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A Nomad's Notes: Reflecting on the life of our Little Man, Kawika

The name originated in Hawaii and made it into my life in the form of a bedtime story from my mom’s imagination.

When my sister and I were young enough to sleep in the same room in without it being weird, my mom would ask us what story we wanted to hear before bed. One night, either by our begging or her own idea, she began to tell us the story of a hamster named Kawika (pronounced “Kuh-vee-Kuh,” or “David” in Hawaiian) who would leave his cage and go on adventures in the house. He ran into a snake and a dog and other assorted things in the house before deciding his cage was the safest place for him —“there’s nothing like home.” The lesson of the story didn’t really stick with any of us. I grew up in Kentucky and since then I’ve obviously left, my sister is in California and my mom is in Hawaii, where she’s always wanted to be, if her bedtime story was any indication.

My first pet ever was a salt and pepper miniature schnauzer named Max. My mom spotted him in a mall in Georgia in December 1990, when she was quite pregnant with me and still married to my dad. There are photos of Max sniffing my head when I wasn’t even a month old chilling in my little rocker. Max died Oct. 29, 2000, at the age of 10 after a cancer diagnosis. My late grandma told us he was sleeping on the floor at her house when it happened. She said she got up to leave the room, and he lifted his head to just look at her before laying it back down. When she came back, he had died peacefully.

Of course we were devastated. I still miss him every day, although I admit my memories of him are quite fuzzy. So in June 2001 my mom decided it was time for me and my sister to add another miniature schnauzer to the family, since we felt incomplete without a dog in our lives. We began to scour the newspaper and Internet for nearby miniature schnauzer breeders and found a place about an hour from us. I remember mom calling the lady and she said she had a black boy, a black girl and a salt and pepper boy left. I told my mom, “I don’t want another salt and pepper. We should get the black girl, it’ll be different!”

Well ,when we finally made the trip out to the breeder, the black girl had been purchased, leaving just the black boy and the salt and pepper boy. The owner had already started calling the black boy Will, and me, my mom and sister all exchanged looks like, “Well, that one’s going to stay here.” So we turned our attention to the salt and pepper boy. I remember trying to pet Will and he immediately ran up the steps. But the little salt and pepper boy just sat there calmly and let us pet him, and we knew it was completely OK to have another salt and pepper boy since we’d had such a good track record with the last salt and pepper miniature schnauzer. It was either right there in the breeder’s living room or on the way home, but when mom asked me and my sister what we wanted to name, him we reached a consensus that Kawika was the perfect name.

When I talk about him now, I call him Bubby. I don’t know when I started to call him that, but I definitely got the nickname from my stepsister who called her brother Bubby. I started it, and everyone else in the family adopted it, and it’s seen its variants over the years, from “Bubs” to “Bubsy” to “Bubba.” We even added new nicknames like Little Man. I remember the car ride home when he wouldn’t stop crying and when we got him home we took him out of his kennel and made a type of enclosure with our legs touching to allow him to walk around for a bit.

When we took him to go potty in the backyard, mom couldn’t get over how small he was in comparison with patches of taller grass (now I’m wondering if she’d neglected to mow).

I remember giving him baths and him looking like we might as well have sentenced him to death. I remember him running around afterward like a maniac because he hated water so much. I remember my dad having us hold him still while my dad either hid somewhere in the house or ran across the park, and then when we let him go. Kawika would dash around until he found Dad.

I remember the special bond he had with my momma. When my sister and I both went off to college, it was him and her. I couldn’t think of one without the other. I can still remember his excited whimpers when I was able to come home and visit, and how much I loved to kiss his little tummy and his head, and to give him “tum rubs.” I still baby talk him even though he’s gone.

His health started to decline in 2014, when he was 13. His ears were constantly perked up like he couldn’t hear, and really, he couldn’t — much of his hearing was gone by that point. He also had some form of vertigo, meaning he would walk in circles and sometimes fall down. I remember panicking in late 2014 about the idea of having to put him down. I wanted him to live as naturally a long life as possible. And he did so for about another year until Dec. 8, 2015, when mom said she knew it was time to let him go peacefully at a vet’s office. She told me afterward she’d made the decision once he began to scream in his sleep. She said he did it one night and the sound haunted her.

So that night, when my sister was in college and I was living in Ohio, my mom alone took Kawika to the local vet and had him put to sleep. She said it was almost instantaneous. She sat there and held him and sobbed.

I was at work when mom called to tell me, but really, she didn’t even need to. Just by the sob she let out right after I picked up ,I knew, but I asked, “Did you have to put him down?” I don’t remember her exact words but I remember my reaction.

I’m a very passionate person, but I don’t see myself as dramatic. In this case I just let myself fall to the floor of my office and cry so hard a coworker downstairs came up to check on me.

Mom said she drove Kawika’s body to my grandpa’s house, where Max was buried. Kawika was buried right next to him. Mom cut off some of his fur and put it in three bags: one for me, one for her and one for my sister. I remember hugging the bag to me like it was Kawika, ‘cause in a way, it was.

We had Kawika around the time something awakened in me. I blame my best friend Leah. I used to find things cute but I could remain calm about them. But now whenever I see something or someone I find cute, I squeal. I can’t help it. My voice becomes high-pitched and I want to cuddle the person or animal and not let go. It’s like I’ve got so much passion and love inside me that it pushes itself outward, and I can’t contain it. It’s like some sort of portal to happiness and pure joy is within me and is dormant until I see something or someone that opens that door. I have so much love to give. Other people hate physical contact, and that’s OK. But I crave it all the time.

Living alone without someone to hug when I need it or a dog to hold is a challenge. It’s why I still baby talk Kawika when I’m lying in bed at night. It’s why I’ll grab a stuffed animal or Hey Arnold! pillow (don’t ask) and squeeze it tight, like I’m hugging Kawika. My arms ache with wanting to hold him when I think about him. He really was the love of my life, and my love for him is probably purer than any love I’ve felt for any human. I’d like to think that even without a body in heaven, should there be one, I’ll be able to somehow hug him again and give him kisses and divine tum rubs. Someday I know I’ll get another dog, but nothing can ever replace that void his absence left.

And today, May 17, would’ve been his 17th birthday.

So happy birthday, Bubby. I love you, Little Man.

Lindsay Kriz is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or lkriz@brunswickbeacon.com.