Olivia by Chaz Morantz


  The phone rings but I don’t even notice it.  I’m sitting on the floor of my room building a Lego spaceship, something that a twelve year old boy does.  My spaceship is nearly complete; it’s only a matter of finding the necessary pieces.  The door creaks open and my mom drifts in.  “It’s your dad,” she says softly as she hands me down the phone.  “Hi dad!” I shout.  He pauses for a moment, caught off guard by my excitement.  “Chaz, Olivia has had a stroke,” he says.  I carefully lay down my spaceship.  “Is she going to be ok?” I ask.  “I don’t know, probably not,” he replies.  I look up at my mom’s expressionless face, her eyes focus on mine but seem empty. 

Six years earlier – Olivia raced through the door of the garage, having heard the sound of my dad picking up his keys.  He grabbed his mail and I grabbed the videos to be returned.  As we walked around to the car, a black and white tail wagged patiently.  We opened the door to make sure the back seats were folded down before we let Olivia leap into the car.  She never made a sound on the way into town, her eyes just watched the world go by from the backseat of my dad’s Mercedes.  We parked in the back lot of the video store.  I opened my door and let Olivia out on my side which was next to the curb.  She walked beside us to the sidewalk – my dad never liked having his dogs on leashes.  “Go see Alex!” my dad shouted to her.  She was off like a dart into the video store where she knew that the owner, Alex, kept doggie treats behind the counter for her.  We strolled in to see her paws up on the counter and Alex feeding her biscuits from the other side.  An old lady walked in and remarked, “What a smart dog.”  “Border collies are the smartest dogs in the world mam,” my dad liked to brag.  “Olivia sit – Olivia lie down – Olivia rollover,” my dad commanded as Olivia put on a show for the woman.  “Olivia kill!”  The old lady jerked back with a frightened look when she heard that last command – I shot her an apologetic glance as my dad laughed.  Olivia looked confused.

We left the video store and started walking over to Tivali, our favorite Italian restaurant.  When we had to cross Sunset Boulevard my dad gave Olivia the command to stay.  He stood at the edge of the sidewalk with his arm straight and his finger pointed down at her as she fixed her eyes on it and waited.  He continued telling her to stay until the traffic was clear.  “GO!” he shouted. His hand shot up to point across the street as Olivia took off below it and raced to the other side.  Once there, she turned and sat on the sidewalk as we walked across to meet up with her.  We rounded the corner and into Tivali.  While we sat and ate, Olivia wondered around the restaurant patio and befriended the dog-lovers of the crowd.  She knew which people wanted her to come say hi.  She would sit below our table and look around, making eye-contact with people.  When she sensed that someone was friendly (she was rarely wrong), she’d go over to them.  Often she’d spend the whole time next to someone she liked and people sometimes thought she was lost, but my dad and I were always there.  She knew we were her family and would not leave her.

“Chaz, I’m probably going to put her to sleep on Saturday,” my dad says over the phone.  He strains to say the last few words and hearing him choke-up makes me begin to cry.  My mom leans down to hug me, her eyes now filled with concern.  “You don’t have to come down here for it,” my dad says.  “She’s my dog too and I don’t want her to be alone when it happens,” I tell him.  “Ok,” he says.  My mom could hear the conversation on the phone.  “We can drive down to L.A. on Saturday, ok?” she says.  “Thanks,” I reply.

A month ago on a Sunday night, my dad and I were watching a movie at home. Sunday nights were our nights to relax on the couch and watch TV.  Olivia was fourteen years old now and she spent a lot of her time sleeping on the couch in the TV room.  I came into the room with some popcorn I had micro-waved and sat down between my dad and Olivia.  She was a little startled when I sat down but I reached over and reassured her with a gentle touch.  She looked up at me with her glazed eyes and licked my hand.  Tonight’s movie was Grease.  I had seen it before; it was one of my dad’s favorites.  I laid back as Olivia curled up beside me and rested her head on my chest.  Her matted fur was oily and patches of dry brown fur extended from her black coat.  My hand weaved over her back and under her arm to play with the soft white hair under her neck – it was her favorite spot for me to pet.  Olivia Newton-John sang on the TV.  “She was my boyhood crush,” said my dad pointing at the TV.  I knew this already.  Framed pictures of Olivia Newton-John are scattered throughout our house and of course, our dog is even named after her.  “I met her once, but she was married and I was no longer a boy,” he chuckled.  I picked up Olivia and put her between us so my dad could pet her too.  Her tail thumped against the leather couch and she whimpered happily.

My mom and I pull into Pacific Palisades and are driving directly to the Vet to meet my dad there.  We pass the farmers market on the way.  “Do you want to get her some flowers?” my mom asks.  I don’t know how getting a dog flowers will help at all, but I want to get her something.  “Yes please,” I reply. 

When we pull up to the Vet, my mom does not get out of the car.  She and my dad have not been on speaking terms since the divorce, so I just get out with a couple of my bags and the four white roses.  My dad is sitting in the lobby when I walk in.  His eyes are red and he bites his lip as he looks up at me.  “Are you ok?” I ask.  “I don’t want to be in there for it.  I have gone through it too many times – are you sure you want to?” he says.  Since he was in college, my dad has had many border collies.  They have been his best friends and most loyal companions and he has always been there when they died – but it has taken its toll on him.

Olivia is older than I am.  She has always been there; I used to play with her as a baby and sleep with her next to the heater as a child.  “We need to be there for her, she is scared,” I tell him.  He rises up and walks over to the receptionist.  “We would like to be in the room for it,” he tells her.  She smiles and says, “Ok, that is fine.”  We walk down the hallway as the other dogs bark at us.  Everything smells like rubbing alcohol and wet dog.  The receptionist opens a door and we shuffle into a small white room where Olivia is laying on a cold metal table.  Partially paralyzed, she is skinny and shacking, I can barely recognize her.  One of her rear legs has been shaved where she will be given the shot.  My dad grabs her paw and kisses her nose, beginning to sob.  I put down the flowers beside her and begin petting her under her neck. It hits me hard for the first time and I breakdown.  We take a few minutes to say our goodbyes.  Then a man and a woman walk in.  My dad tells them that we are ready.  Olivia is not shacking so much anymore.  Her tail wags and she whimpers behind a frozen gaze as we both pet her.

                                                                        -Chaz Morantz