My Sad, Broken Heart

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.

Just Stop Already!

Three and a half weeks ago my dog died a horrible, violent death that did NOT involve a car, and left nothing of her body. Our family has been reeling and grieving this loss, trying to come to terms with it. She was a part of our family, present at the birth of my youngest daughter (who was born at home), and important to all of us.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I can’t stand how many people are asking me when I’m going to get another dog, or telling me we should get another dog. It’s obnoxious. It hasn’t even been a month yet, for Christ’s sake! Some people asked me 2 DAYS after she died!

For the record, we have another dog. He’s helped somewhat, primarily because we love him so much, we can focus on that love instead of our hurting, which helps with any loss, I know. Heck, I got Ava the day after the death of another dog I lived with. How is that different? I can hear some people say. For one thing, that dog was my boyfriend’s. I loved her, but I had only lived with her a few months and she was attached to him. She was a dear, and my heart broke losing her. But there were many other, much worse situations going on in my life at the time that did not involve the death of any loved ones that led me to get Ava. It was the combination of these things that led to the decision to bring home a puppy to love.

The thing about pain, grieving, and loss is though, that you can’t bandaid them away. If you do, these emotions will come back to get you in other ways, and it will all probably be worse and prolonged. I knew this when I brought Ava home. And for the record, I was also seeing a therapist for all the other stuff going on.

The questions about getting a new dog bug me the most primarily because they seem to imply that dogs are simply replaceable. They’re all four-legged furry things that have to be taught to potty outside and behave appropriately. They live relatively short lives. They can be left at home all day without much trouble (most of the time, anyway).

Yet the implication belies the individuality of each animal. I’ve lived with lots of animals in my life, and just like people, every one of them was different. Each one had its own personality. Each one touched my life in different ways. To presume that Ava could simply be replaced, like a pair of shoes or a car, shows such a lack of . . . something, I can’t even find a word to express it.

I get it that I view animals differently than most people. I do not think people are more important than animals; humans are animals who happened to develop brains that gave us the capacities we have. Ultimately though, we are all equal lives in my mind.  This belief system is perhaps part of the difference between myself and those who think Ava can simply be replaced. Others think of animals as things, as property. Even our legal system reflects this, and I’m not naive enough to hope the rest of the population agrees with me.

But shit, show a little sensitivity folks. Would you tell someone who lost their husband to go get married again? Lost their child, go have a baby again? Obviously, the depth of emotion we feel for a human is much more intense than that for a dog. I would not have been able to leave that place alive if it had been Isabel or Milla instead of Ava who had been killed, I truly believe that. I could survive the loss of a spouse, but I’m not sure I could the loss of a child.

Yet for me, the sentiment on some level is the same. Ava was an individual. She was a part of our family. She wasn’t a couch, or a car, or a rug. She was special to us and to a lot of other people as well. She can’t be replaced. Someday when I’m feeling up to it, we may invite another creature to come and live with us, but for now, I wish people would just stop telling me to get another dog.

Ava: December 3, 2008 — August 23, 2013

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.

My puppy baby.

My puppy baby.

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.

See also: Reduced, More Ava, Just Stop Already!, Still Missing Ava, My Sad Broken Heart, Incomprehensible,

Reduced

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.

Incomprehensible

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.

I’m a Funnel Web

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.

Nail Clippers

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.