On this day, the world did not end.
In the past month, I had a feeling it was happening. Cogniscently, it registered that this was an inevitability. I was counting down the hours, though no one tells you how many there are to count. Work. School. Food. Mess. Things don't slow down in the last days, they speed up. Little things eat up more time than you ever thought they would. Food. Bread. Toast. Butter. Take the bag out of the fridge. Take a slice out. Put it down. Wait. In the meantime, see if she needs anything.
Some days were better than others. We didn't go for walks anymore, but pride made her champion up and down those stairs every time. In her later years, she wobbled, but accepted no help. If a dog could show disdain, she managed it better than any other. She started to turn her nose up at her old food. We gave her canned. After six months, she turned her nose up at that. We gave her the vet stuff. The good stuff. The lamb-and-rice premium aged dog formula. I think my dog became an expert haggler in her old age. If she was going to leave, she was going to do it with dignity, and damned if we weren't going to pay for it. She liked it when we mixed salmon or peanut butter in her meals.
The hair was nothing new. The dog always shed. Hair was always everywhere. It was part of the home environment. You own a dog, you get the hair. Dad complained about the hair for sixteen years, and for sixteen years followed that dog around relentlessly with a vaccuum cleaner glowering and grumbling expletives, shaking his fist at the sky and fiddling with corner attachments. The rest of us didn't care. "Gonna skin you, dog," he would say, "Gonna skin you real good. Can't wait until you're dead." The dog would
gaze up at him from her pillow and sort of shrug, licking her lips, staring defiantly up at him as if to say, "Fuck you, old man. I'm gonna live till I'm 20. See how you like that!" I believe that if she had really put her mind to it, she could have done it. She just got tired of spiting him.
It was the last month, and the messes, that changed things.
"Ugh. She shat again. Oh. God. It smells." You knew when it happened, just not what room. It was an awful anti-easter hunt to find where the dog had gotten sick. Buckets. Soap. Cloths. Paper towel. "Go out and bring the garbage can in while I wipe this up. Don't gag." My mom had a much stronger constitution than I. I assume from years of raising children and cleaning up their messes. "Put the kettle on an boil me some water. Then go downstairs and find the bottle with the orange label on it. It's in the laundry room. Don't swear, I'm the one that's cleaning it up."
The dog, when not hurried outside in case she was going to do it again, would usually hover around, offering an apologetic lick that was quickly, politely declined. Her breath had gotten so much worse. Wipe. Scrub. Disinfect. Rinse. Step on the towel to draw up the moisture. Rinse the water and do it again. Why did she always get sick on the carpet?
It wasn't grief I felt in those moments. That was just a chore. Just a ritual that needed to be done. The same as when her mouth started to rot and the drool came. Grab a tissue, stick it in her mouth and wipe. Somehow in my mind I knew this was all temporary. I wouldn't be doing this for the rest of my life. But it gave me something to do, and something to complain about. "Dog, you stink. Really stink. You're really lucky mum still loves you, because dad and I have just about had it," I teased as I smeared the tissue around her mouth, noticing the black that came out. She knew it was a lie, too, because she still kissed me with that horrible breath and wagged, wandering once around the kitchen block and then shuffling off for a long nap by the couch.
Eat. Come on, you have to eat. Mum, dad and I stood around, thinking of ways to entice the dog. She had lost so much weight in the last week. She was still drinking, but her food remained untouched. No amount of warm oatmeal, peanut butter or even bacon fat seemed appealing. She really just wanted to be as close as possible to us. Maybe because she was mostly blind and mostly deaf at this point, or maybe just to make sure we were all ok. She'd done her job all these years. The night patrol. The home watcher. Now retired to a warm bed beside the television.
Everyone always thinks they could have or should have done more on the last days, but you just don't know when they are. You go to school and come home, and the dog's just a little lazier. A little slower getting down the stairs. Took more time out on the lawn. Have a sniff. Look at the moon. Check the telephone pole out front, check the bush at the side of the house and amble back in where it's warm. I think she knew what was coming, but she kept her cool about it. So did I. Didn't want to really upset everyone.
"Dog, I have school today and I have to stay longer. I'll be home later this evening." A scratch on the head, and the wrinkle-eyed expression of gladness was replaced by the knowing sigh and cocked head of me heading out the door. "Keep mom company. She's still sick. I know you're not doing too hot, either, but at least you have each other. I'll be back later. Dad will be here, too."
I was late to school on Friday. Very late. I'd been late all semester and never bothered to say why, mumbling my sorries and throwing myself into my work. I used my work as a physical distraction from my life, but every pass of the shuttle on the loom was just my dog, my mom, my dog, my mom. I couldn't help either of them, and the feeling of
uselessness dug around inside of me, scraping at all the wrong bits of my personality. I'd try to cry and I just sort of laughed. Tried to laugh and I teared up as heat flushed my face. Do they even have names for these kinds of emotions?
I came home late, just as I'd said. It was peaceful, and had been peaceful all day. The two of them just slept, then dad brought home take-out. He told me he saw
how hard I'd been working, and that he just wanted to say how much my help meant to him. His normally curt bark was softened by our current situation. Everyone forced to get along. To be kind to one another. It's the only way to get through it.
When you know death is coming, you try to prepare for it. "It's ok, you tell yourself. She's sixteen. She's had a good life." I predicted that I would be devastated, crushed, physically immobile and blanked-out to the world at large. It's not like that. It's the slow drain of energy that gets you. Like there's a few tiny holes in your regular reserves
and that vital just-get-through-my-day energy just slowly dribbles its way out. Sleep doesn't replenish it. You wake up and you find that even more energy leaked out of that imaginary container while you were sleeping, and so you sleep some more.
I shouldn't have slept in on Saturday. On the last day, I heard mumblings outside my bedroom door in the morning. "Dad, she can't get up. You'll have to pick her up and put her on her pillow." A tiny yelp. "Not like that! She's very frail!" My father apologized, both to the dog and to my mom. I rolled back to sleep for a while longer, assuming the dog had simply pooped somewhere in the house. I didn't want to clean it up.
It got really quiet. I couldn't smell food. One leg out of the bed. Another. Sit up. Jeans. Bra? No. Shirt. Hoodie. Sock. Sock? I dug into the sheets for the pair to last night's socks. Sock. It's Saturday and my dog is dying. Don't judge me.
They were standing around her pillow. And on it was my dog, who had somehow become more wasted and gaunt in one night than the entire week before. She was sad. She was suffering. She cried and tried to get up to meet me as I crossed through the kitchen to her, but she couldn't. Legs would not submit to will. Shaking legs turned to panting effort, effort turned to strain, and the strain, unbearable. She collapsed and lay there, head down, embarassed. We patted her, mum, dad and I. Told her she was a good dog. An excellent and loved dog. And through the last six months of job worries, school assignments and sickness for my family, we were united by this.
The appointment was for monday. That was too far away, and everyone knew it. We called the vet and got an emergency appointment in twenty minutes.
This was the point when my body went numb and my mind became lucid. It was sunny of all things it could have been in late November. The past two weeks had been drenching cold November rain but the sky was nearly cloudless and I could feel heat on my skin from the sunlight. I remember telling friends a few days ago how I was somewhat ready for my dog to die, before my mom got so sick. Back in September or October, when it was sunny and dry and the leaves were ablaze with colour but not fully fallen yet. I said that I would go for a walk to places my dog liked and it would all be ok. I got my wish. It was sunny.
I was so unhelpful that morning. Dad did most of the work helping mom down the stairs, warming up the car, tucking the dog in a new blanket to replace the one she'd peed on and putting her in the car. She didn't complain about any of this. Neither did I. I wandered around downstairs not knowing what to do with my body, picking up random objects and putting them down in other places until it was time to go.
Inevitabilities do strange things to human beings.
I was in the back seat with my dog. I rested her head on my lap, circling my thumb on her ear. It soothed both of us. Down the long road through town, past the religious
anti-abortion protestors waving giant posters with gruesome images of aborted fetuses on them. I didn't need that. Not today. Not today.
Turn in to the vet. Park. Wait.
I wonder what our vet felt during the process. He'd known our dog for those same sixteen years. Raised her, repaired her. Was on the sudden and emphatic recieving end of every story thrown at him in a whirlwind to the office because the dog was hit by a car or swallowed god knows what. When she gashed her side on a hidden nail in a pile of wood searching for a ball and when on that one day, she ran so hard back and forth down the asphalt road she wore her paw pads completely off. You'd be surprised that that dog made it to death by old age. A lifetime of hijinks wasn't enough.
We waited in the back of my car and comforted the dog, while a dirty pickup truck rolled up and parked near us. A man got out and went in, a gaunt look on his face
that I guess now I could recognise on anyone. The woman in the truck went around to the back and opened the trailer. There was no leash in her hand, nothing hopped out. Just a blue towel wrapped around a still figure in the back. She stroked it lovingly, waiting her turn to see the vet. There was no urgency in either of their actions. This was death. Mine was death. Looks exchanged. No words need be said.
As my dad carried our dog up those back steps, my numbness drained away and adrenaline surged through me. Each step made me nauseous. My dog is dying. My dog is dying. Mother put her arm around my shoulder and I lifted her up, away from her walker. Mechanically, we made it up those steps. One leg, than another. Step by step. My dog is dying. My dog is dying.
People talk about life-changing events going in slow-motion. This wasn't it. It was exactly as fast as the vet said it would be. It was quick. My dog lay wrapped in that old brown blanket on the table. My shudders turned into uncontrollable sobbing. My mom wept, my dad stayed stern and I stood there, shaking, gasping and sobbing. No words, not even-half-formed thoughts. Just one hand holding my dog's ear, my other held by my mother and my father holding hers.
She looked at me. I was the one who picked her out as a puppy from that parking lot. She was our dog, but she was my dog. I was crying the loudest. She knew I needed her support the most. I couldn't meet my dog's eyes as she lay on the table, the syringe sliding into her foreleg, but I knew she was telling me, "It's all right. I've had enough. I'm done now."
"Deep breaths, love, deep breaths, otherwise you'll pass out." My mother's words were distant in my head as I sobbed more and more. This was death.
Then it was done.
My family entered with four and left with three.
The sun shone brightly and warm.
I staggered down the steps, light-headed and exhausted.
My dog is dead now.
The world did not end.