. I chose the girl. Very much into science at the time I named her “Curie,” which just about everyone heard as “Carrie.”
“No,” I would reply. “Cure-ee. Like Madam Curie.” They would look at me like I was crazy.
Curie was crated. My mom insisted this was the way to go and I have never seen a disadvantage. I insisted the crate be kept in my bedroom which did have disadvantages. Curie was a puppy and did not like being kept in a kennel at night. Her first night brought mom to my room, both of us awake. Mom was her typical motherly self, wondering what was wrong with Curie.
“Oh, you want to play” Mom said. Curie nibbled at her hands.
Looking back, there were many things I would do differently now. A hot water bottle would have helped a lot. The crate would have been in the basement right away – its eventual home. I would have played with her much more right away.
We played a lot. Her favorite game was “run away from Matthew when he needs to catch the bus.” I usually won that one, never missing the bus playing it. It typically ended with a flying tackle. She did run into my leg once, which caused much whimpering on her part. During the course of her life I taught her tricks. She could sit, rollover, lay down, jump in the air, and speak. The latter was asked as “say please.” Curie often asked for food politely at the table.
It was one morning while playing the game that she had her first seizure. My sister, Sarah, and I had never seen something like that. Curie’s generally bright eyes glazed over and she fell to the floor. I ran to call Mom, incoherent at what was going on. All Mom remembers us saying was that Curie was dying. The seizure ended and as she came out of her stupor, she seemed distant. It took a few minutes for her to be “Curie” again.
I was late to school that day.
It turned out Curie had epilepsy. It wasn’t very bad at first. Every so often she would fall over and seize. We never knew when it would happen. For a young boy, dogs can be the closest family member, so it was very harrowing for me. I did what may have been typical – I withdrew. I wasn’t capable of dealing with the situation at the time and played with her less. She got worse – something was wrong with her liver.
I was at summer camp. The meal was lunch or dinner, I don’t remember which, but I looked up and saw my parents. They did not look happy. I knew what was going on.
“Curie’s dead, isn’t she?”
Mom and Dad had driven two hours to give me the chance to come home and say goodbye. The next day was the day Curie would be put to sleep. I thought on it not very long and decided to stay at camp. They seemed happy enough with my decision – I didn’t want to have to see my once brilliant dog reduced to skin and bones, barely able to lift her head.
Part of me will always regret not going home to say goodbye.