Like a Bad Country Song

October 16, 2010

Life can be cruel. Sometimes the universe hits you when you’re already down, tears something you love away and leaves you gasping for air.


Yesterday afternoon I was excited – Fresh off work, pocket full of tip money, full tank of gas, and I’d fallen into some fun – a reunion with good friends, comedy shows on Saturday, and a bit of desperately needed camaraderie. Compared to renovating houses, waiting tables, or getting yelled at by irate mothers of grooms it seemed heavenly. I blew up the 5, played my favorite tunes, made some long distance phone calls, and missed the afternoon traffic jams – not a small feat in Orange county. I even managed to drop by a flower boutique and get a nice bouquet for a friend whose birthday I’d been forced to miss. All told, it was an auspicious start to one of the saddest nights of my life.


Of course, it wasn’t all gravy – because I hit no traffic and had gotten off work early, no one was home to let me into Boy’s House, and I spent a good hour nursing a beer on their front porch and fighting the urge to clean the patio – Boys House being what it is, the two-week-old beer pong cups were beginning to get a bit West Nile-y. Still, people came home soon enough, and being among true friends is an experience I treasure. Dinner, catching up, TV, talks; we slip into our old routines so easily, and this was no exception. It wasn’t until about beer 3 that things took a twist for the terrible. My phone rang, it was my youngest brother, and since things have been so awful on the home front of late, I answered expecting something bad. What I got was awful.


“K, are you coming home tonight? Spudsie died.”


A bit of history is needed here – Spudsie is our old lady dog. She’s been part of the family since I was 8, when we got her from our good friends whose dog had given birth. They were nice enough to save us one of the puppies – A 10 month old dirt-brown ball of sticks and leaves and energy, she captured all of our hearts from the very first days. When we adopted her, all of us boys were adamant we name her Spud, because she was from Idaho, and what the hell else happens in Idaho? Luckily for everyone, my mom put her foot down(-ish). “She’s a girl dog, and she needs a girl’s name. Spud is not ladylike.” Spudsie – much more ladylike! – was the first dog I ever had as puppy, and at only 4 days older than my brother, it was wild seeing his and her different development speeds. Always smart, Spudsie figured out that an infant produces a lot of waste food, and so for the early years of her life she feasted on spilled, dropped, and occasionally stolen food – K3 had a habit of leaving his mouth open a lot when he ate, and Spudsie figured out that she could just clean his mouth out with her tongue, and none would be the wiser! Eventually he passed her by and earned the right to keep his food, but she was always our beloved family pet.


When I left home for college, Spudsie waited. For four years, she remembered me, still loved me, still slept in my room – the infrequent visits never made her less loyal, even as she got older. When I left again on my international hijinks, I said goodbye forever – I simply didn’t believe a dog as old as her could hold out until I came home. Stubbornly, Spudsie kept living. Her senses faded, vision, hearing, she couldn’t jump any longer, but still she kept living, kept loving, kept breathing. I came home, and she scarcely recognized me – it took a lot of sniffing before she was convinced I’d come back. Still, at 16 ½ years old, she’s been on her last legs for a while, and we’ve been going through the stages of grief as a family. She’s had a wonderful life with us, and to see her slowly die has been heartbreaking, but at least she’ll die surrounded by a family who loves her, right?


This phone call from my brother wasn’t completely unexpected, but it still was a terrible thing – I had wanted to be there, had hoped it would be in her sleep at the foot of my bed where she spent so much time. The one day I was gone… what shit luck. What rotten fucking timing. Why couldn’t I be there? She’d waited so long for me, and I left town the day she died.


At least I had that morning fresh in my mind. Spudsie is lying on the floor by my bad, where she’s just fallen to because well – she’s blind and old and shaking herself out near the edge of the bed is a recipe for disaster. I’m two feet away lying on my floor because I do that, so laughing I put my face next to hers and blow air in her nose so she won’t startle when I pick her up. I put her on my chest, lie on my back and pet her slowly, and I can’t believe that she’s still alive – she’s lost so much weight, the weird growths on her head and neck are conquering new territory, she smells like decay, and her skin is so loose I could put another half-dog in it. Still, she’s my puppy, and I don’t know how much longer I have her in my life for, so I lay there and scratch her, and strike up a conversation.
I spoke with my dog about our life together, right there the last time I’d ever see her. We spoke about how much I loved having her in our family as I grew up, about how smart and loyal and loving she’d been. I told her I hoped she wasn’t in pain, and that I couldn’t have ever asked for more in a dog. I asked if she was holding on to life for me, and begged her not to. “You’ve had a full life babe, and there’s no sense in suffering.” I kissed her on the nose, and told her I wouldn’t move away again while she still lived, but that I was going to stay with friends for the weekend and wasn’t sure she would make it until I came back. “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but you’ve been the best dog I’ve ever had, and I’m glad we grew up together.” I hugged her, left her lying in a sunny spot and went to work – that was the last time I ever saw her. If I couldn’t be there in her final moments, at least that’s a decent ending, right? It was finally her time.


All this had gone through my head in a few seconds – all the stages of grief, all the thoughts, the deep-seated urge to just lie down and cry, interrupted by the fact that I now have to take charge (via phone) and get something done. My youngest brother hasn’t had to deal with dying animals, and my mom doesn’t handle this sort of thing well – I could hear her sobbing in the background. I started to go over the basics with my brother; she’s old, it will happen to us all, it’s just her time, at least she had a beautiful life with us, etc, etc, but right here he interrupted me.


“Spudsie drown in the pool. I was at practice, mom came to pick me up, and while we were all out of the house she fell in and died.”


In the pool. A blind, deaf, feeble dog struggling in the darkness, all alone in her final moments. For a dog who spent her entire life in being near us, in loving us, in being a part of our lives, it is the most sick and terrible death I could imagine for her. Nobody to hear her, nobody to help, until she slips below the frigid water and expires. Can you think up a more terrible, unfair way to die?


My brother’s voice cracked as he tells me about pulling her body from the water, and my mom is wailing, trying to get the other dog to come look at Spudsie’s body. I tell my brother to wrap her in a towel and put her into a box on my bed – I just figured it was where she would want to be. He’s a great kid, more grown up than I give him credit for, and so he does exactly that, and passes the phone along to my mom.


She’s heartbroken – life has not been kind to our family these past years, and something so tragic as Spudsie’s death just feels malicious after all the crap we have to dig through each day. She tells me that she feels guilty about being gone, for abandoning the dog at the end, and I say I feel the same. I offer to come home but she tells me not to, and I agree to come back the next morning. We commiserate, build up each other’s spirits to protect against another day, and then she goes off to help my brother and I’m surrounded by happy friends feeling like I betrayed my dog and family. Why can’t I be happy too?


My friends are sympathetic, we make the best of things, but I’ve rarely felt so alone as I did lying there in their living room and trying vainly to sleep. Eventually I drift off, and mercifully I do not dream.


This morning I drove home as the radio played everything I needed to hear. The family had gone off to school and work, so the house was quiet, shades drawn. I wandered up to my room steeling myself to say goodbye to my dog, only to find they hadn’t laid her in state on my bed as I’d asked. It took a bit to find her, but outside near the back door I saw a box, and knew exactly what I’d find inside.


It’s the meanest thing in the world to see someone you loved once alive and now dead. I don’t care who it is – dog, friend, family, anyone you care about – you never want to see them up close and dead. And yet, I wasn’t there. I missed her death, dammit, and I had to see her. I opened the box, and looking her lying there, still damp, wrapped lovingly in a towel, I could almost trick myself into believing she was just asleep. Only her eyes were open, and everything was so rigid, and I’m not big on deluding myself. I pulled her out of the box – so light, so stiff – saw her eyes and nose still wet, felt the damp fur on her head, and held her, towel and all, as I sat by the pool in another misty morning.


That’s life – wake up one morning thinking you’ll have fun for once, and end up the next day holding your beloved dog’s stiff corpse on the edge of the scene of her death.


I guess the silver lining of getting hit by so much shit is that we grow resilient. I shed a few tears, put Spudsie back into her box, went inside and made breakfast. She’s a couple yards from me as I write this – we wanted to bury her as a family, and tomorrow is the first day we all have off. We’ll survive, even if life is determinedly cruel to those least deserving. We just have to remember all the good that came of her, all the love Spudsie showed, how she caught rabbits alive by chasing them until they gave up, her speed and her smarts and her daring, that time she took on a bulldog to protect my baby brother, how she grew so entwined with our family, and how she gave her heart to us all. Our family was truly blessed had her with us for so long. Spudsie, I love you, I’m so sorry. You’ll be missed by us all.

She was my old lady dog.
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