August 6. What a day. It has once again stretched the coping ability, now like old, worn elastic. Please, God, no more like this one.
He’s gone… I’d pushed OK, and this text message lit up the screen of my cell phone. I thought I should check it when there was no blinking light on the land line. I knew this was coming. In fact, I had gone outside and walked around Wimbledon Circle once, twice, then I rode my bike, and then ran. I knew it was happening. I just didn’t want to face it. After I got the text, I walked again around the circle and let the acid and anxiety bubble up to my throat and the tears wet my face and drip to the concrete under me.
Bailey was my “granddog.” His appointment with destiny was scheduled for Saturday, but he couldn’t make it. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s years ago, took the chemo treatment at $80 a month, along with Mannatech immune-strengthening products, and lived longer than most dogs with the disease. Then diabetes set in, then kidney failure. Bailey was suffering and ready to go.
She’s in! I could tell my sister was driving. I could hear the road noises as she headed north up 61. I sat at my desk at work and clutched my cell phone tighter. I just left her. And she’s not happy. She was getting her purse, ready to walk out with me. Her voice was strong, a little shaky, but determined. It was a hard thing to do, but she drove down from Memphis and did it.
Our mother was admitted to the Senior Care unit of North Sunflower County Hospital. It has been coming a long time, but particularly in the last month, things have gone drastically awry. Her pain, persistent over the last six months, has intensified; no doctors, no tests have shown anything wrong. Her confusion has increased, she has lost her words, her short-term memory has failed.
She’s the matriarch, she demands to stay in her own house, she has threatened to sue us if we challenge that. She’s a fighter, a wildcat, and everyone understands who and what she is, and we’re all slow to cross her. She has refused help, until now. She knows she’s not what she was.
Before Bailey, my son had a wolf, a pure-bred wolf. He kept it in my parents’ backyard while he attended college in the same town…and neglected to tell them it was a wolf. Then he married, the wolf got a home in the country, and the young couple traveled to Okolona, Mississippi, and got this tiny white puffball Maltese. Bailey had to be tough, following a wolf. My son would put one end of a rag bone in Bailey’s mouth and with the other end, swirl the puppy around the hardwood floor like a dust mop.
I took my brand new cocker spaniel to visit Bailey. She was standing in one corner of the living room, and he was sitting on the couch on the opposite side of the room. All of a sudden, with no prompting, he jumped straight up in the air and far across the room, landing ten inches from her, and shouldered roughly into her side with a growl that could bring down an army. She cried. She stewed on it for months, and at the next visit, she watched and waited for an opportunity and took it, barking, growling, snarling, pushing him backward across the kitchen floor, and though he was one-third her size, he stood his ground to make it clear he was the alpha dog.
Dad was alive and healthy back then and rode a bicycle every day — an old one with a big fat seat and a basket on the front handlebars. He was determined to put Bailey in that basket and take him for a ride. “No, Dad, it’s not a good idea,” I said. “He’ll be fine, he’ll just sit there and look around,” Dad said. No sooner than they got to the next block, a Great Dane ran out in the street viciously barking at them. Bailey, all of four pounds, bravely leapt from the basket and chased the monster dog down Deering. Dad dropped the bike and ran after Bailey. “Come back here!”
“You come down here and get me or I will hate you forever.” My heart flips over and rolls around, feels like a dog lying on dry grass, scratching its back and kicking its legs.
I never thought Mama would need any help. Last summer she was mowing her own yard and doing all the weed-eating and at 87, was still driving and going to church by herself.
As a girl, Mama lived by and swam in the Ohio River. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps during WWII; she was making her way to the parade grounds on the army base the day President Roosevelt came to inspect the women, and she stood curbside all alone — three feet from the leader of the free world — and saluted him, and shortly thereafter, he made the WAACs the WACs, an official part of the Army. Mama went to college on the GI Bill, got a BS double major in social studies and graduated with the highest average in her class. She also got a BS in elementary education, an MS in special education, and an MS in Supervision/Administration. She taught school for 33 years. She is a member of Kappa Delta Pi.
She’s always been a strong, independent woman because she comes from a famous pioneer family. Her third great grandfather was a first cousin of Daniel Boone.
“I don’t belong here,” she says. “Tomorrow, you come get me.”
The vet arrived at the house and did the deed as the dog lay on the couch in the living room. A half hour later someone from the crematory came. The ashes would be returned in a cedar box the following day, along with a paw print and a lock of hair.
How can life take one so vibrant and strong and reduce it to something unrecognizable? True, a newborn baby goes through change after change on the path to adulthood. But then why at a certain point do things start going backward? Why is life so complicated that its processes of movement and growth and flow just stop altogether?
It’s time. This weekend I must clean out the drain in the master bathroom. I’ve been putting this off. I can’t any longer. I’ve never had to do this “dirty job” but now I am alone and it falls to me. It is surely clogged with my hair, the dog’s hair, soap residue, debris from plants at its corners, and lint that floats in the air. The tub doesn’t drain, the water just sits there, no gurgling sounds are apparent, like when something bad happens and the breath is knocked out of you and you can’t get air because it cannot come in or go out so you struggle with it and gasp and suck in what you can while you can.