“The heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking
it is necessary to go through
dark and deeper dark
and not to turn” ~ Stanley Kunitz, “The Testing Tree”
Friday afternoon. Cloudy and humid, 80’s.
This post is very depressing. You may want to just skip it.
My dog Shakes is dying. He’s the fat, gay mama’s boy, the bigger Jack Russell, and he’s 12. He has congestive heart failure. That wheezy cough that I thought was allergies, wasn’t.
In the past 24 hours, he has collapsed twice, once, his heart seemed to stop. As I’m typing this, he’s at his usual spot, on the floor next to my chair. He’s been on medication for two days, but frankly, he seems worse.
I know that this happens. I know that if you have pets, the chances that they are going to die before you do are great. I know that loss is part of the process in deliberately choosing to open your heart to something. I know all of these things. Ask me if it makes a damned bit of difference.
In my lifetime, I have lost three dogs of my own, not including the deaths of those dogs who lived with my parents. Ascot was a rescue from the pound in Christiansburg, the first few months after I married my ex. She had hip dysplasia, but we adopted her anyway, knowing that she wouldn’t have a long life, but she would have a good one. Then I lost my first lab, Mokie, to old age and illness. And my second lab, Murphy, died of heart failure, and it happened on the one weekend that Corey and I decided to go to the Outer Banks with friends, so she died without me.
I won’t let that happen to Shakes.
“Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” ~ Marianne Williamson
The two boy Jack Russells came to us from my mother, who bought them from the woman who used to live behind her. I had always wanted a Jack Russell, that is, until I found out that they are truly terror terriers. Never mind. She brought them over and announced that they were birthday presents for the boys.
So we welcomed William Shakespeare (Shakes), and Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Alfie) into the fold. Murphy was still alive at the time, and the boy puppies put a new spring into her step. We soon found that the boys were escape artists, managing to find any hole in the fence, regardless of size. The neighbors became aware of the two white dogs who lived on the corner, and sometimes returned them before we even knew that they had escaped.
Shakes has always been my dog, following me from room to room, sleeping by my side. Alfie, not so much. In fact, Alfie is probably a wee bit psychotic, going into prolonged growls for no apparent reason. Canine rage, it’s called. The vet prescribed meds, but said that Benadryl was just as effective. So Alfie gets his dose of Benadryl in a blob of peanut butter. Everyone is happier.
So my canine boys are old now, and I’m facing yet another loss. And as we all know, I don’t do loss well, and, well, this is coming at a time in which my defenses are already weakened, and my spirits are mighty low.
“We scribble our little sentences.
Some of them sound okay and some of them sound not so okay.
A grain and an inch, a grain and an inch and a half.
Sad word wands, desperate alphabet.” ~ Charles Wright, from “When You’re Lost in Juarez, in the Rain, and It’s Eastertime Too”
Let’s add a really fine topper to this whole situation, shall we? Corey is leaving tonight. It’s been great that he’s been home, but the time spent running around trying to take care of things has made it so that we’ve hardly had any time with each other, and now he’s gone for at least another five weeks or so.
And so, and this is very selfish, I know, Shakes in all probability will die while Corey is away.
I dealt with Tillie’s massive seizures without him, and lots of extraneous bullshit without him, and no, this isn’t his fault, and I’m not even close to suggesting that. It’s time and circumstance, both of which seem to be in collusion to bring about that perfect storm (a phrase which used to have real meaning before the media seized upon it and used it ad infinitum), the circumstances in which I will surely approach that point at which just one more thing, even pebble-sized, when added to the precarious perch upon which I find myself, will send me crashing.
Did you follow that?
“Thus I spoke, more and more softly; for I was afraid of my own thoughts and the thoughts behind my thoughts.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”
I know that I’ve mentioned the circumstances of my parents’ marriage more than once. Short version, my father spent most of their marriage (we’re talking decades and decades) at sea. They essentially lived separate lives until he retired, and when they were together, they fought and fought and fought.
It was never the kind of marriage to which I aspired. I mean, I’m not that kind of crazy. But now I find myself in the kind of marriage in which one of us is gone for weeks and weeks, out of touch by telephone, and yes, it’s great that there is e-mail, but it’s not the same. It’s just not the same.
Yes, he’s working. Yes, he’s making good money. Yes, we’re able to pay our bills. No, we’re not going to lose our house. No, our utilities are not going to be shut off. No, I’m not going to lose my health insurance.
The adult part of my brain, small that it is, understands all of this. But I have always been ruled by my heart, not my brain, and my heart aches. It simply cannot bear the weight of all of these things, piling on in quick succession. And, I have to say this because it’s true, I hate that, hate hate hate that about myself. Why can I not be better about all of this? Why can I not weigh the pros and cons rationally? Why can I not handle the stress with more aplomb and less angst?
I have no answers. Face it. If I had any answers, I wouldn’t be asking these stupid questions.
“All will go
And one day
We will hold
Only the shadows.” ~ Carl Sandburg, from “Losses”
So, full circle. Shakes is lying on the floor, head on front paws, breathing relatively well. The image seared into my retinas of his tongue hanging out of his mouth is still fresh, and it’s right there next to the horrid memory of Tillie’s face pulled back in pain and her eyes beseeching me. And all the while, I am of little more use than a lamp post.
We humans seek out animal kinship. We buy, find, rescue dogs, cats, birds, snakes, mice, lizards, even rats. We give these creatures names, and we bestow upon them human characteristics. We talk to them, play with them, feed them, and spoil them. That is, if we are decent humans deserving of animal companionship. I won’t even delve into those beastly humans who inflict great cruelty upon animals because, after all, they’re just fill-in-the-blank, and no, I have not nor will I ever forgive Michael Vick no matter how well he plays football.
I have spoiled Shakes. And in the past few days, I am deliberately spoiling him more, letting him go for car rides, giving him extra treats. I cannot control the fact that he is dying, but I can make his remaining time here as filled with love as is possible. I can say his name lovingly, rub behind his ears gently, and hold him when he has an attack.
And then I can go in the bathroom, turn on the water, and weep.
More later. Peace.
Music by Antony and the Johnsons, “Cut the World”
The shock comes slowly
as an afterthought.
First you hear the words
and they are like all other words,
ordinary, breathing out of lips,
moving toward you in a straight line.
Later they shatter
and rearrange themselves. They spell
something else hidden in the muscles
of the face, something the throat wanted to say.
Decoded, the message etches itself in acid
so every syllable becomes a sore.
The shock blooms into a carbuncle.
The body bends to accommodate it.
A special scarf has to be worn to conceal it.
It is now the size of a head.
The next time you look,
it has grown two eyes and a mouth.
It is difficult to know which to use.
Now you are seeing everything twice.
After a while it becomes an old friend.
It reminds you every day of how it came to be.
~ Ruth Stone