My Golden Sister
Expressive 2010 2nd Place
Professor: James Aton
I was born into a home where there was little structure and much neglect. Often times, as a little girl I felt alone, ignored, and like a fly on the wall to my family members—a pesky bystander that wouldn’t be missed. As youngest of seven, I was occasionally reminded that I wasn’t as highly regarded as the older, more experienced siblings. My parents were divorced when I was five. Following that, smarmy men were in and out of the house. My siblings were consumed in alcohol and other drug abuse. The sister I felt closest to went to prison, and I was virtually alone. I missed considerable amounts of schooling during elementary and middle school, and because my family didn’t fit the “norm,” acquaintances weren’t allowed over. I was practically friendless.
Did these unfavorable circumstances doom me to a life of failure, sadness, and loneliness? Thanks to Tessa, golden retriever extraordinaire, I survived. Not only survived, but came off conqueror of a battle that most infants, children, and young adults won’t have to face. My triumph over challenges was due to the relationship I built with Tessa, my loyal dog, whose patience and love taught me more lessons than anyone else in my young life. Though many would not esteem her as more than an animal, I am forever indebted to the great female hero she was.
She had been around the house for years before I entered the scene. From drippy muzzle to shaggy tail, her four foot body was always on the go. She had a long snout with a wet nose. Her coffee eyes were sincere. Her tongue hung from her mouth like a sponge slinky that dripped happy spit droplets that added to her endearing licks. Though she sported a beautiful golden coat, the belly I always scratched was a grubby white.
There were an odd number of children and each sibling had their “partner.” I was constantly the third wheel in family activities—unless, of course, Tessa came along. She was my partner, my constant companion. She was my advocate when I was neglected. She was a friend to the friendless. From as early as I can remember, she was the one who I would run around the house with, whose shoulder I would weep on, whose ears I would vent in, whose arms I would sleep between, and even who I would share meals with.
It all started at age one, when I began my quest to walk. Naturally, after pulling myself up with the help of the skinny banister of the stairs, I would attempt a step and then fall, plummeting to the retro, long- haired brown carpet. In order to master my first step, I needed something my height to hold onto until I could get my balance—the banister was too tall. This is when Tessa first stepped into my life. She guided my very first footstep. Wobbling around, I finally reached out to the big dog trotting past and grabbed a handful of her long golden fur. She patiently waited for me to regain my balance and then cautiously progressed so I wouldn’t fall. Time and time again this would happen, until finally I had mastered the art of a stride.
This was the basis on which my relationship with Tessa was built. I never bore any burden alone; I never encountered a trial that was too hard to face, because I knew that Tessa would support me through it. With her around, I could lead any expedition and surmount any obstacle; I became who I am due to her influence, more than anyone else’s. She helped me triumph over tribulation and overcome my various real-life and child-like fears.
Generally, the living room was dark at night. I normally could not sleep out there without getting scared. There was an ebony grand piano in the living room that Tessa would slumber under. I was five years old, and it was Christmas time. My mom left the Christmas tree lights on all night. The yellow glowed so brightly and sparkled magically, so that “Santa” could see his way around. Unimpressed by the stockings and ornaments, all Christmas season I would take advantage of the glow from the tree and sneak out of my room to go sleep under the piano with Tessa. She always looked so peaceful and satiated, and her coat glistened in the light. I would snuggle into her warm, long hair, and place her foreleg over my body. Though my mom kept the house at 65 degrees in the winter, I was never chilled. During the wintry months of the year, when most kids are cuddled up with their parents and siblings, I snuggled up with my dog. She kept me warm and never protested to my slumbering by her side. As I look back on it now, I suppose that I was too busy enjoying her company to realize that I was missing out on the love of family members at the time of year when most families celebrate being together. Tessa acted as my savior, and during each Christmas, when we celebrate the Savior of the world, I celebrate her too.
If Tessa and I weren’t exploring, watching a movie together, or sleeping, we would generally hang out in the front yard. I loved to pick out globs of filthy smoky-white hair and throw them into the wind. One such day when I was eight years old, we were laying down on the overgrown grass. Tessa lifted her paw to nudge me, obviously trying to get my attention. I put my face level with hers, and she brought up her paw again. Accidentally, she smacked me in my right eye. I broke into tears and felt betrayed. I was confused and didn’t understand how Tessa could hurt me so badly. Who was I to run to now? How could she do this? As my little heart grew angry, I took her ear and bit it as hard as I could. Tessa howled loudly and then quietly whimpered. Expecting to feel gratified, having taught her a lesson, I was surprised at the great guilt and sadness that overwhelmed me.
After this experience, I learned that often times striking back causes more pain than the initial blow. In my adult relationships, people who love me still unintentionally hurt me. I can see past the early feelings of pain and don’t retaliate. Tessa also taught me about loyalty and commitment. After our conflict, Tessa didn’t run away or strike back. Rather, she sat patiently by me and forgave me instantly for the wrong I had done to her.
At eleven years old, I started taking frequent trips to what most called the infamous “dead woods,” a square mile of lifeless trees and bushes that sat in the middle of a suburb of Saint George. Weekly, I walked the half mile between my house and the woods with my steady companion Tessa. Before adventuring into the woods, Tessa would dart off and splash into a huge pond of filthy water. Happy as could be, she would swim around, occasionally looking at me, trying to persuade me to jump in with her. I never did, but it was always a lot of fun to watch her enjoy herself. When she was through with her pursuit, we would journey into the woods and crawl through the tentacles of black tree branches. We would cross a raging river of deadly insects and slippery rock enemies. Avoiding the quicksand pits of despair and poisonous “weed pokies,” Tessa and I would travel for hours on end. Oftentimes we would hear voices or animals near us. Tessa’s ferocious bark scared away most of our predators, and both of us would run for our lives if the sound seemed to get closer.
Regardless of imagined threats in the woods or real threats in the home, Tessa offered protection—whatever demon existed, I had a consistent strength. Conquering the wild beasts of nature or the monstrous circumstances of my abode, I could always triumph and move on when my accomplice Tessa was there. She taught me what it means to be a faithful companion; she showed me that it was okay to run away for a little bit, as long as we came back to face problems later, displaying confidence that everything would turn out all right.
My first experience with the death of a loved one came from Tessa. She experienced a common disease for golden retrievers: hip dysplasia. I mourned over the loss of my pal, although it prepared me for future losses and moved me to a greater understanding of life and death. I hope to leave this world as Tessa did: making life a little easier, a little happier for the people whose lives I enter into. The philosopher William James said, “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” Tessa’s influence will surpass her life, and I hope my influence will outlast my life.
Children need to know that at least one person will love them regardless of their actions, their faults or appearance; a child needs to feel fully and completely accepted by at least one individual during their young life for proper development. I feel I fulfilled this stage solely due to my relationship with Tessa, despite the things that I had to face at home. Tessa provided me with a sense of security and peace; she taught me that, sometimes, being silent is more considerate than speaking—just knowing that somebody was there to listen to my problems helped me many times. The warmth and love she brought to my life helped me to stay grounded during my childhood. She taught me lessons about the importance of fun, forgiveness, loyalty, and most importantly, unconditional love. She is a great example to me of what a big sister, caregiver, advocate, and best friend really is. Even though she died, my memories of her still live on. I can still see her beneath the piano, splashing into the pond, waiting to walk with me through the woods.