Doug made it sound as if we were going window shopping. “Let’s just see what dogs they have,” he said. I fell for it, and of course when he locked eyes with a little red-brown dog shivering on a dirty blue blanket, there was no way we would leave without her. The attendant clipped a leash on the little dog’s collar so we could take her for a “test drive.” The shivering, pitiful creature transformed, suddenly energetic, full of hope, barking loudly what in English would have been “Get me the fuck out of here!” Neither of us had cash or our checkbooks, so I drove to the nearest ATM to get the $40 adoption fee.
As we paid the fee and finished the paperwork, a woman left crying. The attendant explained that the woman’s dog was very ill and had to be euthanized. The woman sat in her car, next to ours, sobbing and inconsolable. I felt guilty as we left with our new, loud bundle of joy, but I wanted to get away from her and the warning she was giving us.
So we can’t claim we didn’t know from the beginning that our time with Sophie would end, sooner or later. It’s easy to get lost in imagining that a loved one is immortal, and we did, but we also took her to the vet at the slightest indication of trouble. We’ve been dreading her death for the past eleven years. On Tuesday, the day came. Sophie had been limping for a month and had been tested and treated for various ailments, but her problems didn’t go away, and her pain increased.
As it turned out, I wasn’t with her. Two weeks ago, my father died after months of suffering from lung cancer. Doug and I both attended the funeral, but Doug sensed he needed to get back even though our dogsitter reported no problems while we were gone, and we hoped Sophie was on the mend. Doug had to go it alone, taking her back to the vet (she’d been so many times in the past month) and then to a specialist who identified a perplexing spot on her x-ray as bone cancer. There was no miracle cure, just painkillers that probably wouldn’t make things even temporarily better for her.
For the past few days, I’ve been sobbing off and on like that woman I saw on Sophie’s adoption day. I haven’t cried like this in years, since the summer of 1994, when two of my friends died within two weeks of each other (but that’s a story for another time). Even after Dad died, I had a hard cry once or twice, but it just didn’t hurt like this hurts. He loved his cats like Doug and I love Sophie, so I know he would understand. There was so much happiness in our eleven years with her. More than our share. We were lucky, and now we’re greedy for more.
I’m amazed that I have so much to lose. I said that to my friend Elizabeth right after Dad died, before I knew how sick Sophie was. Now I’m even more confused. I’ve acquired so much love in my life–good love, real love, strong love, cheesy love–but for the moment I feel so weak. I could suddenly lose it all, and I wouldn’t have the strength to fight for it. A lot of people have reached out to me about both of my losses. They understand that these are major losses. I don’t lack support, yet I feel so alone. Lonely. It’s something I’ve felt most of my life, but it used to make sense. I really was an outsider then.
I’m not hung up on survivor’s guilt. I feel a little of it about Sophie, who was mine to take care of. I do wonder what I could have done differently, although intellectually I understand Doug and I had done all we could. Finding guilt somewhere would provide more comfort than this lack of control. Circumstances were out of our control, and that’s what’s hard to take. I get stuck in looking back, obsessing about things it’s too late to change even if they’d been in my control and mostly about things I couldn’t have influenced in the first place. I want her back, and Dad, too, but there’s no undo button.
I appreciate the thought that Dad and Sophie are romping around some heavenly field sharing a box of Triscuits (the treat he used to win her over when they first met). It’s a lovely scene that’s easy to picture. But my selfishness is hard to penetrate. I’d just like to have them both back, and not in their suffering states. If I’m going to be selfish, I’m going all the way.
Writing isn’t helping me figure things out. The questions keep coming. What is death? Why haven’t we mastered it with technology? Why don’t we know where the dead go? At the very least, why can’t we make grief a little less painful? Of course, the questions might lead to answers, and I suppose I feel some comfort in not feeling completely stuck. It’s the only writing I’m doing lately, but better some than none.
That’s all I’ve got for now. And a long day of travel from my Mom’s house back to my daily life. I’m trying to see the good things. I just want my plane to get here so I can make my connecting flight. The big picture is easy. It’s these day-to-day obstacles that leave us stranded, make us vulnerable. It’s easy to say it gets better. Figuring out how is the challenge. For now, all I can do is grant the gate agent’s request by giving her my patience.