When I Wake Up | Teen Ink

When I Wake Up

December 10, 2021
By Anonymous

Author's note:

I wrote this story to help me cope with the news that my childhood dog will have to be put down soon. 

Up and down, up and down, up and down. The rise and fall of their chest let out slow raspy breaths followed by a soft wheeze. Breathing has never been easy but in my old age, I’ve noticed it’s gotten much worse. One thing that stayed the same all throughout my life though was always having a hard time opening my eyes after sleeping. Never could get enough sleep, always wanting five more minutes. Now, I know I won’t be waking up to birds chirping and the sun shining on my face. In fact, I don't know what I will wake up to, maybe I won't wake up again at all. 

Each visit was the same. Just like clockwork, the family and friends come in, set down their cards or balloons or flowers on the small table, ask how their old friend was feeling, and gather around the bed to make every minute count. Always was the usual group, the few childhood friends and the siblings. It was nice to see them of course but everything was different now. These weren’t reunions where everyone was joking and having a good time because they had all been separated for so long, it was the final days of someone they all loved very dearly. All the jokes their friend had made when they were younger about their back pain or how all their bones cracked when they moved were funny until that became reality. Being seventeen and poking fun about getting old didn’t seem so funny now that their seventies had finally arrived. 

I think I made the most of it. I thought to myself. Recounting what memories of my life remained used to make a nasty old feeling form in my stomach. I used to hate thinking about my younger years because I knew those days were over but now, I find some strange comfort in it. I like to think of it as rewatching a favorite movie. 

Must be on a scratched DVD because some scenes are missing. 

I smiled at the thought. Losing memories doesn’t bother me much anymore, I’m happy with what I have left. I am just thankful I still remember all of my old friends, especially my first one. It always made me feel stupid saying my first friend was my dog but it’s the truth. She was the best friend anyone could ever ask for, even in her final days. Thirteen is old for a dog, her face most certainly reflected that. When I would look at her, I didn’t notice - or maybe I tried not to notice -  the gray spots peppering her face or how her eyes would look more and more tired every day. I still saw that same sweet puppy the kind lady at the park gave us when she said she couldn’t take care of her anymore. It was hard to focus on all the good things about her when I would see her in so much pain every day. There would always be a lump in my throat when I would recall those days, the ones with my first friend, who was also my first loss.  

The gentle knock on the door alerted the old person laying in the neatly kept hospital bed. Their old eyes slowly crept open as the door was hesitantly pushed. The small group poked their elderly faces through the frame with big shining smiles as they waved at their old friend. Ever since their loved one was emitted, they always showed up every week to visit. 

“Hey there Alex,” one of the old women croaked, “How are you doing today?”

“Fine and dandy Elise. Feeling fantastic.” 

The family chuckled at the sarcastic reply. They set down their belongings and sat in the seats around Alex’s hospital bed. Many months they spent preparing for this moment. Their friend was old now, the doctors had warned them that they should take advantage of every visit. Time waits for no one.

“I hope you feel better than you look,” chimed in Alex’s sister.

They all let out a small laugh. They could have sworn they had heard Alex say something that sounded suspiciously close to the word ‘ditch’. 

“What do you mean, I look great.” Alex brought up their old veiny hands to their chin, striking a pose. 

They had exchanged jokes, stories from the past, and more pointless banter for a few hours. The four siblings, Alex, Ellis, Mia, and Patrick recalled tales from their lives, communicating with quotes from the shows they would all watch together and old inside jokes. The two friends in the group of visitors, Leah and Elise, had tried their best to make their pal laugh. There wasn’t a visit where someone didn’t tear up before trying to bring up something from the old days. Seeing the people they loved most in the world be so sad for them made Alex feel an intense and overwhelming wave of emotions. Anger, sadness, helplessness, despair, but the worst was fear. The fear of not knowing what was going to happen after. They had been terrified of death since they were a child, a fear intense enough to spark a panic attack that would leave them shaking like a chihuahua out in the cold. It wasn’t so much fearing the process of dying but whatever happened after. Alex didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell, so where would they go? Where would they spend the rest of eternity? It was these thoughts that made all that was happening so much worse. Many times on these visits, Alex felt as though their family was trying to tell them to keep up the fight because they didn’t want Alex to go. It had hardly seemed fair to them though, after everything that happened in Alex’s 74 years of life, they were tired and ready for rest. Despite how scared they were. 

The sun had set and it was time for everyone to go. Everyone. From the moment Alex had woken up that morning, they knew that it was the day. They felt weightless, calmer than ever. Knowing that tranquility was just around the corner made Alex smile, causing all the wrinkles on their face to become much more apparent. But behind all the anticipation was still a tinge of fear and despair. The family had seemed to adjust more to the concept of the approaching death but seeing the light and hope in all their eyes made it very clear that all these visits were an attempt to make Alex continue to fight for their life. With a deep sigh, Alex cast away the thought and cleared their old and gravelly throat.

“Before you go...” Alex started, finding it hard to continue as the family looked back at them from the door.

“What? Did you forget already?” replied Patrick.

“No jackass. I just wanted to say I love you. All of you. You old turds mean the world to me, you know that?”

“Alex,” choked out Ellis as she turned toward her younger sibling, “What are you on about? Why are you saying this?”

“You know why, you all do. Time is almost out.”

Alex's company stayed about twenty minutes longer trying to convince them that there was still time and it wasn't the last visit. Eventually, they stopped the argument and admitted defeat. They had all known, but just refused to admit it. Tears were shed, hugs and kisses were given. They said their goodbyes and went home, dreading the inevitable phone call. It came three hours after they had left, confirming Alex had passed on. 

After the door had closed behind their family, Alex took a deep breath. Having the permission to rest wasn't as relieving as they thought it would be. Many thoughts stirred around in their head. Their old hand clapped over their mouth to muffle the sound of the choked cry that pried its way out. All the emotions that had been pushed down for all those years were finally breaking free. After all the tears had been shed, Alex closed their eyes.


The sound of birds tweeting and the soft caress of wind lifted them from their drowsy state. When their eyes managed to open, a partly cloudy sky loomed above. Alex blinked a few times as the sudden realization hit them. They shot up into a sitting position. To Alex’s surprise, the fast movement brought them no pain. Looking around, a vast green field filled the horizon. Scattered flowers were nestled into the sea of green blades. It went on as far as the eye could see, with trees and thousands of luscious plants decorating the earth.  Looking to the sky, Alex smiled at the mixture of gloomy gray and blue in the sky.

“My favorite weather.”

Alex ran their hand through the soft grass around them. A small gasp escaped their mouth when they saw their hand. Last Alex saw, their hands were old with snake-like veins sticking out all over the pale surface. Now, the veins had ceased to protrude through their skin and their skin was back to its youthful state. The tattoos on their arms were clear and the ink was vibrant again. As they craned their head down, fluffy brown hair hung just above their eyes, no longer frail and gray. Alex was a teenager again. That was when the tears began to fall; they were actually dead. Alex pulled their knees up to their chest and wrapped their arms around them, sobbing into the sleeve of their shirt. The land around them seemed deserted of life, confirming the fears that the recently deceased had had all along. They were alone. This was their eternity.

The rapid panicked heaves of air and muffled sobs were interrupted by a small noise. When Alex raised their head, their hair flopped over their puffy and teary eyes. Their small nose and cheeks were as red as claret cup cactus petals. Wiping the tears and hair from their face, their eyes darted around as Alex attempted to locate the source of the noise. It rang out once more but the tears that had landed onto the lenses of Alex's circular glasses blurred whatever was causing it. With a harsh sniffle, Alex ripped the glasses from their freckled face and used the cuff of their old favorite sweater to remove the smudges. After putting the glasses back to where they belonged, that's when Alex finally saw who was making the noise they now recognized it to be a bark. 

They almost didn't recognize her. She looked so youthful and happy. The waddle she did when she ran was gone because the tumor on her leg had disappeared and the pep in her step was back. Bounding toward Alex with an ecstatic tail wagging not too far behind was their childhood best friend and first pet, Lucky. Her black coat shimmered in the daylight making it look almost blue. Her white paws clawed through the grass and her tongue hung lazily from the side of her mouth. Seeing their best friend running at them, Alex scrambled to their feet and began to run to the now youthful pitbull. Once they both reached each other, Lucky pounced at Alex and knocked the both of them back onto the soft ground. She showered Alex's face with a million kisses as Alex ran their fingers through her soft fur. They sat up and cupped their companion’s face, examining every feature as if to make sure what they were seeing was real and it was. They were finally reunited with their ‘pretty girl’ (as Alex called her) that they had lost all those years ago. She let out a few more happy barks to say hello and licked the tears that flowed down Alex's face. The mixture of joy and sorrow was the most wonderfully confusing pain. Pained that it took so long to see her again but over the moon to finally have her back in their arms.

Alex knew she couldn't understand the words that they said to her but that didn't stop them from telling Lucky how much they missed and loved her. 

“Every day you were gone I wished I had given you more pets or played with you while I still could. I hope I was a good owner back then…” the thought made Alex sob even more. Lucky’s loving face reassured them, the glimmer in her endless dark brown eyes was brighter than ever. 

“You're back, that's all that matters now! You and me again! Me and my sweet girl.”

Wasting no more time, Alex jumped up and scooped up their best friend. They never could do that before because Alex was only a small child by the time Lucky began to grow. Now, they never wanted to let go. What was once a terrifying and new land that seemed to only offer isolation was now a new opportunity for the two to make up for all the lost years and spend the rest of their time together. Once again able to watch the stars at night, spend endless hours playing fetch, prance through the grass together, and feel the tickle of fur on Alex’s face when they snuggled up to Lucky as they napped after a long day of playing; just like like they used to. 

Even though Alex did not believe in the concept of land among the clouds where angels roamed, waking up to be greeted by the friend they had missed all their life was truly nothing short of heaven. 

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