dog eared

February 1, 2012

when i was pregnant with maya, my sister told me i had to turn off my dog karma. at that point we were rescuing whenever a dog needed us (which seemed to be daily), and had three pitbulls in the house, two of our own and one we were fostering. when i would open the front door with bags of groceries or art supplies in my arms, navigating the twelve legs and three furiously wagging tails that would meet me became more and more of an obstacle course the bigger i got. those dogs, those wiggling, muscle-bound balls of energy, were filled with JOY that i was home. people who aren’t dog-people or animal people wonder why those of us who are, carve out so much time and space for the four-legged creatures in our lives. all i can imagine in looking for an answer is that these people haven’t been on the receiving end of a purely unconditional love before. the kind of love we look for but rarely find in our human counterparts, but which is the essence of a dog’s love for their people.

there is a wall in my kitchen which is the dog wall. pictures of the dogs who have visited, lived here, made me laugh for their mere presence and made me cry for the loss of them. there is a framed brown card on that same wall with the words, all knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog. these are kafka’s words (yes, kafka!) and though i love them for their simple message, i have looked at the words a thousand times and wondered, are they true?

which brings me to this week, and the past two before it. my lucy bean, the sweet dog i’ve been graced to raise and love, is at the end of her life. there is a mass in her abdomen that is large and bleeding sporadically, and at eleven and a half years, ricky and i have made the decision that surgery is not an option given her age, her arthritis and the fact that removing the tumor may buy her and us only a few months at best. no one can guarantee what the quality of her life in those months may be, and so the decision was not as tortured as it may have been. but it leaves us nearly at the end of a life cycle, lucy’s life cycle, and though a cycle completed is a beautiful thing, there is such earnestness and love and happiness in her still that the poignancy and anticipation and vast sadness of this time is almost unbearable.

up until a few weeks ago, lucy had slept on the end of my bed, but now she is too fragile to get on and off the bed on her own. before then, she had slept exclusively on the faded velvet chaise lounge that had become the dog spot regardless of how much i loved it; actually she slept on jaxson sleeping on the chaise. yep, all seventy pounds of her on top of jaxson, until she would slide off to sleep the rest of the night wedged between him and the couch back. maya came just weeks after jackie passed away, and i remember people asking us where lucy would go now that the baby was here. in the beginning rick and i would look at each other utterly confused, not knowing what the question meant, and why we were hearing it so much. over time we got it… the questions, that question, came always from a friend or acquaintance who had never had a dog, and try as we might, there was no sudden understanding or light in their eyes as we explained that lucy would be with us, where she had always been. on the couch, in the yard, in the back seat licking maya’s baby toes in her car seat, and on the bed asleep with the three of us as we got through the ups and down of newborn nights.

lucy sleeps now on a big, sassy doggy bed in the living room, and she has taken to it perfectly. me, not so much. i stretch out in the morning across my own big bed and there is no furry, warm lump to run in to and wedge my toes under. granted, not fighting for covers at 3am is a delicious relief, but i miss lucy being there more than i imagined. my bedroom is off the living room, so i still am privy to her rhythmic breathing, groans and mid-dream yelps, and now she has taken to a series of short, high-pitched barks to wake me up instead of the belly crawl she used to do, positioning herself right at my side so she could stare unblinkingly at me, two inches from my face, until the absolute creepiness of that stare woke me up.

just as i’ve had to adjust to lucy no longer sharing my bed, so have i adjusted to moving through the world in a singularly different way than ever before. my daughter is no longer a tiny girl. my parents are no longer the people taking care of me. my husband will soon no longer be my husband. casual acquaintances and passersby don’t hold the weight or import of friends and people that have been here, or close by over there, for dozens of years. history matters. heart matters. support and grace and dropping everything to be available matters. sizzle? only if deeply authentic, if the person who stirs can meet eye to eye with the goods and bads stretched out in front of them, and the courage to own both in each hand.

so the chapter is new. or the old chapter has taken an unexpected turn, at least for now, until it is really over. i am heartbroken and peaceful all at the same time, which is in keeping with much of my emotional barometer these days. the day i learned of lucy’s tumor was the day the paperwork for my divorce arrived from the attorney’s office. thud. two gorgeous chapters, filled with so much love and learning and spanning well more than a decade of years, coming to a close.

and now the future, the what-comes-next, is cracked wide open, pouring out sunshine and question marks and swoony excitement and butterflies of nervousness. here too though, are ribbons of joy and anticipation and the deep gratitude i feel, swirling all around me, my sweet house, my boxy old car, my gorgeous daughter, the trees, the stars, the sky. so i look up, and up and up, instead of looking down, and i see the beginning and the end and the cycle which contains both.

which leads me to ask, how do we begin things and end things, open and close the circles in our lives? almost a year ago i wrote about transparency and letting go of the people and things that somehow don’t fit or have a place in our lives. it seems so clinical – a surgical strike of who gets to stay and who doesn’t – but really i think it’s about truth, and authenticity, and the beauty of saying no, or this doesn’t work, or i am not happy here. growing older and realizing how brief and task-filled life can be, the selectivity that comes necessarily i suppose could be construed as harsh or haughty, but i see it as beautiful. a natural part of moving within our circle and knowing there is only so much and so many that can be there with us.

i stop for a moment, take pause, consider my words. i’ve turned on the heaters and wrapped a scarf around my neck. judes will be here in a few minutes from LAX and we are going to share a few minutes together and try a small glass of this crazy wine from holland that is a chocolate cabernet. i’m wondering if all of the above is true – i think it is, at the very least, it is my true. perhaps though i should consult with my therapist and get her opinion, for she’s been with me through thick and thin. pregnancy, post-partum, losing my marriage, becoming a patient parent, regaining a sense of center, learning to ask for help, giving help, remembering to sleep and eat and throw my legs over the top of the sofa with a good book even though the work is piled up.

so i visit her in her office, and lay down. i rub her silky ears and kiss her cheeks and notice how her eyelashes, along with the rest of her face now, are white. there is a swirl on her chest where the fur comes together – jaxson had the same thing and i used to tell him it was where his universe began and ended – and so i mention this to my lucy also. her paws smell like fresh dirt and grass, her breath is sweet and smells like peanut butter biscuits. she yawns and stretches and licks my right eye and ear for an uncomfortably long time, but i take it as affirmation – i must be doing something right – and we snuggle in a bit more. i tell her i love her and am so proud of her for all of her sweetness and the unbridled love which has always poured out of her and i let her know my life has been wonderful because of her. she has been a constant anchor and source of love. so i whisper “thank you lucy, thank you with my whole heart. i hope you can stay a bit longer, but if you must go, i am here to wish you a beautiful journey.”

and then i tell her, he was right. that kafka was a smart guy, and he was absolutely right.