Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Death Watch 2009 Part II: Final Day
For the past week or so it's been nearly impossible to look at Satch without bursting out crying. I woke up today, his final full day on the planet-- he leaves us tomorrow afternoon when the vet comes to put him down-- and I came up with a plan. Since he seems oblivious to his imminent death, I figured the least I could do was feign cheerfulness around him. That's it! I would have nothing but a happy attitude all day.
I went out back to feed him this morning and after he ate for a bit he went and tracked down his old disgusting chew toy, covered in years' worth of dirt, and brought it over to me. And, once again, I started to cry. The thing about Satch is, like me, he has some pretty intense OCD issues. I figured out years ago that his obsession with whatever toy he was fixated on at the moment-- there was the series of rubber carrots (until I could no longer find more in the store), any number of Frisbees that got chewed up or bent into hard shell taco shapes, and now this dirty old stuffed squirrel-- would inspire an unstoppable urge to play fetch with that toy for hours at a time, if only someone would have the patience to throw it that long. And I knew that, if we could get a team of people over here to throw his toy for him around the clock, he would literally play fetch until he dropped over dead.
The gallows humor surfaces and I think that I could throw the squirrel for him all day today until he drops dead, and saves $400+ in vet fees tomorrow.
In fact, in recent months, I've hardly thrown the squirrel at all. Satch's arthritis is so bad that just getting up off his bed (yes, he has a full sized bed) causes him tremendous pain. I can't bear that five minutes worth of fetch will leave him limping even more than usual for the rest of the day. But this morning was different.
There he was, crummy squirrel in his mouth and there I was, crying. I've been thinking about how-- save for my son-- my 12+ year relationship with Satch is, by far, the longest sustained daily relationship I've had in my adult life. For many years we slept together, until the pack got too big and not only wasn't there enough room in my bed anymore, but the dogs would sometimes fight each other in the night, jockeying for who got to sleep closest to me. But the years we slept together were excellent, his big body bringing me the steady comfort and sense of safety that no man has ever been able to sustain.
I decided to throw the squirrel today-- what's it going to do? Kill him? And upon his first retrieval, when he ran back to me, eagerness in his clouded over eyes, I said, "You have to let it go," and then I cried harder.
Because I flashed back to two years ago. My then-husband had left me less than a year into our marriage, unable or unwilling to work on the issues that plagued us from the start. I still had many months of therapy in front of me before I could truly understand this parting was beyond for-the-best. In the immediate aftermath, as Satch was with his toy, I was with my predominant thought: I have been left.
I don't think I have a single bigger button in my life than being walked out on, that sense of abandonment. Ancient stuff, yes. But very much in sharp relief in the spring of 2007. I would, each morning, get up and go out back and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and think, "He left me he left me he left me how could he leave me why did he leave me he left me." It was an awful loop, a horrid rat wheel and I could not, it did not seem, get off of it.
Satch kept me company then, bringing me the toy over and over. He was loathe to release it and so over and over I would say, "You have to let it go, you have to let it go." He never let it go.
In Texas, you have to wait something like sixty days between filing for divorce and actually getting divorced. I do believe that it was right around sixty days into the legal separation, as I waited for the court date, that once again, I was in the yard, begging the universe to just grant me five minutes of feeling and being in the present, rather than wallowing in all the shit of that marriage, when a funny thing happened. I threw a toy for Satch-- what was it? Taco Frisbee? And he ran after it. And then he came back and, who can say why, he let it go.
And then I got it. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go.
I didn't have a miracle moment then where I let go of my estranged husband and all his baggage and all my unhappiness in one fell swoop. To be honest, there are still triggers that set me off, and I know some of the shit I still need to let go of. But in that moment, with Satch as role model, I began, at least, to begin to put it down.
The past several weeks have been pretty rough for me, even by my incredibly-high-threshold-for-pain standards. There's been a lot of loss and a huge internal battle between clinging and trying to let go. So this morning, when I said without thinking, "You have to let it go," a visceral something ripped through me. How will I now remember to let it go without my old man to remind me?
It's early in the morning and usually I'd be out walking the dogs right now. But it is thundering and Satch hates thunder. Back when he was more limber a thunder crack would inspire him to flatten his body and wriggle beneath the futon frame, a bizarre and seemingly impossible trick-- he's a very big dog. So I can't walk him now, take him on his penultimate stroll through the hood which, anymore, takes far longer than it used to as he hobbles along, tentative steps.
The other night, I let him sit on "the good couch" and watch Milk with me. I know, I know, so upbeat-- weepy me watching a movie about an assassination with my dying dog. I don't know if he had the capacity to wonder suspiciously why he was suddenly allowed the privilege of the "good couch"-- I doubt it. He fell asleep beside me snoring, the other dogs banished to a different room, just Mommy and her big boy, spending a little quality time together.
For the past couple of days, I've reinstated other long-gone privileges. Because he pees everywhere now, mostly I keep him in the living room or outside. But what the hell-- he's back in my office, under the desk, his furry belly a nice foot warmer. Tatum, as she so often has since she came into our lives a decade ago, is lying inches away from him. They have been such close companions all these years and, for as much as I feel sorry for myself and this pending loss, I am far more worried about Tatum, whose self-assigned job has been to forever console the grumpy old man, cater to him, lick his head even when he is snapping at her. I imagine her, in the aftermath, confused, searching for her best friend, not knowing what to do with herself.
When Satch was little and forever too-wound-up, I used to joke with him, "When are you going to be one of those dogs that just lies prone on the rag rug in the kitchen?" It never really dawned on me I'd live to see that day.
Posted by Spike Gillespie at 8:47 AM