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.


Anonymous said...

Your post has brought back a torrent of emotions that I faced June, three years ago. My 15 1/2year old Lab, Buster, was in the same condition as Satch and I came face to face with the same damned decision that you have. I cry again as your beautiful words bring those memories to the surface. Tears of sadness because I still miss him, and tears of joy because I enjoyed his excellent companionship for so long. Buster never did bring a ball back to me, but that was part of his charm. Though he can never be replaced, my 2 year old rescue, Bosco, has certainly filled the void.
I am sorry for your impending loss.
Susan A.

Anonymous said...

Crying right along with you, Spike. Hang in there.

muffy bolding said...

miss spike --

this was absolutely stunning -- and absolutely heartbreaking. it's so funny because i run into so few WRITERS anymore...not just people dickin' around on their dell, but real writers, to the bone writers, writers who can shatter your fucking heart and steal the breath from your body without so much as breaking a literary sweat. you are that kind of writer -- and so much more. thank you.

my condolences on the death of your friend. i shall think of him as he begins his great journey across the universe -- to that lovely place where joints are not achy, couches are not off limits, and frisbees are aplenty.

and for break your heart even more than it's already breaking -- but to also remind you that you're not alone in your loss and that a good and loyal friend -- no matter what their form -- is priceless and worthy of remembrance. a poem, from another old dog we lost earlier this year:

Dog's Death

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog!
Good dog!"

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

-- John Updike

Spike Gillespie said...

christ, what a poem. okay, well, i'm crying again. but that's okay. thanks for sharing that. and the good words.

kristina b said...

Heya Spike. You're killing me, here. I just lost my cat of 15 years this past Saturday. I guess all I can say is I know how you feel, and I'm crying too.

I really know what you mean about the animal being oblivious to impending death... I guess it's better that way, but there's something profane about it. Oof. Hang on there.


teriannek said...

I am so sorry! I understand and am crying now too. We lost a little handicapped runt of a dog, Josie, a little over a year ago. She visits my husband and I in our dreams on the same nights every once in a while. Hang in there, he will still be a part of you and hopefully visit you in your dreams.

By the way, I agree with Muffy Bolding, I really enjoy reading your work. Just wanted to let you know.

Mary Ellen said...

Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. You need to check out the children's book Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. A simply wonderful book that will comfort you as much as anything can when you lose a piece of your heart!

rebray73 said...

Spike, I am so sorry about your loss. You will be in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for another wonderful column. I just found out today that my 11 y.o. dog has cancer and will only live for another month or so. I'm dreading all the imminent "last times" ahead, but it helps to commiserate with a fellow dog lover who's losing a loyal and dependable companion.

Anonymous said...

This makes me tearful. My heart aches for you.