Write about a time something bad happened, but you felt happy despite it.
Connor Macgregor

What I think about when I think about Skye

“Write about a time something bad happened, but you felt happy despite it.” — request submitted by Connor Macgregor.

I’m not sure if this request is asking for a story of schadenfreude or of resilience. The word ‘despite’ makes me think resilience. But I’m afraid I’ve far too little of that … or too much. I’m not sure which. Either way, I’ve a complete inability to reconcile the two adjectives — ‘bad’ and ‘happy’ — in a way that allows them to coexist.

‘Bad’ implies sadness, but also regret, chagrin, anger. Happiness in such circumstances appears oxymoronic. The mere existence of happiness overruns regret and anger, so that we smile and forget, or so it is with me. If we thought things were bad, the upturned creases at the corners of our mouths make liars of us.

Still, I will do my best to fulfil my end of the bargain and respond to Connor’s request.

Once, when I was still just a girl, I brought home a beautiful puppy, his fearful, quivering body nestled snuggly against my chest. We named him Skye, after the island. I imagined the loving home I would give him, and, in my mind our happiness grew and grew as I pictured us walking and playing together in the bottom of the garden.

That night, separated for the first time from his mother, brother and sisters, Skye cried his blameless little heart out. Try as we might, we couldn’t settle the poor poppet and so I went to sleep with the gentle, plaintive yelping of a lost child in my ears. Even so, I was happy I had found a new friend. I knew he would grow into a loyal playmate and the joy of anticipation lulled me to sleep despite his suffering.

As he grew older, he did indeed prove to be a loyal and loving friend, greeting us each day with a spring in his step and a tug at our shoelaces. He loved to gnaw at our smelly shoes and socks, shaking them between his teeth and and carrying them proudly round the house.

Then, one day, inexplicably, our boisterous boy barely had the energy to meet us at the door—where once he would have bounded and stretched his paws to touch our thighs, he now stepped gingerly. Still, through the pain, he tried.

He shivered with a fever, yet summoned his strength to gently lick our concerned hands. He was young — barely grown. We had hope. The vets had hope. But his sweet habit of chewing things would be what killed him. He had ingested a sharp coir fibre buried in the garden. It cut him open from the inside. It punctured his vital organs.

He didn’t stand a chance.

He died.

I was at school.

I wasn’t there.

He spent his last conscious hours drugged in a cage with only the vet nurse to comfort him.

That day, I learned that sometimes sadness comes like an irresistible force. It sticks in your heart, brings a lump to your throat, which you know will rise to your eyes. I did not feel happy despite my sadness. I felt happy that I was sad, because it was right to be sad just then. And I wished that, all those months ago, I had felt the sadness of that little puppy when he first came to be with us. I would have given anything to wind back time and comfort him through that first night and every night.

If I’d known his cheeky, adorable habit of chewing anything and everything would kill him so brutally, maybe I could have taught him to stop. Maybe I could have prevented this. Maybe I could have skipped school and held him.

It took me some time to see my little dog’s death for what it was was: a horrible death, but a valiant one. I refused to see Skye’s death as bad: I refused to be angry. And so I was sad instead. And the depth of my sadness showed me how much I loved that little dog.

Until, eventually, from the core of sadness grew a new, gentler happiness — not despite the sadness, but because of it.
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