I couldn’t kill Zoyla, even if it was Dad’s dying wish.
Zoyla was perfect when I adopted her six years earlier. She was a black dog with a foreign-sounding name and goofy pointy ears. Nobody knew what breed she was. It didn’t matter. I loved my miscellaneous mutt.
Zoyla’s previous owners abandoned her on the expressway. She was found huddled against the median as traffic sped by. She’d been abused. If I raised my arm, she’d cower. These would be good excuses for bad behavior, but she was ladylike from the start. She was housebroken, never barked and didn’t beg for food.
Zoyla was my sidekick. We went everywhere together.
A few months after I adopted her, I came down with a viral infection. It was the most sick I’ve ever been. I couldn’t eat. I could barely smoke cigarettes. It was terrifying. After staying home for a month, I lost my job.
Unemployment checks wouldn’t cover rent. I moved in with Dad, who had just bought a house out in the country.
Zoyla loved it out there. She became Dad’s sidekick. He’d take her on long hikes in the state park. He had a big back yard that was a major improvement over the alley behind my apartment. And the nearby farms were a feast for her doggie senses.
I tried to make a life for myself out there. But since I wasn’t a farmhand or a mechanic, my career prospects in rural America sucked. Once my unemployment benefits ran out, it was time to move back to Chicago.
I left Zoyla with Dad. It was a hard decision, but the right one. They bonded, and she loved life as a country dog. And he needed her. He was divorced and retired, hours away from friends and family. Zoyla would be a source of positivity as he coped with his health.
Zoyla never forgot me. Months would pass between my visits, but she was always thrilled to see me. I wondered if she was thanking me for freeing her from the shelter, and then freeing her from city life.
Dad’s liver was failing. The liver filters toxins out of the blood. When those toxins would hit my dad’s brain, they’d make him crazy.
The moments of madness were becoming more frequent. He got pulled over one night for driving on the wrong side of the highway. Zoyla was in the back seat. He had no idea where he was going.
The cop took Dad to the hospital and Zoyla to the kennel.
Dad couldn’t take care of himself. He was going to spend the rest of his life in the hospital.
Zoyla needed a home. I couldn’t take her in, and neither could my sister. None of our friends wanted her.
We talked about taking her to a shelter, but neither of us could live with the possibility that she’d end up in another abusive home.
He begged me to put her to sleep. It was cruel and irrational, but he just wanted a resolution.
I argued. I wouldn’t kill a healthy member of the family. We had no idea how long a dog like her could live.
He persisted. I lied and said I’d do it.
I caught a break. My girlfriend Liz was a veterinarian. She had been contacting her friends and clients to find a home for Zoyla. A woman named Nicole agreed to take her in.
I picked up Zoyla from the kennel. She was thrilled to be free, and thrilled to see me. I drove her to Liz’s office, where Nicole would pick her up. I said goodbye to Zoyla forever, and then I broke down.
The next day, I admitted to Dad that I had lied. I told him that Liz found a good home for Zoyla.
We were relieved.
Nine months after Dad died, I was walking in Wrigleyville with a group of friends when I spotted her. I stopped.
“That’s fucking Zoyla,” I said. I pointed across the street to a dog playing with her owner in front of a house. My body shook with anxiety. I took a moment to catch my breath, then kept walking.
I sent Liz a text. We hadn’t talked in months.
“Yo, does Nicole live on Addison, just west of Wrigley?”
She responded. “Yes. Why?”
I told her I thought I saw Zoyla. A few minutes later, Liz confirmed. I had seen Zoyla and Nicole, and I was welcome to stop by to say hello.
Fuck that. Saying hello meant saying another tearful goodbye.
I was uneasy for the rest of the night. I wasn’t prepared to see her.
But it was a relief to see that Zoyla was happy with her new life.
And that’s all I’ll ever know. I’ll never know when she gets sick. I’ll never know when she dies. I enjoy the luxury of my ignorance. And to preserve my beautiful ignorance, I avoid the 1300 block of Addison.