Now the gentle plans unfold, harsh as shards of granite beneath the skin, splintering every nerve.
The dog is ready to rest.
Meanwhile, resisting with every cell still storming, I try to organize the arrangements I hoped I would never have to specify — the site and manner of death, dealing with the body and burial, holding her one last time.
On my mind these days, because I cannot envision my daily life without this dog, are details approaching nonsense: Do I own an adequate shovel? Will the landlord allow me space for a grave? Should I scatter her ashes over the sea she has so loved? Which of these present days will be the one of unforgettable detail and absence?
The golden retriever, gone far beyond epilepsy now, is already fractionally departed — or so she appears most of the time now, slipping further and longer into dream, whimpering as she sleeps as though in pain she cannot for my benefit hide, dragging herself outdoors only to fail and fall on the stairs, sitting up only to stare at me for long moments, telling me what I already know. She is, at the last, as ever, waiting for me to catch up.
She is dying; she is dying, I intone to myself, making no sound but a subdued wail within, something like the low warning growl she has always issued over some imagined invasion, though the intruder now is unstoppable death.
She is dying; she is dying, I think with leaden repetition. But I do not want this going, my life opening on this clearing, this liberation of my leisure hours, this exemption from constant sweeping of dog hair from every corner, every coat. I do not wish this rearrangement of all my internal furniture, an empty room, minus the dog.
She has not eaten for five days, and the vet has decreed that intervention to give her a little more time cannot be delayed even a week. But I am suspending it forever. I know it is time to go.
The golden days left now are calculated by the measure of how much water she consumes — a disheartening lowest common denominator on any day, but especially now as her liver fails, forcing her to lap up constant, unimaginable amounts of liquid, even for a dog of her size. I traipse back and forth to the sink, the levered faucet like the gear shift on an engine I am quickening or slowing by degrees, as I fill a fleet of water bowls and strategically position them so that she will not have to walk more than 10 feet to slake her thirst.
I have done my best to deny the ending that is coming, surely as sunset or a turning tide. I have indulged myself in pointless, perky rituals to reverse the real physical conditions — broiling steaks for her, baking chicken in the 95-degree heat of high summer, boiling hamburger and rice, slipping bologna the diameter of a DVD out of its deli jacket and offering it rolled into a hollow cigar shape, torn into ragged pieces, uncoiled from edge to center like a yo-yo, flung through the air like little Frisbees — all to coax from her a gesture of interest in life.
These are terrible days, fraught with this finishing, though all around us, friends and acquaintances, neighbors and veterinarians, are kind, compassionate and patient — the three great virtues in departure. Many intimates have called to extend that odd permission we seem to require, even when ending suffering, because, we know, once the decision is executed, nothing will ever be quite the same again.
Frankly, I cannot focus on images of how days will go with her big, slow red presence erased from the frames. She has had many nicknames over the years — Kodi, Kodster, Kod-Meister, Bone Head, even Ghandi — but everyone called her Car Dog at one point or another because she made the SUV her cave, a lair in which she spent a healthy portion of her life, anticipating my return — from work, from the grocery store, from work, from the coffee shop, from work.
She has been the fixture in my heart, in my home, in my understanding, education and experience of life, for a decade. In part because her health was an almost constant challenge since puppyhood, our time together involved chronic attention, a symbiosis that creates a charged and emotional bond, a fight every hour to hold your happiness and heart in check — and each other in sight.
I have been watching my dog die for years, it seems, the anxious fate of having an epileptic animal as companion and friend. I have sat with her for many hours over the years as she quaked and roiled, lay on her side and paddled with her massive uncontrollable paws. I have told her a hundred times to go if she wanted, praised her with Homeric monotony, stroked her red hair thick as bear fur, sang back to her the beauty and devotion, energy and antics that filled our times together.
“How I pity someone who has never loved a dog,” I grieved aloud one evening to no one but the night — the woods and earth beyond the walls, the water and air an everlasting emptiness into which she likely will already have been welcomed before these words, swiftly stenciled on newsprint, live for a day and let me whisper a soft goodbye.
Everything is electric during these last moments, the sunlight on the leaves seeming to turn the trees to glass, the air literally shimmering with heat off the asphalt, the hush of the evening rain, the tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling like bits of fog across the wood floor. I am seeing it all as though for the last time, making a checklist of things to do before the dog goes — picking up stuffed toys, piling water bowls in the dishwasher, throwing away the hated, seldom-used leash — because I already know that too many remnants left behind will undo me when I come home alone.
That’s it, you know: alone. It is not a state of being I fear or prefer; nor is it punishment, nor fate. It is a simple fact in passing, the dark figure waiting in the wings. But in time, even solitude spreads over you like a twilight shroud — a darkness brightened with a thousand faraway stars of memory and devotion.
She is my finest hour, I have so often thought, my one-in-a-million achievement, her many stellar moments as piercing as a shimmering constellation the dark, grief-ridden canopy of my heart.
Now there is just one more thing to do for her, and that will be done soon enough, will arrive without pain, delivering relief from a fearful disease that neglect had implanted in her before she ever left her litter to become part of my pack. But in desolation as in mercy, there is only what subsides and that which remains.
She knows how I love her, she trusts that I will ease the affliction. She sleeps each night on my clogs, clinging to the bed frame, so that I cannot rise or leave without her waking. She is at peace in my protection; she can drop off without worry, drop out at any time.
Not so, perhaps, for me, but here in the dark, and after, there is nothing more to say.
North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: