I took off my shoes yesterday and set them next to my desk with my socks lying on top. They’ve been sitting there since then.

Seeing them in the periphery of my vision, I’ve managed to convince myself that they are various other things, since I don’t really expect anything to be at that spot on the floor. At once point I thought there was a huge dead mouse lying right next to my feet. But of late, every time I notice my shoes out of the corner of my eye, my brain gives me an image of my dog, Gaila, lying asleep next to my desk. It’s a comforting, normal-seeming image, and the first few times I saw it I looked down as if preparing to reach down and pet her. Of course, she’s not there. Now that that image has occurred to me, it’s all I see.

It’s odd, because I don’t know that I miss Gaila. I think I miss the idea of Gaila.

A few days ago the guys in the chatroom were talking about their dogs. Sam has apparently had a dog like Misho–intelligent to the point of being a member of the family. Carver had a similar experience with his dog, who unfortunately had to be put to sleep recently. As everyone spoke about their dogs, I realized that I had never made that connection with mine.

I remember the day I picked her out. She was so tiny. I was wearing a tank top with a flannel shirt over it, so I buttoned the shirt and put her inside, carrying her around in the makeshift pouch. The name ‘Gaila’ came to me out of the blue; to this day I don’t know why I called her that. I had been considering ‘Leia’, but I thought the boys would make fun of me…plus I wasn’t sure I wanted to attach a Star Wars reference to my dog. I wanted her to have her own reference.

When we were finally able to take our dogs home, they lived in the basement for a long time, locked up in cages my dad built. Once they were potty-trained, they stayed in our rooms with us. We were trying to train them to walk with a leash, but we didn’t work with them much, and ultimately they never learned. I think AJ got Hairy to be a pretty obedient, intelligent dog, but I never felt that Gaila was anything out of the ordinary.

She was a fast dog. She loved to run and catch the ball, and 99% of the time she would beat her brothers to it. I once threw the ball for her so much that she almost passed out from heat and exhaustion. I was horrified that she had continued running despite her tiredness, that I had nearly run my dog to death. My parents said that Misho had been like that, too; he’d run until he couldn’t run anymore if you told him to.

I still wonder to this day whether or not I gave my dog brain damage, destroyed her chances of being that intelligent dog I wanted so much.

I made other mistakes with Gaila. One time, giving her a bath, I wrung out her ears to dry them. Why I thought this was a good idea, I don’t know. I think I busted up the cartilage, because her ears aren’t flat anymore. They look wrinkled.

The biggest regretful memory I have with Gaila is what happened when she lost her leg. Dan Yoder had been the one to let them outside that night. It was pitch black out and impossible to see. Due to some construction my parents were having done (I believe it was the retaining wall for leveling the yard), there was a pile of rebar lying in the backyard. Gaila ran right into a piece of rebar and shattered her right shoulder.

When she screamed that night, I should have gone to her. I didn’t. AJ went and got her and someone else ended up carrying her to the car to take her to the vet. The next day, when it was determined that her shoulder couldn’t be repaired, AJ and Mom were the ones who made the decision to remove her leg, as it would only be dangling there in the way. They took her in for the operation; I arrived with the family to get her when it was over.

She came walking out with a huge line of stitches on her shoulder, stumbling towards me. She seemed perplexed by the fact that nothing was holding her up on that side, and she looked like she was on the verge of falling with every step. At that moment I hated everything, but I especially hated myself…for not loving her more.

I think part of the reason I am not attached to Gaila as much as I try to convince myself I want to be is because I don’t want to be responsible. Because I know I am responsible for bad things that have happened to her already. I want her to be safe and well taken care of, and she is those things at home, with Mom. She is Mom’s dog now, and Mom watches over her better than I ever did. Mom knows Gaila’s eccentricities, like how she can’t have dog chews because she’ll swallow them whole and choke and vomit all over. Mom has been the one to love Gaila. I was never there for her, even when she slept in my room.

And so really it’s not that Gaila wasn’t good enough for me, as I used to think. It’s that I’m not good enough for her.