I have no expectation of humanity saving itself. It’s too selfish, too disconnected from what it should be, too far gone. This is depressing, I know it. However, in spite of its poor prognosis, I still find glimmers of goodness and these are something of a balm to the despair of living in death culture. Humans selectively bred animals like dogs to make them something humans could control. This is reprehensible. However, it doesn’t make me love the creatures that are derived from this version of eugenics any less appealing. I live with such wonderful animals. Each and every one of them is unique. Each and every one is simply lovely. Every time I pass something that causes the despair I close my eyes and think of one of them or my dear daughters and I can be okay for the moment. My love for them and for this planet and it’s resiliance is a way to get by.
…makes me want to blow something up.
Link to ban pig cages. Click this link if you want to sign an online petition that will do nothing and go nowhere, but will make you feel better for having done “something.”
I have spent the last 3 days nursing a baby chicken that will probably die. She is in my bra right now, keeping warm against my breast, peeping when I move. She is weak and I’m not sure what is wrong with her. I prize her little beak open with a toothpick and pop in pieces of chick feed. I dip her beak in water laced with probiotics and electrolytes. She was born in an incubator, fed some gel with vitamins in it, and mailed in a box with 24 other babies the day she was born. Her mother lays eggs. Constantly. She will never know this baby and her baby will never know her mother. These eggs are placed in the incubator that makes the babies that get shipped around the world. It takes too much time for Mama to brood those babies. Better to get them in an assembly line and send them out. Oh, and before they’re mailed out, someone who is trained to run their thumb along their vent, essentially their anus and egg tube, ascertains whether they are male or female. If the person isn’t careful they can kill the chick by destroying its internal organs. This sometimes happens, but you know. Collateral damage and all that. So they separate the girls and the boys. The males, no one talks about what happens to those chicks, though in death culture, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s nothing pretty. Those who pass the test are mailed out. They usually toss in a couple of extra because it’s a given that some won’t make it. The weak ones. The weak ones, who if they get as far as the farm store or the home of the well meaning buyer, will likely die soon and get picked on in the process. Nature, you know. She’s a bitch. Except this isn’t fucking nature. It’s fucking insane and I’ve been just grieving it because to me, this entire way of doing things is a perfect metaphor for just how fucked up this culture is. Taking these babies BABIES! and fucking MAILING them. We have no soul.
In any case, I went to the farm store to buy some food for my horses. I peeked in the chicken cage to see the babies and I saw her sitting there, not doing well. A couple of the strong ones went and pecked her, and yeah, if it really were nature and she were out in the wild and were weak, that would be the best place to leave her. But this wasn’t fucking nature. This was a steel cage with red light bulbs and people staring in at these babies, so I opened the door and I scooped her out and I have kept her on me ever since. She has slept two nights sleeping in a bandana around my neck because it keeps her warm. Then tonight I turned on the facebook—a foolish thing to do, because there was this damn online petition to stop the caging of pigs and the photo accompanying it was so awful and so TYPICAL and so like the situation with these baby birds. Right. Sign an online petition and maybe someone will give a shit and ban these cages? Somehow, I doubt it. But the people “signing” it can feel like they did their duty and then get on with their lives. Fuck. Part of me doesn’t begrudge them trying to survive. But part of me does. Part of me begrudges them a damn lot. I’ll say something on the facebook and be that person again who turns the mirror at people and they’ll remove me from their notification list so their posts of online petitions don’t show up in my feed and then I’ll tell them how useless this is. So turn me off because they don’t want to fucking know and this MAKES ME CRAZY. I post a happy picture of the baby chicks who were healthy frolicking on my desk and everyone gives me a thumbs up. I post all the bullshit that is wrong with this world and it’s crickets. My posts are a veritable field of crickets. Lonely crickets chirping through the night. No one likes the naysayers.
Ack. Why am I writing this? So I might feel a tenuous connection to someone, anyone who might get it. Might understand this frustration and grief. I HATE this culture with my entire being and soul. Saying it doesn’t make it better. I only hope I can save this one baby chick from this fucked up messed up WRONG world that hurts so much I can barely take it. It really and truly makes me want to blow something up.
Addendum the next day: I realized this morning that getting stuck in being angry just keeps the ugly going. Rather, I am going to continue to focus on being decent and loving. This doesn’t mean I’m not angry; just that if I think about blowing things up it just makes me feel worse. Doesn’t the anger come from the deepest love? It’s the manifestation of the anger that can be soul sucking. This culture likes to suck our soul through helplessness and frustration. I will instead put all my focus into loving this little darling right here. She made it through another night. Her breakfast this morning was cottage cheese, which was way easier to feed than chick crumbles. She perked right up then got super sleepy. Her little eyes closed, then her head gradually fell forward onto her little beak. Snore… Oh my goodness, she is the most precious little dear. I am in love with her sweetness. My poodle Oliver is lying on my lap snoring too. The sleepy family. They are wonderful.
Addendum later the next day: She died. I’m lucky I got to spend the time with her that I did. She was a blessing.
Turgid turkeys, strained into rickety
wooden coffins, exit four-by-four from
a ten-ton hearse. Into the turkey mill:
Perspiring hormones, Tom Turkey stares with
one sad eye at a crumbling chimney tower
belching death in putrid smoke, blackening
holiday skies. Annihilating light.
Bodies, bones. None remain unfrozen. With
elaborate precision he’s taken apart;
neck, gizzards tied in a bag between his
ribs, head ground neatly into pink hot dog slabs.
Holiday skies are crowded with turkey souls,
ascending to heaven like deflated balloons.
Love wins today. Love always wins. In this moment, there is love. The fear I feel from these fires is filled with love for this earth. The earth is us and we have eaten her like a cancer, eaten ourselves.
Our city was covered in smoke today blown in from wildfires in eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. The entire Willamette Valley was covered in smoke. This fills me with sadness and dismay. I awakened because I needed to go to the bathroom. My room was stuffy because during the day Saturday the girls closed out the smoke. When I went to bed I didn’t reopen the window. When I awakened, the room felt stuffy so I opened the window to let in some fresh air. The breeze blowing in was crisp and smelled fresh. No smoke. But it got me thinking about the smoke and fires, awakened me. I looked on the internets and read stories about the smoke and fires and wept.
We are killing our planet, humans. We have to face reality. These fires. This water shortage. This changed summer that is like nothing we have ever experienced. These heat waves over and over and over. 2 degrees Celsius average increase means temperatures of 130 degrees. Can you live with that?
We are taking something so beautiful and killing it for our convenience. What have we gained? What has industrialization gained us? We have less time to spend together than ever before. We live in boxes separated from one another and stare at screens in our hands and on our desks instead of looking at one another and what do we get from it? Our planet burns. It sweeps water from the oceans across the land. We are destroying species at rates unheard of for millions of years. Yes, it is us. For convenience. What will it take to wake people up? Will it be our own extinction?
I hold my small daughter in my arms and feel such love for her and also such real grief and fear of what she will grow up into.
Nature does bat last, but really, who wins this if the planet is burned and gone?
And with one push
Shards of glass where there used to be a heart.
Can you imagine someone feeling so happy with you that they cannot be with you because feeling happy by necessity thereby demands they feel other feelings as well? And they don’t want to feel happiness because they might feel pain? How narrow a conception of life. How much love isn’t felt in this world because of the fear of pain. This is to me, tragedy.
Today I drilled holes in pots to make olla pots for my garden to water more efficiently. My greenhouse is THIS close to being done, but there is still a hole on one wall up top and today was windy and stormy, so I climbed up and tacked up a piece of plastic to stop the rain from blowing in. While I was perched precariously on the edge of the fence, small nails held between my lips, a hammer balanced in one hand as I held on and attached the plastic there, I saw a honeybee. It was quivering on top of the greenhouse, doing that weird honeybee dance they do, wiggling its back end. I wasn’t sure what it was doing sitting on top of my greenhouse in the wind and periodic rain drips. No other bees were in sight. There were no flowers near it. It looked fragile, there in the wind in the wrong time of year. It was too warm outside for the time of year. Balmy and weird.
My raspberries are coming up. The tulips and daffodils are fully bloomed. The cherry trees in my yard are bloomed. My lilies are popping little points up through the soil. Usually in February I spray my fruit trees with dormant spray, but you’re supposed to do it when they’re dormant, and little buds were already present, so no dormant spray. They’re young and I’m sure they’ll be fine, but there aren’t many pollinators out in this bizarre weather, which means likely little fruit this year. This is not normal and not a pattern from the past. Humans have caused this and humans want to ignore it in favor of the latest football scores or whatever else that helps us to ignore the obvious right in front of our faces. It’s like we have a tumor on the side of our head and want to just look around it and pretend it’s not there. The spring rhyme goes, “April showers bring May flowers.” It’s not January showers bring February flowers, and these flowers that are here in March were here in February. We don’t give Valentine’s lilies, we give Easter lilies. At Easter. In actual spring. It isn’t spring in the northern hemisphere where I live. We haven’t had the equinox yet. It is still winter here. So many seem to forget this while infatuated with the sunny weather. This isn’t normal.
If your children were in harm’s way, you would try to help them regardless of the outcome because you love them. Shouldn’t it be the same for the Earth, which is us? We are the Earth. We should help her instead of committing slow suicide (though not so slow anymore, it seems).
I’m writing this sitting in warm covers in a snuggly bed. I washed all of my bedding today and it smells fresh and clean, and it’s soft and cozy. I’m so grateful to have a warm bed in a warm house, my dogs snoring softly near me as I write. I’m lucky, and I’m grateful for what I have.
Today would have been the fifth birthday of my dear little dog, Ava. I miss her so much sometimes, I just ache. We risk so much pain when we love, that’s the crux of it. I loved that little creature so much. She meant the world to me. I still cannot believe she isn’t here and won’t be. I have horrifying thoughts at times, thinking about pieces of her at the bottom of the lake. There must be nothing left but bones. Maybe her microchip. I’m grateful in a funny way that we had removed her collar for swimming so I have it.
She gave me so much. She doesn’t even know what she was to me. Her timing coming into my life could not be more fortuitous. I cannot see anything fortuitous in her loss. If I could have one wish it would be to go back to the moment before she jumped and pick her up.
My heart is still broken.
Every Friday since August 23, I have noticed and looked at the clock at 11:45 a.m. and thought of Ava. It has only been three weeks, so it’s likely this will stop soon. Then one Friday afternoon I’ll look at a clock at 12:30, or 2:00 and realize I didn’t notice and tears will form. It isn’t because I’m a bad person, but because I’m a normal one, and in order to go on in life, I can’t be looking at a clock every week remembering the moment she died.
I wish I knew the time of the day I first met her. It was some time in the afternoon on April 11, 2009. We had been to a movie at a theater next door. We played with her and several other puppies, then zeroed in on her. After 45 minutes, she needed her puppy nap and we needed to go to dinner with friends. As she lay on her side on the floor inside her puppy kennel, I reached in and put my hand on her side and she sighed. I felt complete love in that moment.
Then we left. I did not expect to see her ever again. I did not know that when we returned home at 11 that night our dog would die within 10 minutes of our arrival. When I woke up at 3 heartbroken and lost at everything that had happened that week culminating in the death of our dog, I knew my daughter was leaving to go to her father the following day, Easter. I knew after everything I could not come home to an empty house and all the grief that was a part of my soul. I remembered that puppy, remembered the moment that passed between us when my hand covered her heart, felt something immediate and visceral and complete, something other than grief and loss.
I decided lying there that I would call the store in the morning and offer them less than half the asking price for her. If they were open on Easter and they would take my offer, I would go and buy that puppy. I have never paid for a puppy in a pet store before. I don’t really believe in it, considering all the unwanted animals up for adoption. But at that moment, I did not care. In this decision in the pre-dawn hours, I was finally able to sleep.
First thing the following morning, I awakened feeling like I had a hangover. The morning was damp, classically spring-like. I told Milla my plan. I searched online for the number of the pet store using google maps to find the movie theater, then street view to find the name of the pet store, then googling the name to find the number. Together we called them. At 9:30, they answered. When I described who I was and made my offer, there was no hesitancy. They accepted on the spot.
Walking from the subway in Washington Heights to the pet store later that morning, as we paused on a curb to cross the street, my ex asked me whether we should name her Ava or Gloria. In unison, Milla and I said, “Ava.” It wasn’t until days later that I got it. My last name is Gardner. His is Gaynor. Ava Gardner or Gloria Gaynor. It was a joke, but it became Ava’s name and we never considered another.
I loved Ava from the moment I knew her. I loved her before I knew she would be mine. I loved her completely and fully and this love got me through the lowest point in my life. I credit her with saving my life, I was that low. Love will do that for you, give you the gift of life when you’re sure you can’t make it through. Even after Isabel was born, I kept loving Ava and kept her close. She was present for Isabel’s birth. She was a little light in all of our lives.
Back in May of this year when Ava was poisoned and almost died. I went there in my mind and imagined the possibility and could not bear it. After that incident, Ava stopped running away. She used to like to leave for 20 minutes or a half hour and roam the neighborhood. It only happened a handful of times, but one of our neighbors really hated this, even though she didn’t do anything. After the poisoning, even if she wasn’t tied up, she would not leave. I don’t know what changed for her — did she understand how close she came to death? I did not know, but I was grateful for the change.
Now she is gone and I wonder if Death felt thwarted back in May. Determined to do its deed, it took her from us when we least expected it, leaving us all reeling. Isabel lost a member of her family. She is only now getting her rhythm back. She doesn’t get it. Out of the blue in the car yesterday she said, “When we die, our bodies become the earth. Is Ava now a part of the earth again?” She has asked multiple times if the fish are going to send Ava back to us. I have tried to explain, but she doesn’t understand. Milla seemed fine within a few days, then last week I found her sobbing at the bottom of the stairs. “I miss Ava,” she cried. I held her and cried too. We all do.
It gradually recedes. I have to fight the guilt at not grieving 24 hours a day, but we can’t live like that. If Ava could have understood such things, I cannot imagine she would have ever expected us to stop our lives at this loss. Most of the time I want to crawl into bed and stay there all day, but I can’t, and really, if she could understand such things, would she want me too? I think not.
I miss you Ava. Your life was too short, but you brought me hope and love. Thank you, little friend.
My daughters sleep with me. The 3-year-old has slept with me since she was born and will as long as she needs to. The 14-year-old sleeps with me when she wants to, which isn’t often lately. Whenever the 14-year-old sleeps with me, the dogs do too. I used to lie with all of them in my bed and feel so safe and cozy. “Everyone I love the very most is here in bed with me,” I would think. I would reach out and touch each of them, feeling completely blessed we were all in one place.
Every morning this week I have awakened too early. I’m suffering a different sort of insomnia than that which I think I may have cured. This is grief-induced insomnia. The last couple of nights were better than the night before because I googled “How to stop PTSD flashbacks.” Several sites advised grounding and mindfulness. Take the mind away from the place in the flashback and bring it to the present. Feel something with your body. Open your eyes and look around. Touch the place you are and ground yourself in the present.
Each time the horrifying incident attempted to replay in my head, I did this, just reached out and ran my fingers along the covers. Moved my foot back and forth. Put myself here instead of there. This did reduce the flashbacks that played that first night over and over like a torture video on the back of my eyelids.
Each time I realized that my safe little nest is missing one, my heart would ache and head for a memory and I would reach out and touch something to bring me back here, to this smaller family. I want to keep them all with me at all seconds, as if being with me will make them somehow safer. It didn’t on Friday. My same little pod was with me then when one of them was killed.
Why is it life seems determined to remind me that we have no control? I am not a control freak. I know how tenuous a grasp on life all of us really have. My only gratitude in this loss is that I told Ava every day how much I loved her. Moments before she died, she sat on my lap, I stroked the silky, wispy fur on her head and told her how much I loved her. I felt my love for her in my belly; am reminded of it now, sitting here.
I have learned to ignore the small irritations because you never know when one you love will be snatched away, and for this I am grateful. So many times she would do some little thing and I would say, “Oh, Woofer. Don’t do that!” Instead of yelling and scolding. Oh, the small gratitude among the pain.
It’s incomprehensible. I cannot wrap my brain around this, any of it, the loss, the accident, that this is how life is now.
Unbidden, memories escape and with each new memory comes more heartache. No more snuggling under covers. No more sliding down slides. No more sitting, sitting, sitting on the edge hoping, hoping, hoping that one tiny little bite might fall to the floor. No more jumping in to catch those nibbles that fall to the floor. No more curly, silky fur. No more warm, brown eyes. No more drowned rat in the bath. No more warm, winter coat. No more licking. No more “Ava, stop licking!” No more brushes after bath. No more running like a wild banshee after a bath. She was present when Isabel was born. She gave me something to love when I was pregnant.
The day I met her, I held her and played with her, and watched her climb the side of the kennel where she played with her puppy friends. I thought she was sweet, a dear little thing. An imp, a scamp, too smart for her own good.
It wasn’t until later, later when she was put back in her own kennel to sleep after a playful afternoon, she lay on her side ready to nap. I reached over the fence and laid my hand on her side and she breathed, deeply and completely, fully content with my touch. A part of her traveled to me in that moment and she was a part of my heart. I did not know then that in under 24 hours she would be home with me, but we were still connected. Love. It was love. I felt it then and still feel it now, and my poor, uncomprehending heart is so broken I cannot imagine a moment when it will not hurt this way.
If we choose to participate in life, if we choose to love, we choose to take the risk that we will feel that which is incomprehensible, that we will feel pain. That is the trade-off for getting to love, which is even more of a gift than getting it. I know this sounds sappy and sentimental, but it is true. Loving her saved my life once. Loving her brought me joy. Even moments before her death, I felt pure love holding her and kissing the top of her silky, white head.
Riding back to the marina, the wind whipping tendrils of my hair into my face, my youngest wrapped in my arms as I knelt on the deck of the pontoon boat that killed her, I felt for a moment Ava was with me, and then the moment was gone. She was gone. My heart will never be the same.
The day Autumn died, I woke up and did not immediately know this would be the day. She was lying in the living room, half on the hardwood floors and halfway on the rug. She barely looked up to acknowledge my entering the room, a sure sign something was off, but she had been listless for days because of the unusual heat.
The night before, she had been so hot. So hot that after I removed her from the tiles on the bathroom floor and placed her in a cold bath, the place where her tummy had been touching the floor remained warm for hours. Literally hours. A sick and dreadful feeling filled my stomach when I walked into that bathroom so long after putting her in that bath and could feel the warmth in the floor where she had been.
The heat of those summer days finished her off, I have no doubt of it. She could not withstand the hundred degree temperatures. The last few days before she died, I would come home and find her inert with exhaustion. She would not move. Her stomach would feel like an iron. I would then run a bath of cool water and lay her in it. This perked her up because she needed that cooling off. I don’t know whether her body was incapable of regulating its temperature anymore. The diabetes did so much else to her body; I could see it killing her thermometer too.
That morning, she was lying there and I didn’t immediately register how badly she was doing. I began to get ready for work, roused Milla out of bed, was busily doing my thing, when I made a horrific discovery.
Neon green ooze had leaked of Autumn. It looked like she had peed and was lying in it, but it was not yellow. The color was not anything I had seen from a living thing before, the color of a summer lime popsicle. My entire body went cold upon seeing that ooze. I carefully cleaned it up and moved Autumn into the kitchen. She was more listless than ever. She could barely stand. My throat was tight. It was beginning to dawn that she would not reach her twelfth birthday.
What was that, the desire for her to reach another birthday? All along while dealing with this wretched disease, I had wanted her to reach another birthday. After her initial diabetic episode, I was not sure she would ever reach her eleventh birthday. Then it was Christmas. Then I began to think maybe she would just keep living through a few birthdays, just looking like a skeleton.
I realize now she was gradually worsening, but having her there with me every day I did not notice the decline. Up until three weeks before her death she still liked chasing things. She couldn’t see while she was chasing things, so we had to accommodate, but she still liked doing it. She even seemed to enjoy looking for the ball or stick or toy she could not see.
That’s the trouble with living with a degenerative disease; you don’t notice the degeneration because you’re so busy managing it. And when the good days completely outweigh the bad, which Autumn’s did, it is easy to forget that the one you’re taking care of is on her way out of this world.
And for some reason I had arbitrarily decided that Autumn had to make it to August 16 and her twelfth birthday. It was like that day could save her somehow, even though I knew in my gut it was not true.
While lying in the kitchen, more neon green ooze came out and she just laid in it. It was this that made it clear to me that Autumn was finally really dying. I gave her an insulin shot. I tried to feed her, but she would not eat. She would not even eat wet food. More dread. More tightening in the throat and drying in the mouth.
I debated taking her to work with me, initially deciding against it. Then as I bustled about, fitting into the routine that made forgetting easier for the moment, I realized that if I did not take her to work with me I would not see her this last day and I could not do that.
I worried about the office, whether anyone would care that I dragged in my skeleton dog. I worried about her needing to go potty. I finally decided to bring a towel and tell anyone who cared that this child of mine, my first baby I picked out the day she was born, was dying and if that person was heartless enough to tell me to take her away I would tell them to go to hell, but no one did. No one said a word. If I hadn’t had clients, I would not have gone, but I’ve figured out working on my own that I am the only backup, the biggest drawback to self-employment. The clients who came to see me that day were extremely sympathetic. One woman who came in shared a similar story of losing her own beloved pet.
I still have the bowl Autumn drank from the day she died. I cannot bear to put it back in the office kitchen. The day I returned to the office after she died I bawled when I saw that bowl. I had heard people speak of feeling “raw” and I now know what they meant. I felt absolutely exposed those first days after she was gone, like nothing was protecting me. Vulnerable. Words I had heard and sort of experienced, but not like this. No, this was worse.
Watching someone gradually die is the epitome of the expression a blessing and a curse. You are blessed with having your loved one there with you, but you are cursed with their disease. One minute you are wishing they would just finally go, the next minute you are thrashing yourself for the thought, the guilt a cloak you wear constantly. When they finally go, those moments creep up on you, those moments when you had ardently wished the afflicted would die, and you curse yourself, wondering whether your wishes contributed to their demise, knowing intellectually this is not possible, then reasoning emotionally that perhaps the dying one felt your anger and this brought their death sooner. Guilt: a horrible, ugly poison.
I know guilt is not one of the traditional stages of grieving, but they ought to add it to the list for those of us who have lived with someone who has a degenerative illness. It has to be there for all of us. I cannot imagine anyone being a one-hundred percent perfect nurse to a degenerative patient, and those moments when you are not perfect come back to haunt you. Maybe only a little bit, but they are there. I like to think I’m an emotionally healthy person. I’ve managed to talk myself out of those moments, but they came up nonetheless and they can be brutal during the first days after the loved one dies. Like little bits of acid spray on the raw wound of grief.
Mostly though, I remember Autumn with tenderness and affection. Her body was so decrepit in the end, such a mess. A few months after her death, I watched a video I took of her two weeks before that day and her body was an emaciated skeleton. So sad. I took the video that morning because I thought that was her last day, rather than the day she actually died.
Throughout her life Autumn followed me wherever I would go, no matter how trivial or short the trip. Going into the kitchen for a glass of water? There was Autumn, at my side. Going for a short visit to the toilet? Autumn would rise from wherever she had been lying, follow me in, sighing heavily as she laid down next to me, then rising again thirty seconds later to follow me back to wherever I had been.
On that last day, when work was over, I picked Milla up from school and we headed south out of town for Dr. Fletcher’s in Albany. Debbie and Robert maintained a phone link, planning to be there for me in the end. I called Dr. Fletcher as well, to let him know we were on our way.
It was a warm day, hot and yellow. Autumn lay on the front seat, curled up. I kept petting her and sobbing. During those moments I kept thinking to myself that in an hour and a half, she would not be there anymore, that I would drive home without her, that I would never see her again. Ever. The finality was like a cement brick to the head. I could barely drive through my tears.
When Autumn was little and she rode in the car with me, she would lay her head across my forearm as I held the gear shift. As we drove, I placed my arm on the seat next to her and she rested her head there, our last moment a microcosm of our life together, our last hour.
The sun was still fairly high when we arrived at Dr. Fletcher’s near 6:00 that evening. The air outside the car was hot, so I left Autumn in the air-conditioning while I went inside to let Dr. Fletcher know that we had arrived. Debbie and Robert had already arrived and were waiting for us.
It’s odd. Since that evening, I’ve had many moments of extreme stress where my body felt like it could barely handle taking another step, but my mind knew it had to and forced it to keep going, but that night I had not experienced anything like that in my life before, and it felt overwhelming, that forcing myself to go when I did not want to.
I returned to the car and carefully lifted Autumn from the seat. I held her close and walked over to a grassy spot next to the parking lot. She was so light, barely fur and bones. I held her closely in my lap. She did not lift her head or try to walk around as she had the many times she’d been there before. I just held her, and pet her, and told her how much I loved her. Milla crouched at my side, her hand on Autumn’s neck. Autumn had been a part of her life since birth. Debbie and Robert stood next to us, and Robert snapped a couple of photos.
Dr. Fletcher held a large syringe filled with pink liquid as he walked from his office and across the lot to us. He did not say anything, he just walked up and put the needle in her forearm, then whispered to me to talk to her.
She died almost immediately. I pictured her spirit fleeing that prison of a body, flying off into the ether, she left so fast.
Earlier that year, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. It took him several minutes to die. Autumn died so quickly, it just seemed like an escape. I truly imagined her flying away.
Dr. Fletcher helped me to place her body in the wooden box I had brought to bury her in. It’s a strange experience, carrying a box with you to hold the body of someone who is alive when you start out, but whom you know will be dead, so you carry a place to put them when it’s over.
I buried her in Debbie’s back yard. I wanted her in a place I knew I could come to for as long as I lived. I wrapped her in a special blanket and covered her with a shirt of mine. She looked curled up, like she was sleeping. I have seen a dead human once; that person did not look asleep to me, but very dead. Autumn was not like this. I know it sounds almost trite, but she just looked peaceful, resting. Useful words to describe how it is.
It took a long time to dig the hole, longer than I expected, plus it was hot and the ground was really hard. I had to pick with a pickaxe, then dig with a shovel, then pick again. It was after dark by the time the digging was complete.
Before I lowered the box into the hole, I opened it, and pet and kissed Autumn goodbye, even though she was not really there. I knew once she went into the ground, I would never, ever see her body again. Months later I would imagine losing control and going there, digging up the grave, and opening the box, just so that the last time I saw her wouldn’t have to be.
I found a perfect chunk of stone to place at the head of her grave. I surrounded it with bricks. A couple of weeks later, I came back and planted flowers all over the spot, a floral island in Debbie and Robert’s weedy back landscape.
When I visited the grave the following spring ten months later, the yard was full of wild and brown grass and weeds. Yet Autumn’s grave was covered with green, a grass that was a foot taller than the rest of the grass in the yard. It was a soft, green rhombus, Autumn’s little bed in the middle of the field.
Autumn’s was the first major death in my life that I actually remember. My grandma died when I was two, and apparently I missed her, but obviously a death at that age is nothing like death as an adult, or even as an older child. The only other death I have experienced since Autumn is Robert’s, which broke my heart. He died five years after she did, nearly to the day, of complications due to kidney failure.
Having now experienced the death of a close human, I can honestly say that Autumn’s loss was no less for me. I grieved her closely for years. Eight months after she died, I wrote in my journal that I was still mourning:
I ask myself why this grief can return so fresh eight months after her death. Then I realize that if she had been human, no one would begrudge my feeling this way, and I’m questioning the depth of my feelings because she was a dog.
I sat on the floor last evening near the couch and thought of Autumn and realized again that she will never be here. Ever. I hate the finality of that. I hate missing her so much. I hate the way it makes my heart hurt. I hate that I’m not allowed to feel this much pain because she is a dog and not a human. I loved her so much. I loved her more than any human until Milla was born. She was my first child. Of course I grieve. And I should not question that it has been eight months, or that she was a dog.
The idea for a book about her life tickled my brain shortly after she left me, and so I wrote down my memories of her death and illness while the pain was still fresh so I would not forget. Then I had to put the book aside. I could not write about her as a puppy without crying so profusely that I could not continue. Every so often I would remember something and take a note: Don’t forget this about her! the note would read, whether it was the way she hopped up and down when I toweled her dry after a bath, or how she liked to hunt beetles. Autumn, killer of domestic bugs.
Autumn’s death was the first in a series of life events that nearly brought me to my knees, metaphorically speaking. Sad but true, the timing of her death in relation to everything else was actually fortuitous. Things went rather south with Bjorn once he entered a new relationship, and we suffered a rather protracted court battle for the better part of a year. During that time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bjorn’s new partner filed a bar complaint against me that lasted nearly a year. The area of law I practice changed laws and my earnings plummeted to zero. Rather than lose the lovely little house into which I had poured so much of my energy, I sold it shortly before the economy crashed.
I am not so sure I could have managed Autumn’s illness while handling so many difficulties of my own. Yet perhaps I underestimate myself. It is amazing what one can endure when one has to, simply by placing one foot in front of the other, from one day to the next. Perhaps too, in living with her various degenerative ailments, I acquired the discipline necessary to meet further challenges.
Two months before Autumn died, I adopted an older greyhound. Her name was Edna, and surprisingly, she was a source of comfort in the months after Autumn’s death. She came to us having spent the bulk of her life in a kennel on racetracks. She had raced eight times and failed miserably at it, whereupon she was turned into a breeding dog. Edna had no idea how to traverse stairs or eat anything but kibble in a bowl. Teaching her these things and watching her make new discoveries was an utter delight. She brought us joy during those sorrowful days after Autumn’s death.
In April 2009 Molly suffered a severe seizure. The seizure was horrible. When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead. But she did not die. Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better. And she stayed better. The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her, but that never happened. She never had another seizure.
Then four months later, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes. She fell down the stairs to my boyfriend’s basement. She had been having difficulty with stability on slippery floors for some time and those stairs were covered in linoleum. She stopped wanting to eat. We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so we bought wet food for her. Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve, only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either. We fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less. Two days later when we took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps, and the next day when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated, then lay in it. Clearly something was dreadfully wrong. My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it. We bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet.
Molly died the next morning. The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood. She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but Molly would likely not survive any surgery — there would have been no benefit in trying to save her life. She was fourteen years old. Her body was old and worn out. Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.
I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years. She was always there, quietly in the background. Molly loved a lot of people. She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends. She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched. She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship. Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.
Upon hearing of her death, a close friend of mine said to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog. What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.” These words were simply true. I am grateful Molly came to us. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade. Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her.
In winter of 2009 I moved to New York. I had been telling Milla for months that after school let out for the summer, I would get her a small dog of her own. During the school year, we would prowl shelters and pet stores, seeing what was out there, looking for a new friend.
One afternoon in April, we stopped in a dog store after going out to a movie. While there, a small, impish, white maltipoo greeted me with enthusiasm and delight. She climbed up on the railing to the display area, hanging over the bars begging me to pet her. She was utterly charming.
The store owners brought the little dog into a fenced area in the middle of the store so we could play with her. Milla and I sat and enjoyed her company for a half an hour before she wore herself out and settled in for a nap. As we rose to leave, I reached over the bars and lay my hand on her side. Something traveled between us in that moment. I felt her entire body relax beneath my fingers. She sighed and stretched her legs.
After we left I could not get the little dog out of my head. She was ridiculously expensive and I had determined we would be adopting a shelter dog. However, I kept thinking of her and early the next morning, which was Easter, I decided that I would call the pet store. If they were open, I would offer them less than half their asking price for her, the same price I would pay to adopt a dog in New York. If they accepted, I would go and get her. I called the store, they were open, and they accepted my price immediately. Milla and I rode the subway north to Washington Heights and brought her home with us. I named her Ava.
I fell immediately in love with this delightful creature. There are some just dog things, such as the way they trot in front of you with their ears back, heading where you’re heading, that I adore in this dog of mine. I love how wherever I go in the house she follows me, like Autumn did. It was one of the hardest things to lose when she died.
Ava also has her own unique quirks that I specially love about her. She sits on my feet. If I am in a place and standing and talking or sitting and talking to someone else, she perches on my foot. She will do this when I am saying goodbye to Milla as she leaves the house to go do something and I am staying home. Ava sits there on my foot, as if to say I am staying here with her. You go have fun. We will be here when you get back. Then as I move into the house to do whatever, she follows me.
She likes to sit on the corner of my bed look out the window or watch me while I’m sitting at my desk. She hovers with her paws over the edge of the bed frame, her head rested on them, looking at me.
Ava makes distinct faces all her own. The most common is what I call her happy face, her mouth slightly open, tongue out, eyes bright, often one ear cocked. She’ll turn her head slightly as if to ask Do you want to play? In these moments I stop what I’m doing and play with her.
In the morning, when she wakes up, she has the most incredible bed head. Her eyes are all sleepy, her hairs all akimbo. She’ll crawl to the top of the bed, as if the effort is more than she can bear, then sigh and relax as we snuggle and pet her.
Later, wild dog comes out, chasing bears and fozzies, rattling them mightily from side to side until they are dead. Sometimes she brings them to us and requests that we throw them. We do, because watching her little sheep butt run away to get them is one of life’s greatest joys. She does not like these stuffed creatures to see anything. Within a half an hour of getting a new stuffed toy she removes its eyes. Perhaps she does not want it to see her remove all its innards piece by piece. More likely she loves that the pieces are hard and fun to chew.
After Ava has a bath she runs through the house like she’s on fire, ears back, bolting from room to room. What is that, dogs running after baths? I understand their desire to rub themselves dry on the floor, but the running around after, I wonder why. Almost every dog I have ever owned has gone running after getting a bath. However, none of them have run like Ava does. The others have all just gone for their run to dive into their rubs. This one just runs like a bat out of hell from room to room, then comes and stares at me with the happy face, tongue lolling out, eyes bright. Then off she goes again to make another round. It’s hilarious.
Ava isn’t thrilled with the bath itself. She is actually one of the more obnoxious dogs I have had to bathe. It’s a good thing she is small and easy to hold down because she really hates it and tries to escape. Yet she is intrigued by the bathtub, or rather, people showering or bathing. When Milla takes a shower, it is a guarantee that Ava will be in the bathroom standing on the edge of the tub, peeking around the shower curtain, her little sheep butt wagging its mini tail. When either of us bathe, she comes and stands and looks in. Maybe she is curious why we would want to do something so hideously awful. Or perhaps she just wants our company. Maybe it’s a little of both.
Ava truly loves to snuggle. She is thrilled at her ability to jump on the bed. She could not always do it by herself, but she grew and figured it out, and now seems to take great pleasure in both jumping on and jumping off. I can jump on the bed! I can jump off the bed! See? I launch myself many feet past the bed! Aren’t I skilled?
She will jump on the bed if I am lying there and come and lie across my neck and sigh. She’s my little doggie stole. She’ll snuggle there a while and get kisses from me, and strokes and rubs. She knows I do not like her to lick me. She does not even try anymore. My ex-boyfriend lets her kiss him — I think it’s gross — but Ava knows he doesn’t mind so she licks him all over. The only time she licks me is when I get out of the shower. She will come in and lick the water off of my feet until I dry them.
This dog makes me happy. That’s the simple fact of it. She came along when I was very sad. There were so many reasons, many of them huge, for my sadness. One the biggest was grief over the loss of the dogs who had lived with me. I would have dreams about them, dreams they were still alive or still lived with me. Vivid dreams. Then this little dog came to live with me and I suddenly felt the desire to laugh again. I laugh every day living with her. She’s a happy, wonderful little spirit. Frankly, I’m completely smitten.
Years and years ago, I may not have even been out of my teens, I read The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. I don’t remember much of it at all. I read it because it was a bestseller, and I don’t even recall its premise beyond the title.
However, I remember one thing vividly. Peck argued that humans can never really love a dog, or any other animal, because to love as he defined it requires reciprocation in kind. My feelings in response to his position are unchanged: I wholeheartedly disagree. Life is full of different kinds of love. Some loves are equally reciprocal, usually with the person we choose as a mate, but also with certain friends or even family members. By Peck’s definition, I could not truly love an infant or a small child or someone who does not love me back in the same way and with the same articulation.
What a limiting view of human capacity. I absolutely loved my dog. It did not matter that her adoration of me was different. My love for her was there, and it still is. Autumn was a gift and I will love her forever. She helped to teach me selflessness. She brought me joy. She increased my humanity. For this and so much more, I will be forever grateful.
Read Autumn — Chapter 15
I awoke one morning in early July 2005 and rose to give Autumn her shot. I called out her name, but she did not come. She was not at my bedside, and she was not anywhere in my room. She would usually get up to greet me and get her shot and food, because food was her favorite part of the day. I looked everywhere and was getting kind of frantic looking for her. Had she somehow gotten out again and I didn’t know it? I checked both doors, then headed towards the dog door to look out at the run. It was then that I saw she was lying in a heap of blankets on the back porch. I stood looking at her, my fist to my mouth, whispering, “Oh no, oh no, oh no. Not this. Not now. Oh, baby.” Funny, I had always pictured discovering her and running to her side, but I could not move.
“Autumn?” I queried. She remained still. Her ear stood on end. The light was the low, not quite sunny light of early morning in mid-summer. She was in a shadow. I stood back and could not move towards her. I was afraid she had died.
“Autumn,” I said. “Baby?”
I finally stepped forward and thought perhaps her ear had moved. Once I was within a couple of feet of her prostrate form, I could see that she was vibrating ever so slightly. I could see her breaths coming slowly, raggedly.
I knelt at her side and carefully touched her head. She was warm. Too warm. Her body vibrated, humming all over, like electricity was turned on inside her skin. Her eyes were glassy, staring at nothing. I was dry.
“Oh, baby. My baby.” I held her and stroked her, thoughts running through my head. What should I do? Who should I call?
I went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and dialed Bjorn’s number at work. He answered and I could not speak. I could not emit a squeak. My voice would not come. I could not tell him what was wrong. Tears clouded my vision. The words were stuck.
He kept asking what was wrong. I finally managed to say, “It’s not Milla.” I meant that nothing was wrong with Milla.
He got the message because he said, “I know.”
I sobbed and finally told him that it was Autumn. After he told me this was probably for the best, I realized I had chosen the wrong person to call. Why him? Why on earth did I call him? I think on some level I wanted the closeness we never really had, wanted him to care about my grief and pain. During this crisis, I had a moment of absolute clarity when I realized that he would never be that person for me, ever.
I briefly told him what was going on, then got off the phone as fast as I could. I left a message at Dr. Fletcher’s office. Then I wondered, who do I call? I can’t call my mom; she won’t be a comfort either. I couldn’t call her.
Debbie. I realized then that Debbie was who I should have called all along. When I heard her answer the phone, I did not have to say anything. She knew it was me and she knew why I was calling her. There is a reason she is my best friend.
She asked for specifics. I told her how Autumn was. I told her I thought she would have to be put to sleep. I told her that I did not have any way to avoid my workday and would have to take her to Dr. Fletcher’s that evening because I could not get out of my work commitments. In spite of the fact I adored Dr. Horner, Ken was my friend, and I wanted him to be the one to put Autumn to sleep when the time came.
Debbie told me to keep her posted and stated that she and Robert would be there for me. She told me to let her know when I was coming down and when they needed to meet me there.
I was so grateful for her kindness and her calm. She put me at ease. As I spoke to her, I had filled Autumn’s syringe with insulin and given her a shot. I had given her some food. After the shot, she lifted her head and actually looked at me. Apparently the insulin had some effect, and quickly, because she was noticeably perkier than she had been.
It turned out to be a false alarm. Autumn gradually improved throughout the day and by the time afternoon rolled around and I could drive her down to the vet’s, Autumn had perked up significantly and was back to where she had been before the coma episode of that morning.
Dr. Fletcher patted her and gave her some string cheese. He always carried a can of the stuff to help keep pets happy in his office. Autumn gobbled at it.
“She’s not ready yet,” Dr. Fletcher said to me, patting her. I could see that. As prostrate as she had been that morning, she was back to her old self now.
We caught up on our news. Dr. Fletcher told me again that I should go to vet school, that I could have both law and veterinary degrees. We laughed together for a few more minutes before we turned to go.
“You’ve got some time,” he stated. “Not a lot, but some. Maybe a couple of weeks.”
Oh, I thought. Only a couple of weeks? I hoped with all my heart she would hold on just a little longer.
I don’t text and drive because if I died, the tenuous little family I have would splinter apart and lose not just me, but one another. There is nothing here holding us together except me. Here is how my funeral would be: my small number of friends (who aren’t friends with each other so who knows how some of them would even find out), my parents, and my sister’s family. There would be no looming aunts or uncles or cousins who would pull my daughters aside and tell them to hold on to each other because they are all the other has anymore. The consequence of being an immoral and wanton woman who has not had a traditional family for herself (not because it isn’t what I wanted, but because I made choices in partners that were not the best for me), is that I have two children from two fathers — GASP! Say it isn’t so! Yes, I’m afraid it is. One of their fathers lives three states away with his new wife. The other lives here in Portland alone in a basement studio apartment. The older would ship off to Arizona; the younger would remain. They would not see one another. I highly doubt my family would make much effort to see them more than once a year, if that. The phone calls to them would dwindle. Over the years they would lose touch with my family (but my family doesn’t know me anyway, so I don’t know that they would be losing much there). Really, the only way the younger would even know her mother would be through the older and the older would be far away, living her teenage life, probably nursing her grief, but it would fade and soon they would have their own singular lives. There was a mother, but there isn’t any more.
I am tenuous. If I were a web, I’d be the small one in the corner, or even in a funnel. I would not be one of those magnificent orbs connected to 30 flowers and grasses in the meadow. I have thought of this over and over and over. I really first thought of it a few years ago when the son of a woman I know died. There were hundreds of people at his funeral. I’m not exaggerating. I realized then that I would never have hundreds of people at my funeral. I am not gregarious or extroverted. I get an evening off from my children and I go to the library or the bookstore and bury myself in someone else’s fake life or study something scientific that has caught my fancy. I don’t actually feel grief at being the sort of person whose funeral would not be heavily attended, but I can’t bear the thought of my daughters losing one another because I am not here and for this, I won’t text and drive. I also drive the speed limit, to the consternation of those on the road around me. I’m not ridiculous in avoiding pitfalls, but the car seems to me the most likely catalyst for my demise at this point in my life. I’m not going to increase its odds, that’s all.
I just found some of Autumn’s nail clippers and felt a pang at the thought that these clippers could survive, but my dog didn’t. It seems unfair somehow, that this meaningless hunk of plastic and metal gets to be here and she does not. It’s such a strange feeling. I wonder if some of humanity’s desire to accumulate things comes from some underlying desire to have something that remains when we are no longer here.
My first inclination upon seeing the clippers was that I wanted to toss them in the trash; they are old and dull. Then I remembered that I had used them on Autumn, that they are one of the few things remaining that touched her, and I left them in the bag in the cupboard. It is the same with the last dish from which she drank water. The dish was a glass bowl from the kitchen where I rented office space. I had to take Autumn with me to work the day she died. An unpleasant consequence of working for oneself is that there is no one to take over when you have people coming in to see you on the day you awaken to your dog lying in a pool of neon-green ooze flowing from her bottom. I took her to work with me and laid her on a blanket beside my desk. I brought her water in that glass dish from the kitchen. She took some small sips from it. The next day when I returned, after Autumn was gone and her body buried in my friend’s yard 80 miles south of me, I saw that bowl and sobbed silently, tears running down my cheeks in rivulets. I brought the bowl home and I’ve kept it ever since, boxed along with other keepsakes, carried from one edge of the continent to the other when I moved to New York and then back to Oregon. Autumn’s tongue caressed that bowl; I can’t let it go even though it isn’t her, doesn’t even represent her. It’s just something else that got to touch her, something that may carry a molecule of her, and if that’s all I get, I’ll take it.
Have you ever wished for someone’s demise? Have you ever hated with such intensity that if the object of your derision were to meet with an untimely accident you would have to hope there would be for you an alibi, because such an accident would draw suspicion upon you? I have been there twice. It is not a comforting place to be.
The first was the sociopathic girlfriend of my ex. She wanted to destroy me and in her attempts, I would imagine my revenge to help me cope. There were moments where I would fantasize her death, giving myself the satisfaction of picturing a silvery knife so sharp, its blade razor thin slipping along the surface of her neck, aligning with skin and veins, blood seeping and pooling around her nape. At other moments I divined her foot, uselessly pressing a brake line that had been cut, her car careening helplessly over a guardrail and smashing into a tree.
Eventually I learned to circle the wagons against this woman and she turned her attentions elsewhere, but not before making my life a living hell. After a time the revenge fantasies ceased and life continued not quite as before; I carried a little cloud about me for a while. I needed redemption. I’m not sure it ever came, but I did move to a new place where I could remove her from my head. She took up too much space there for a time.
In recent months I move in and out of hatred again. This one certainly takes more space than is deserved or warranted. For every moment it is in my head, I leave no space for love or creativity. It doesn’t come often, but when it does, it fills me with the intensity of a raging conflagration, burning and spitting and roiling. No wonder hell is described as fire; hating someone is a sort of hell and it blisters and scalds. I know enough pop psychology to know that such intense hatred only harms the one who is feeling it. On an intellectual level I understand its ramifications, and so I bend my body into yogi poses, pound my feet in Nike sneakers, force my mind away from conversations that can have no solution, breathe down into the soles of my feet. It works–most of the time. But then it doesn’t and with it I must contend again.
Into this hatred happened a very young, very naive and stupid girl. She was like some desperate and obsequious puppy, hoping to be liked, having no idea what the hell she had stumbled into. I wanted to kick her. I had no desire to befriend this naive creature trying so hard to be nice. I wanted to fold her in half, destroy her hopefulness, rub her face in the anguish and rage she could not know or understand. She tripped along, coy and carefree, like a puppy with her tongue lolling, tail wagging between her legs, hoping I would be friendly. Because she came from the one I so despised, I hated who she was and what she represented before she ever said a word. I wanted her to back away, to get out, to leave what she had found. She was not welcome. She had no business. I wanted her to go and to take her syrup with her. After I aimed several poison darts in her direction, she started to get the idea. For a moment I felt sorry for her and tried to warn her against where she was headed, but she wanted none of that, and nipped at me. For this nip, I bit. Hard.
I have been advised to write, to rend this vitriol from my veins. Write she says. Write. It doesn’t matter what you say, just write. If you can place this things that are in your head in a place outside of you then you will come to a place where they no longer matter. Write. Remove them from you. Link them to someplace else. And so I do. I have for today for this moment softened the edges of the rage.
I have a dream sometimes where I gently poke a hole in my arm and watch the blood slowly leak onto the grass.
In December 1996, I decided that I wanted another dog. I had lived with my sweet dog, Autumn, for four and a half years. We had moved back to Oregon from the east coast, and I had finished college and begun working full time. I decided Autumn needed someone to hang out with during the day while I worked, so I chose to go to the humane society and look there. I had been donating money to the humane society for years and fully supported animal adoption that way. I considered myself an ideal owner; an animal that lived with me would be a full member of the family, receive top of the line care, and lots of love.
I was living in Corvallis at the time. I decided to go look at the humane society in Salem because it was bigger and would therefore have a larger selection. I was not sure exactly what kind of a dog I wanted, but I knew I did not want a brand new puppy and that I did want a female dog.
There were so many dogs to choose from. There were lots of brand new puppies and most of them had signs on their cages indicating they were already adopted. I entered the back kennels to search for an older dog. The kennel was bedlam. Because it was a Sunday, there were lots of potential doggie parents milling about looking for dogs.
I wandered up and down the aisles, occasionally stopping to pet one and say hello. One dog in particular caught my eye. She was about the same size as Autumn, but mostly black, almost like Autumn’s photo negative. Where Autumn was brown, this dog was black. Where Autumn’s points and eyebrows were dark brown, this dog’s were beige. She sat quietly in front of the fence. I went over and started to pet her. She looked at the floor, but leaned into the fence of the kennel so I could pet her ears. She was extremely thin, so thin I could count all of her ribs and see her hip bones.
This dog had curved front paws. There was no obvious bend like an L. Rather, her paws simply curved like the bottom of a U. Later when Autumn contracted diabetes and gradually starved, her paws began to curve too and I learned that curved paws were caused by starvation. I did not know at the time that the reason this dog’s paws were curved was because she had been starving. The sign on her kennel read QUEENIE. Her breed was listed as a doberman mix. I did not think so. Her colors might have been vaguely reminiscent of a doberman’s, but nothing else about her resembled that breed.
I pet her for a bit, then moved on to look around some more. I would wander up and down the aisles then return to the kennel with Queenie. Other visitors would stop at various kennels, but no one else stopped at Queenie’s. I kept going back. She would look up at me, then look at the floor, then look back up at me. The workers allowed me to take her out into a back yard to walk her around and spend time with her. She sat next to me and walked quietly beside me while we walked around a bit. I asked her if she wanted to live with me. She just looked at me, then looked away, then looked back again at me. She won me over and I decided that she was the dog I wanted to take home.
The workers told me that Queenie had been found wandering the streets of Salem three weeks prior. The day I chose her, she was extremely thin. I could count each of her ribs and she had those curved paws I did not know signified atrophied muscles from malnourishment. If she was in this shape after three weeks, I can only imagine how thin she had been upon arrival.
Prior to that day, my dog Autumn lived as a child with my husband and me. She slept in our bed. She ate the best dog food. When it was determined she had hip dysplasia, she received top of the line vet care. She was a priority in our lives. I cannot imagine an animal more loved and cared for. Yet the humane society in Salem would not let me adopt Queenie because the house we lived in was rented and did not have a fence. There were other smaller reasons as well that I no longer remember. The main thing that stood out was the house situation. Even though I had owned another dog and cared for her in that house for over a year, the people there determined it was not good enough. No wonder so many animals can’t find homes. If someone like me could not adopt a dog, I did not see how anyone could.
I hugged Queenie and left the facility completely dejected. I wanted her. I knew she would fit well with our little family. I had to find a way to bring her home.
Knowing the criteria that had kept me from adopting Queenie, I set out to find a friend who would “kidnap” her for me. I called around and described the situation. My uncle John had just moved to the area. When I told him what was going on, he agreed he would go and get Queenie out for me. I was so pleased! Perhaps she would be coming home with me after all.
The next day, Uncle John went down to the humane society. We rehearsed the story we would tell in order to ensure he could adopt Queenie. I waited and waited for him to call. Over an hour later, he finally called to tell me he had Queenie and was on his way to my house. I clapped in joy. She was mine! The story my uncle had told was convoluted and long. He told them he owned his own house with a fenced yard. He said he had a little boy who wanted a dog. They told him he could not take the dog until the little boy had visited. He then created some sob story where they had had a dog who had died. His little boy was desperately sad and missed this dog more than anything. Queenie looked like that dog and he wanted to surprise his little boy. The people bought it, thank God!
The night Queenie came home I changed her name to Molly. She did not look like a queen, but she did look like a sweet Molly girl.
As part of the agreement to adopt, I had to pay a rather large fee, something like eighty dollars. It was claimed that most of the fee was to pay for a certificate to spay Molly. The humane society where she was adopted was in Marion County. I had been assured the day before that I could use the certificate at a vet in the county where I lived. I scheduled the appointment to have her spayed. My vet told me that the certificates were not good in our county. I called other vets and was told the same story. Because I was not going to get to use the certificate anyway, I took her to my vet. He decided he would honor the certificate even though he would not be remibursed for the work by the humane society. I was grateful to him. We had only been shortly acquainted at that time, but I now consider him a good friend.
Two days later I took her in to be spayed. She was afraid of the vet’s office, but went along willingly. That was Molly. There were many situations where she was afraid, but she would trust me and go along if I was there. She stayed that way her entire life. A couple of hours after dropping her off, I received a phone call from the vet letting me know her surgery was complete. It turned out that when they opened her to spay her, she had already been spayed! The doctor sewed her back up and called me to come and bring her home. He said because the humane society told me she needed to be spayed, it had not occurred to him to question it before performing the surgery.
As I stated before, I had donated a lot of money to the humane society. I wanted to help the organization so it could help animals. However, after my experience that day trying to adopt that dog, after the experience with the spaying certificate I was told would work and then did not, and finally the fact they did not even know she had been spayed already requiring she undergo an unnecessary procedure, I stopped donating to them. It has been my experience, then and since, that there are many people who work in the animal adoption industry who seem to have the attitude that they are the only people good enough to care for animals. I absolutely understand taking steps to keep animals out of bad homes or laboratories. Yet when organizations that claim their purposes are to serve animals, to keep them from being euthanized, and to find them decent homes, they should not make it impossible for a good owner to adopt a pet. Unfortunately, because of the holier than thou attitude at some facilities, this is exactly what happens.
Molly was initially skittish, but she loved me and trusted me right away. Autumn was not thrilled by the interloper considering I had been sole mommy for the four years comprising her entire life. However, she grudgingly accepted Molly into the pack once she determined she was not going anywhere. For the rest of their lives the two basically ignored each other. In my attempt to get Autumn company with Molly, I failed wholeheartedly. Later when we adopted Poppy, Autumn and Poppy became good friends. And later after that, Autumn and Edna seemed to like one another as well. But Autumn and Molly never did. They acted like the other did not exist. About once a year they would get into a nasty quarrel and one or the other of the two would end up with a bloody bite.
From the beginning Molly knew certain words and was terrified of them. Her entire life if I said Vacuum she would go and hide. In the early days, she was genuinely frightened. In later years she would go and sit on the back porch or in the closet when the vacuum came out. She could not stand the thing. She also knew cuss words and would go and hide even if they were spoken in a sentence full of other words. For instance, I could say I’m going to go and dump the damn garbage and she would go hide. It was like a parlour trick, her knowledge of naughty words. I often wondered what happened to her in her early days to instill such a fear.
My vet and friend, Dr. Fletcher, examined Molly’s teeth very closely the month I brought her home and told me he was 95% certain she was just under two and a half years old. This would have put her birth around September 1994. A lot could happen in that time and I will never know what. In addition to her fear of cuss words and vacuums, she was terrified of loud men, arguments of any kind, and she knew sit, stay, and come. It was obvious she had lived with someone, but who knows what her life was like exactly.
Molly did not like being in trouble. Her perception of trouble had a higher threshold than most of us. During Autumn’s last years, Autumn would get into the trash and try to eat things beyond her diabetic dog food. I would come home to Autumn wagging her tail and Molly sitting in the corner hiding. Simply based on Molly’s body language, I knew Autumn had done something naughty. I know some animal behaviorists would say that Molly was reacting to my reaction, that she had no way to know Autumn had done something naughty. This explanation does not satisfy. Molly would be reacting to Autumn’s behavior before I even knew and reacted to it. Molly was smart. She knew.
Molly was also extremely fastidious. She would hold potty for hours and hours rather than go in the house. For a couple of years we lived in a 1930’s farmhouse with a full basement. There was no door on that basement so we put a gate at the top of the stairs to keep Milla from falling down them. The top of the stairs opened onto an enclosed back porch. When we were gone, we would leave the dogs on this back porch. One day I came home to discover Molly on the top stair to the basement. How did you get over the gate? I asked her. She wagged her tail. I went down into the basement to discover Molly had gone potty in the farthest corner of the basement. Rather than potty on the back porch Molly had jumped over the gate landing on stairs and gone down and as far away as possible to do it. That’s how she was.
Molly loved sleeping on the bed, but we had decided after we had three dogs and a cat and a child that the bed was too crowded so the dogs were relegated to beds on the floor. Every so often, Molly would slip quietly onto the bed and lie there as still as possible hoping we would not boot her to the floor. Most times we let her stay; she was not obtrusive.
Last April, Molly had a severe seizure. I wrote about that on this blog. You can click here to read about it. The seizure was horrible. When I woke to her twisted body writhing on the floor, her eyes rolling in two different directions, feces and urine everywhere, I thought for sure she was dead. But she did not die. Three hours later, to the surprise of everyone who had seen her, especially the vet, Molly was 95% better. And she stayed better. The vet warned me that more seizures were to come, that she likely had a brain tumor and would continue to seize until one of them killed her. But that never happened. She never had another seizure.
Because of her age, I knew Molly would not be able to cross the ocean to live with us in Hawaii. I arranged for her to stay with my boyfriend and his dog, Tanya, in Portland. She seemed to accept the change after I left. She spent a good deal of time under the bed, her favorite place to be. Boyfriend bought her a rug to lie on under the bed and a pillow for the living room. He bought her a new tag for her collar that said Miss Molly on a pretty pink flower. I would talk to her on skype. I don’t know if she knew what was going on, but she always had a happy face and would come out to play and say hello.
Yet over the last week and a half, Molly seemed to deteriorate before our eyes. She fell down the stairs to Boyfriend’s basement. She has had difficulty with stabilty on slippery floors for some time now and these stairs are covered in linoleum. She stopped wanting to eat. We thought maybe hard kibble was bothering her so Boyfriend bought wet food on Saturday. Molly gobbled that up like a starving beast and we thought things would improve. Only the next day she did not want to eat wet food either. Boyfriend fed her some by hand and she ate that, but the next day she wanted even less. Two days ago when he took her outside to go to the bathroom, she slipped and fell going up the back porch steps. Yesterday when she went out to go to the bathroom, she urinated then lay in it. I knew then that something was dreadfully wrong. My dear, sweet, fastidious dog would never go anywhere near her urine if she could help it. Boyfriend bathed her and I made an appointment with our vet for today.
Molly died this morning in the arms of my boyfriend. The vet said she had a large tumor in her spleen that had burst and her belly was full of blood. She said we could operate to remove the tumor, but she would likely not survive any surgery. There would have been no benefit in trying to save her life. She was fourteen years old. Her body was old and worn out. Trying to keep her alive would have been selfish and cruel.
Milla and I spoke to her over the phone telling her we loved her and goodbye. I hope she heard us and if not I hope our love was there for her. I imagined her flying away from that body just like Autumn did a little over three years ago. My boyfriend took her body home and buried her in the corner of his backyard. Tonight he went out and sat by her under the full moon.
I am so blessed this creature was a part of my life for almost twelve years. She was always there, quietly in the background. Molly loved a lot of people. She was always so excited to see my mom or my good friends. She loved my boyfriend and enjoyed his company, following him around the house for a snack or to have her rear end scratched. She took a bit of time to warm up to a person, almost like she was sizing them up to determine whether they were worth her friendship. Yet once she decided she liked you, she always liked you and would remember someone after months or even years of an absence.
Upon hearing of her death, a good friend said this to me, “She was such a good friend and such a polite and gentle dog. What a blessing to have had her for so long – she loved you all dearly.” These words are simply true. I am grateful Molly came into my life. In her quiet way she was a fixture in my life for over a decade. Of the hundreds of dogs I could have chosen from the humane society that cold, winter day, I am so thankful I chose her. I loved her and I will miss her terribly. I am glad that she was my friend.
I don’t fit. I just don’t. I feel like I spend my time in groups of people who fit in whatever they are in, but I’m not of them, I am just there. I wonder if this is a manifestation of mine or if I’m meant simply to be always alone. Surrounded by people and always alone. I am certainly not a part of Hawaii. I knew that coming here though, so it was not a surprise. I suppose I had harbored some hope, albeit small, that I would not feel my aloneness as acutely here as I had in Portland. But such thinking was naive.
The first few days here were a struggle, primarily because any move is a struggle. We were worn out and travel weary. Upon arrival we had originally intended to look for an apartment. We started out renting a room in the house of a friend of a friend. It was supposed to be the bigger of two rooms the homeowner had for rent. Upon seeing it, I knew we would have to find our own place because it was simply not big enough for the two of us. However, after settling in, spending time with the homeowners, and looking at what we could get for similar money on our own, I determined that we would have plenty of space if we rented both rooms. So here we will stay. The house is expansive and comfortable, in a good neighborhood, and our housemates could not be better. The apartments we looked at for a similar price were ratholes in neighborhoods I would not want to live in. This house is also quite close to Milla’s school and near nice shops and restaurants. It will be a good place to live.
I also had to buy a car. This would not on the surface appear to be a daunting task, but for some reason every person I called about cars was a complete freak. The two cars we ended up actually getting to see were trashed beyond belief and there was no way I would purchase them. And looking at them and apartments was a day long ordeal and a huge pain in the ass, simply because getting around Honolulu can be a huge ordeal and a pain in the ass. This is because the main interstate through the city has off ramps with no coordinating on ramps and vice versa. In addition, directions to exits are not well marked, or at least marked to coincide with the directions provided by Google maps. I suppose this could be considered an error on the part of Google maps. There also seem to be several roads with more than one name. One sign will have the first name but not the second. The second sign will have the second name but not the first. The final sign might have both or simply a number. By the time I figured out that all were one and the same it was too late to take the exit thereby necessitating taking a further exit. However, on return the previous exit was not accessible so I would have to go on to the next exit to try and head back. Only then there would not be an on ramp, so I would have to drive down further through town and attempt to locate one. This happened to me four times. Each occurrence took over a half an hour. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. Luckily at the end of the day one person who had placed an ad for a car on craiglist without a phone number responded to my email inquiry. She was female and sounded like a normal human, unlike any of the other sellers to whom I had spoken. I made arrangements to see the car the next day and bought it after a drive. It’s a good car. I like it better than our clunky rental. It is a 1992 Toyota Camry.
Milla also started school yesterday. This was the big reason for our arrival at the beginning of August. Milla’s school experience has been the most satisfying part of this trip. I have had many moments of homesickness for a place that does not exist, moments where I long for a place that is mine, knowing it is not Hawaii or Portland. It has been lonely and painful. But finding a school that seems so good for Milla is a blessing. Her teacher met with her for a half an hour. Within that half hour, he knew Milla better than most people who have known her for some time. He was able to identify parts of her personality and character and discuss these traits with me. He seemed genuinely delighted to have her in his class. I am so pleased Milla may finally have found a place where she is welcome. Finding a place where Milla could thrive was one of my primary reasons in choosing to come here; in this at least we are blessed.
Non sequitur…but not really because I’m listening to him, but Chet Baker’s voice turns me inside out. He puts me in tune with the universe. Him and Nina Simone. Milla has become a Nina Simone convert. I can’t play Nina enough to satisfy my daughter. She has good taste.
I saw a ghost last night. I told it to leave. It did not belong in our room. It did not belong here. It needed to leave and it left. I was not afraid. For a moment, I felt a strength I only occasionally know I possess and wondered if my being lonely all the time is so I can someday use this strength. I do not know. There are so many times I do not know if I will make it to that point. Perhaps I can use it if I ever get over this blinding loneliness.
I don’t know if the fact I feel like I’m going crazy is because I have not had this outlet or because of all the other shit going on in my life or both. Last night, I totally and completely lost it. I went out into my car and screamed FUCK at the top of my lungs. It did not help. I had to sit there and stew in my juices until I calmed down. I was so angry. Actually angry. The kind of angry where if the wrong person had been in front of me, I probably would have smashed them in the face. That would not have been good. It was just one thing after another after another after another, all damn day long. I finally blew a fuse. It kept me twitching for hours, like some fucking meth freak or something.
This morning when I came to work and was able to get on the internet, there was an email from someone who reads this blog checking in on me. He was worried about me because my posts of late have been a bit angsty, then I disappear for 6 days. I thought this was so sweet and somewhat ironic. Some person I do not know wants to make sure I’m okay, but the people who do know me could give a shit. It’s fucking insane. This is the life I’ve created for myself? Indeed.
I do not have internet access at home. It will be a miracle if I do tonight after the shit and hell I’ve been through with stupid Qwest. Their bullshit contributed to my fuse blowing. I have a lot of work to do at work, not to mention the fact I’m being paid by someone to work for him, not write on my blog. But today, I had to write something, even if it’s trivial nonsense like this. I can’t stand the angsty, twitchy way I feel. I can’t stand waking up in the middle of the night, then falling asleep before dawn, then waking up feeling like a train wreck. If writing these few paragraphs will help, I’m willing to try it. It’s worked in the past.
One kind of cool thing happened. I won these tickets to a live performance at a radio station this afternoon. I think I’ve heard the band. I had one of their songs on my computer downloaded from when I used to have an ipod. Other than that, I don’t know if I know their music since I’m great at knowing a song but pretty lousy at knowing who did it. I don’t have a guest to bring to the performance, even though I’m allowed, but I’m not going to dwell on that. I’ll pretend one of my internet friends is with me since it seems that’s what I’ve created for myself these days, a world where internet friends give more of a shit than live ones. But that’s a big pity party and I hate that shit, so I won’t go there. Still, all this makes me wonder where I went wrong. Was it one thing or a series of less than decisions leading to this conclusion? Probably the latter.
Sometimes I feel like my sanity is slowly dribbling away. I try and regain it. I try and exist in a life I want to be in. I try not to focus on being lonely. I try to enjoy each moment. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work. When shit is piled on one thing after another, when I realize I’ve drifted down a path I thought I took on purpose but it isn’t where I want to be, when my heart aches with the love that is no longer there, I feel like whatever semblance I had of who I am is escaping from a valve in the back of my head and this person I do not know is taking over my body. And I’m not sure this is the person I want to be. However since I can’t seem to figure out who that is anymore and no one else seems to give a shit, I wonder if it is worth bothering. So I’ll keep on keeping on and hope in the meantime I don’t kill something when I lose my mind.
Reading back through this, it sure seems like a big pity party. Ah well, such is life. It’s one of those extra lonely days after a really bad day. Guess I can’t be perfect.
Loneliness brings its own sense of permanence.