I am Bonnie

A long time ago I used to work in the Forest Products office at Oregon State University. I worked with my best friend Debbie, a boss who was so stupid sometimes I wondered if it was possible for someone to be that dumb, and a sociopath named Bonnie. Bonnie was…I can’t even begin to describe her in a single word except to say she was a sociopath. She could and did make life hell for a lot of people. She was also very annoying. She was possibly the most negative person I have ever met. If it was sunny, she complained that it was too hot and should be rainy. If it was rainy, she complained it was raining. If we had work to do, she complained that she had work to do and that she was the only one who could possibly do it. If we didn’t have work to do, then she complained because she was bored. She didn’t like her chair. She would get another chair and wouldn’t like it and go back to the original and then complain about it. She had gossip to share on every single person who walked in our door and even those who didn’t. It was a guarantee that as soon as you left the room she was dishing something about you and turning anything you did into something to complain about and to use to make you look bad. The only consolation with her was that she was an equal-opportunity sociopath so if she didn’t have her sights set on you, she was going after someone else and there were a lot of other people for her to choose from.

Most of the time I worked with Bonnie was pure hell. Six months after I started working in the lab, I was wondering if I was crazy. Between the boss who couldn’t figure out how to explain the most basic assignments to this constantly complaining crazy woman who had something nasty to say about every human who walked into the office, I seriously thought I was losing my mind. Luckily, I made friends with Debbie and discovered that no, I wasn’t nuts, the office was. She helped me stick it out (until I got pregnant and realized I didn’t want the loony factory anywhere near my growing fetus, but that’s another story).

Sometimes working with Bonnie could be fun. It wasn’t fun because of anything Bonnie did to make it fun, but because Debbie and I could see what she was doing and it would make us roll our eyes and laugh silently from behind our hands on our lunch break. Bonnie fancied herself the sexiest woman in the office and made a great show of throwing herself at every male who walked through the door. This got to be quite amusing, especially when the male was a 20 something grad student from India or Pakistan who had no idea that what she was doing was supposed to turn him on. Many of the older, white, male professors got off on her attention, which could be kind of gross (especially the one who was married to a disabled wife with MS), but Debbie and I could still find things about this situation that made us laugh.

The lab would periodically hold grad thesis presentations whereby the student would make their presentation to faculty and other students, followed by a small reception with doughnuts and other refreshments. Prior to these events, an announcement was to be made by our office notifying everyone on our floor that the presentation and reception would be taking place. Bonnie LOVED doing this and would literally race to the microphone to make sure she got to be the one to make the announcement. She would snarl something or other to us about how “The goddamned printer isn’t working again! The piece of shit must be out of ink or something.” Then she would turn to the microphone, sexily flip her hair behind her shoulders, lean in and grasp the microphone and breathily intone, “At four o’clock this afternoon, which is in just fifteen minutes (breath, breath, breath), there will be a presentation by Rakesh Akbahr, on the role of stress-strain on the physical transformations that occur (breath) during the cure of thermosetting adhesive-to-wood bonds (breath, breath, breath). After that (breath) there will be a reception in the Buchanon room, where refreshments will be served.” She’d then flop back down in her rolling desk chair and screech at us again, “Goddamned rain. It was supposed to be sunny today.

Debbie and I could laugh and laugh at these displays (out of the office, of course).

Bonnie told us she was an expert on everything. She said she had a degree in forestry, as well as a degree in nursing, and in English, and several others I no longer remember. No matter what came up that required some knowledge by someone in the office, she was in competition to be the top person in that knowledge and she usually had a degree to go along with it. Debbie and I would wonder to ourselves why she wasn’t putting these degrees to good use somewhere considering how underappreciated and underpaid she was sharing an office with us. It is because of Bonnie’s expertise that I even bring her up in this post today. I earned a Juris Doctorate degree in 2003. Then last year, I completed a Master’s in Teaching so that I could transition out of being a lawyer and become a teacher instead.

Last week, I had a conversation with someone, the content of which really isn’t that important. In the course of the conversation, the person I was speaking to was telling me another person had complained about something and that they had to complain because they were a teacher and as a teacher, they were required to complain. This puzzled me because I knew that the thing about which this person was supposedly required to complain was not required of teachers, so I said to the person I was speaking to, “I am a teacher, and that is not actually true.” He looked at me rather consternatedly (now there’s a word) as if to say, “Huh? I thought you were a lawyer?” because in another conversation on another day, he had asked me what kind of work I did and at the time he asked, I told him I was a lawyer, so my saying that I was a teacher on this new occasion was probably a bit odd to him.

I was like Bonnie and her multitude of unrelated degrees. I don’t have a multitude of unrelated degrees, I only have a couple of them. There is my undergraduate degree in English, then there is the lawyer degree, then there is the teacher degree. So I have several degrees and they are mostly unrelated. This got me to thinking about Bonnie and my time in the Forest Products lab so many years ago — twenty years ago actually, is when I started. I’ve stayed friends with Debbie. She came to the birth of my baby and probably knows me better than any other friend.

A lot has happened since then. I wonder now, with my handful of unrelated degrees, if maybe Bonnie really did have a forestry degree and an English degree and a nursing degree, and maybe perhaps something happened that she didn’t need to work in those fields at all. I don’t know. I can’t remember her last name so I can’t look her up (even if I wanted to, which, true told, I really don’t).

If I did look her up, I would find her and tell her I’m sorry for doubting her many educational accomplishments and let her know that I too now have many educational accomplishments. We could get a coffee and reminisce and I could tell her how funny I thought it was when she made the sexy forest products announcements and she could tell me how much she hates the weather and the coffee in the coffee shop we meet in and the chairs in the coffee shop and make googly eyes at the male patrons and…

On second thought, maybe not.

Advertisements

Dogs can be Naughty

Dogs can be naughty. I have one dog in particular, George, who vacillates between extremely well-behaved and extremely naughty. When he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bad, he is so naughty that I want to hang him by his little feet and shake him.

He is the absolute best sit-and-wait dog. My other two dogs eat special dog food and eat it in the kitchen, their little bowls side by side. George, in full Dr. Jekyll mode, waits patiently in the dining room, sitting and waiting until they are done so he can go and lick their empty bowls. He waits until I tell him it is okay for him to go in and erase any possible molecules remaining from their breakfast. He stays sitting there even if I leave the room. He also is the first to run to his kennel when I call out, “Dogs! Kennels!” because we are leaving to go somewhere. When he is being Dr. Jekyll, he is an extremely well-behaved dog.

But George has another side, a more precocious side, his Dr. Hyde side, a side that is quite devilish. Since he has become an adult dog, he is much less inclined to do things like open the closet and remove the box of brand new loafers from Germany that cost over a hundred dollars and chew them up (he did this as a puppy), or open the bathroom door and eat an entire roll of toilet paper (also done as a puppy). Yet in spite of the fact that he is less inclined to do such things, it doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

A couple of weeks ago Milla and I decided to take the dogs with us while we ran to Costco. Along the way, we realized we were starving and stopped and picked up some sandwiches from a Mediterranean restaurant. They were oh, so delicious. George and Oliver and Betsy stood salivating in the back seat. We gave them several nibbles each because it just didn’t seem fair to eat in front of them without at least sharing some small morsels.

We didn’t finish eating our sandwiches before we got to Costco so we simply wrapped them up and put them into the glove box. We had also gotten a side of hummus, and we put this into the console between the seats. We did this so that there would be sandwiches for us to finish when we returned from our quick jaunt into the store. We dutifully removed the trash bin I keep in the back seat, as we always do when we leave George in the car because he has been known to chew it even when it is empty, and opened the windows so air would flow (luckily the summer has been extremely mild here and it was cool enough to leave the canines in the car). Off we toddled into the Costco to get a few supplies for our impending trip to a lovely lake in Washington.

We returned to catch George in the act of doing this:

20160827-IMG_854420160827-IMG_8542These are the doors to the glove box (removed after repair). One opens up. The other opens down. George managed to open them both and eat the sandwiches inside. He also had done this:

20160827-IMG_8543This was the console lid. He had attempted to open the console but was not successful. The hummus was still there, but George had certainly done a number on the car. We were leaving in the morning to go visit a lake in the woods. George ensured we got to go on this trip with the inside of the car looking like it had been attacked by a much bigger dog than George is. He knew immediately that he was in trouble. The moment Milla stood by the cracked window and said, “Oh. My. God.” George jumped into the back seat and then over the back seat into the way back. Luckily the retractable tonneau cover was retracted. As a puppy, George had chewed our prior car’s tonneau cover, making it impossible to retract. I learned after that to make sure the cover was fully retracted before leaving him in the car. Up and over the seat he went, landing with a thud.

We spent the next two and a half weeks driving around with our shredded glove box and console cover. Once we got home from the lake, I spent some time online finding new parts on eBay. I found a brand new console cover for $60, and used glove box doors for $75. The glove box doors arrived a couple of days ago. They were actually two full top and bottom glove boxes, I just took the doors off of them to reuse. They had obviously been part of a car that had been sitting out and getting dirty because they were absolutely filthy. Today, the console cover arrived. I unpacked it and immediately went to work figuring out how to install everything myself. It was my hope that I could figure it all out so I wouldn’t have to shell out even more money to pay someone to install them. Luckily, I was able to do this and now our car looks like its old self again. In the end, those sandwiches cost us $135, dang dog!

Here is the car post installation. I’m grateful I was able to do it myself. Thanks, George, for keeping me on my toes and my skills sharp. And now we know, no more sandwiches in the glove box or hummus in the console, at least not with George around!

20160827-IMG_854020160827-IMG_8541

Cookie Monsters

CookiesI baked cookies for Christmas. Yummy, buttery, sugar filled, high fat content cookies. Basically they were mostly butter, sugar, and flour, and the frosting was straight up butter cream. Yum, yum, yum, but oh, so rich. I could only eat one at a time or I would feel sick.

I gave a bunch of these cookies as gifts to family and friends, but we still had a lot ourselves. I realized shortly after Christmas that I was going to have to give some more away; they were too rich for just me and Isabel to eat, and Milla was in Arizona for another five days. I decided I would take some to some friends at the coffee shop under my office. They were in the cupboard in a bag on top of our dinner plates. I thought of making the gift, but then forgot to take the bag to work with me.

A few days later I was at home putting away the Christmas tree and decorations and remembered the cookies. Ahh, what a perfect way to ring out the holiday season but with a buttery cookie and a cup of tea?

“Isabel?” I asked. “Would you like a Christmas cookie while we put away the decorations?” Isabel loved this idea. (And I should add that my daughter is the best person ever to remove ornaments with. She was extremely quick, careful, and thorough. I couldn’t have had an adult partner who did a better job than this five-year-old. She managed the bottom half of the tree while I did the top half.)

I put on the kettle to heat and opened the cupboard to get a cookie for Isabel and myself, and shock of shocks, the bag was gone! It wasn’t there! I peeked further into the cupboard to see if I was wrong. NO cookies. I looked in all the cupboards. I looked in the drawers. I looked in all of them again, and again. No cookies! I couldn’t figure it. What in the world had happened to them? I wracked my brains, trying to imagine if I had given them away and forgot about it. No. I did not. I could not fathom what in the world had happened to them. I asked Isabel. She was as baffled as I was and looked a little afraid I might not believe her. I gave her a hug and assured her that I knew she had not eaten that bag of cookies. There were a dozen and a half at least. It wouldn’t be possible for her to have, even if she could have gotten up in the cupboard and gotten them down. There weren’t any crumbs anywhere. Plus she’s not the sort to sneak cookies. If she wanted one, she would have asked first and then eaten it right in front of me.

I started to worry. Someone, somehow had come into our house and eaten our cookies. I started to wonder about anything else a thief would want. The bluetooth speaker was playing music in the living room so it wasn’t stolen and neither was the computer playing the music. My camera was in my room. We don’t own much else of value that is the sort of thing a robber would want to steal. I couldn’t imagine anyone would come into our house and steal a bag of cookies and just take that. I was completely baffled, and honestly a little afraid. What in the world had happened to those cookies?

Over the next several days I mulled this over and over. Isabel and I considered all the possibilities, but none were plausible. No one has a key to my house. I have a key hidden outside, and I moved it, just in case someone had found it and stolen the cookies, then returned the key to its hiding place just to trip me out. I don’t really have any trickster friends, but this was weird and I had to consider all options. I considered filing a police report, but just couldn’t bring myself to do so. It would seem much too ridiculous and I thought maybe they would wonder about my sanity.

On Saturday I went to visit my best friend Debbie in Corvallis and told her the story. She too was completely baffled and afraid for me. None of it made any sense. Somehow those cookies were gone and I could not explain their loss.

Today I cleaned house a bit. My dogs had chewed up a pinecone in my room and left little pieces lying everywhere. I dragged the vacuum from its place in the closet and plugged it in. I vacuumed through the main part of the house, the kitchen, the hallway, and my youngest daughter’s room (I don’t go into the teenager’s room–it’s scary in there). Then I headed into my room. Click, click, click, the vacuum sucked up pieces of pinecone. I began vacuuming under the bed. George, my Dachshund, loves dragging his forbidden quarry under the bed. He is constantly grabbing things that aren’t his and heading into his cave. It’s the perfect size for him.

My vacuum is a canister vac, the kind with a head that has it’s own engine apparatus. It almost vacuums itself. As I vacuumed under the bed, I heard a strange flapping sound as the vacuum sucked something funny. I turned off the vacuum and leaned over, peering under the bed. What was that weird thing off toward the wall? I sat up and grabbed my iPhone, scrolled to the flashlight app, and shined it into George’s lair. There, far under the bed, was what appeared to be the chewed remains of the cookie bag.

I called Isabel into the bedroom to have her crawl under the bed and grab the bag. She came immediately as she had been as curious as I in the disappearance of our sweets. I held the iPhone flashlight as she slithered under the bed with ease, retrieving the bag within seconds. It was obviously the cookie bag–there were bits of green frosting remains in the crevices. The mystery was solved.

I realized after this that in considering taking the cookies to my office, I must have removed them from the cupboard, set them on the counter, and then gotten distracted and left them there for the canine thief to steal. He’s done it before, jumped up and taken things off the counter. He might be short, but those squat legs of his are powerful and he can easily jump almost 4 feet in the air. All food goods must be pushed back from the counter’s edge if I’m not in the kitchen to supervise and intervene when George is around.

I am relieved. I’m glad to know that no one broke into my house and stole our cookies. It also explains the obnoxious gas both dogs suffered with for two days, naughty things. In the future I’ll be more mindful, and if and when there is a time in the future when any food goes missing, the obvious place I’ll check for evidence will be under my bed.

The Bratty Puppy

Tonight my daughter, while studying for finals this week, was cuddling in her bed with George the puppy, work splayed out about her. George was under the covers sound asleep. Milla needed to go to the bathroom. She rose, set her papers aside, went upstairs and used the facilities, after which she returned to her room.

On the surface, it appeared nothing had changed. However, when she sat down, she could not locate her algebra study sheet anywhere. Finally, after searching futilely for several minutes, she discovered the sheet shredded under her bed cover, George snoozing soundly next to it.

For real. The dog ate her homework. I saw the shreds. He got up while she was gone for three minutes, shredded the damn thing, then curled up and went back to sleep.

Remarkable.

Winged Gods and Goddesses

I published a story on Huffington Post. It can be found here.

Winged Gods and Goddesses
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.

Before a real horse actually came to live with me…click here to continue reading.

Can Someone Please Help Me With This Letter?

Dear Ms. Gardner,
We regret to inform you that, despite our previous assurances to the contrary, we will not be able to return your brain.  Unfortunately, your brain was part of a shipment of brains that was lost at sea over the Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared in what are said to be circumstances that fall beyond the boundaries of human error or acts of nature.  As you may know, some of these disappearances have been attributed to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.  Although substantial documentation exists showing numerous incidents to have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, there is no doubt that many ships and airplanes have been lost in the area.

As is often the case in the place just described, the plane carrying your brain simply disappeared off any radar.  Despite extensive searches and radio calls, we have been unable to make contact with the aircraft, its crew, or the items on board.  In fact, one search plane was also lost in the process.

We sincerely apologize for this egregious error.  We realize now that in attempting to save time by crossing this area of the Atlantic Ocean in order to decrease costs and thereby increase profits, we have created a huge liability for ourselves.  Our only hope is that because it was your brain that was lost, you will now lack the intelligence to realize the error was ours (despite this letter) and do nothing against us in retaliation or to mitigate your loss.  We also offer our condolences; a deficit of this magnitude must be quite distressing.  We certainly understand how you must be feeling right now, even without your limbic system.  There must be some awareness on your part that something is, well, missing.

As evidence of our sincerest and deepest sympathy, we would like to offer you this $10 gift certificate to Amazon.com.  It is our hope that you will be able to locate a nice children’s book or some other fine gift befitting the current state of your intelligence.  Perhaps a book on the alphabet or counting will allow you to find work at a telephone control center or at customer service for a credit card company.  In fact, we would be willing to put you in touch with our affiliates in these areas should you require assistance in becoming gainfully employed.  Additionally, we would also like to provide you with this gift of a handsome wallet for your identification and in some cases, pizza.

Again, please accept our apologies.  And have a happy holiday.  Thank you so much.

Sincerely,

Brain Restoration Services, LLC

Dear Brain Restoration Services, LLC;
I so much appreciated your letter.  Your kindness in letting me know that my brain had been lost in the Bermuda Triangle, and then your further kindness in offering me the $10 gift certificate and possible assistance with employment were both truly above and beyond the call of duty.  I accept the Amazon certificate, by the way, and look forward to locating a book I can now read (as reading has become somewhat difficult in the weeks since losing my brain).  I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have been helping me in all areas, including reading, feeding, and wiping drool from my chin.  Without you I may actually have drowned.  Much gratitude also to my cousin for typing this letter on my behalf.

I would beg your further kindness, if at all possible.  Unfortunately, Amazon does not carry drool rags.  I searched their site high and low (again with the assistance of friends and family) and was unable to locate one in my price range.  I did locate a towel designed by a famous designer (his name escapes me at the moment–a not uncommon occurrence these days), only this towel was both quite large and quite expensive.  It was not really suitable for my needs.  I would prefer something absorbent that will withstand frequent washings.  Actually, two or three would be most suitable so I have something to use whilst my soiled rags are being laundered.

I also would like to inquire whether you are aware if others who lost their brains in this unfortunate incident might like to get together, not for a support group, but to play.  I think it would be quite enjoyable to build things with blocks or stack plastic rings with one another.  Our caretakers may even be able to trade ideas on dealing with the excess drool and, um, issues surrounding personal hygiene.  I have been made to understand that diaper changing on adults is rather difficult, as you may imagine.

Again, I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and hope this letter finds you well.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Lara Gardner

Autumn — Chapter 17

Read Autumn — Chapter 16

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 knew.

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.

Epilogue
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 herYou 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.

Autumn

Autumn's Last Day

Autumn’s Last Day