For 17 years, I’ve had a chihuahua side-kick, who has brought me more joy and comfort, than any other relationship I have ever had. (Sorry Diane, he has seniority, but you are way up there too). Three years ago, he was diagnosed with cardiac failure.
So began the journey of staying home, and caring for him. Some days were good, where he was his ‘old self’. Other days, he labored to breathe, and over time, began to cough constantly. Veterinarian visits, medications, shots for inflammation… I’m the kind of girl that will wear the hell out of a pair of black boots I bought at Walmart, but spend whatever I need to, to take care of my old friend. I know some people will totally get that. Others, will not.
Every time he’s had a health problem, surprisingly, I faced criticism from people in my microcosm. Those who know me best of course, understood, and were always supportive and encouraging. Devoid of my relationship with a physically abusive mother, and emotionally abusive father, I was 18 when my family life crumbled. It tanked again, after my grandfather died, and the discord in our family led to some very definitive lines, where I had to choose between my absent, and selfish over critical and insensitive father, and the extended family who had always been there for me. The choice was clear, but it wasn’t easy. It lead to estrangement of my father, who at one time meant the world to me. And I was left apologizing for his actions (and continue to do so) among the shrapnel and shattered relationships he left behind.
My first marriage was not a cruel one, but it was not the right match. I was dead inside, unhappy, isolated and depressed over my conclusive infertility. I thought for sure that God would allow me to be a mother, and let me prove that I had what it took, to create a loving family. The thing I wanted more than life itself, was to raise children, and be a Mom. Just before I got Diego, I had had my fourth miscarriage and was hiding my isolation and deep sadness. Part of me knew even then, that I wasn’t going to be able to carry a child, and I was sad, and immobilized by anger toward God, at my perceived sense of injustice.
At the lowest parts of my life, I was living below the poverty line, post divorce. Not that anyone really knew (except maybe my best friend, who said nothing when she saw there wasn’t a lot in my fridge but diet pepsi and open cans of dog food). I do not have clinical depression, but was circumstantially depressed, and alone. But I had him. Diego. This little spunky, gregarious and impossibly difficult, demanding personality of a pot roast, to come home to. He was what kept me going. I promised him that somehow, someday, I would create a better life for both of us.
Each time he had an emergency surgery, it was a struggle on my income to afford it. But I did. Starting my content writing business had a lot to do with him, and creating that better life. I didn’t love myself enough to do it for myself, if that makes sense. But I loved him enough, to make sure that we made it. No matter what.
Now in the twilight years, there are always people who ‘politely’ suggest I may be keeping a dog that is too expensive for my budget, simply out of selfishness. Crazy dog lady that I am, my dogs are vetted, flea and heart worm medicated monthly. We buy great food, and there are more dog snacks in our house than people food sometimes. But that’s how we like it. For Kevin and I, the dogs are our children too, and in a little house with four dogs, a cat and the twins, there is finally the pitter patter of multiple little feet, that I always aimed for. You can find me on the couch sometimes, buried in furry animals, and two boys who haven’t realized they ‘might’ be getting too big for a full on blanket snuggle. I’ll snuggle them anyhow though, long after my leg falls asleep, with one (or five) of them on me.
Today was another emergency day. Diego couldn’t breathe, and so we rushed him to the vet. Our wonderful, compassionate vet who looks at me with the kindest eyes. He knows. He gets it. And my trust in him is unwavering, hoping that the day doesn’t come when that kind look changes. I read his face, and I look for what he might not be saying to me today. And when I did, he shifted away, and looked at Kevin. I felt that. My stomach turned.
Beans is going to have an x-ray to see what is going on. He has a tumor impinging on his bowel and digestive tract, that gives him problems. His over sized heart, is impinging more heavily on his respiratory system, making it hard to breathe. And my ADHD kicked into high gear. If you could take a stethoscope and listen to my brain, this is what you would hear (and no comma’s).
And again, I’m reminded that there is no Dad to tell me it’s going to be okay. There is no Mom to call me, and remind me about all the things I already know; that I have been a great dog mom, and that he’s had an amazing and long life, and already beaten the odds. My sister Kim is still grieving her dog, and having to put him down mercifully, when he developed stage four cancer. She wants to help. I hear it in her voice when she asks questions, but it’s my job to protect her too. And my grief and sadness, will rip off the new scab that is forming over her own wound. And I won’t do that to her.
Because I am a self-masochist, my head is full of criticism. REFOCUS LORI! GET YOUR WORK DONE! YOU HAVE DEADLINES! MAKE SHIT HAPPEN!
In my head an adult version of me, dressed in a suit literally screaming at my inner child, who is swinging on a green rope, wood seat swing at the cottage, saying nothing, and staring down at her dog in her lap.
And yet at my Nonno’s funeral, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. My arms were around everyone else and holding them. I cried later, and still cry privately. But I can’t tap into that stoicism or nobility today, and be that strong person.
My dog isn’t going to get better; he’s been dying slowly for three years now. And we massage him, Kevin manages the pills (my ADHD makes it hard to remember even my own medications, but Kevin is like clockwork with these kinds of things). Thank you Kevin.
I thought writing volumes of content, with a dog choking and coughing at your feet was hard. The silence as we wait, is even worse. I don’t expect the world to stop, because of this. It won’t. I just wish I knew for sure, what the right thing to do was. I just don’t know. Or maybe, I don’t want to know. It’s not logical, but I am a poet and prone to wearing my heart on my sleeve. And at the end of a leash I’ve held, for 17 years.