Three days after burying Kaidance we’re driving out of town on I-90, pointed for somewhere in Montana. The van is quieter, cleaner and smells better but neither of us can shake the feeling that we’re abandoning our pet. Logically, we know we’re not. We understand life and we understand death but I think it’s the mourning that confuses everyone. Driving away feels so… permanent. Real life.
We hit a tourist attraction called 1880s town in South Dakota and stop for lunch. I let Clementine out of the car and walk around the property with her, unleashed. I sigh at the simplicity of the process. Clementine runs up and jumps on a couple of strangers who immediately bend down and begin petting her. Clementine, always the conversation starter. She disappears under a dead train to chase a cat while I talk to this older couple about their adventures. In case you’re wondering, they’re in their 60s, from Wyoming, headed to Washington and then back to Texas. They have children all along the route. They have a small camper they’re towing with them. They’re living in it for the next three months. I am jealous of their lives and secretly wish to be old. To be retired. To have the ability and freedom to run for three months without permission or consequence.
We order a round of bacon cheeseburgers to go and hit the road. I turn around and see Clementine staring out the window and suspect that she suspects that something is up. I shout her name and pat my lap and she jumps into the driver’s seat and I quietly pet her for the next five hours until we arrive in Montana. I’m fairly certain she’s depressed.
A week later she’s eaten nothing more than a few scraps here and there. She won’t touch her food and I’m not even certain she’s drinking water. I hope it just has something to do with homesickness or carsickness or vacation overload; being around so many strangers and strange houses and strange dogs. I shout her name and she doesn’t come. I shout again. Nothing. Eventually I find her sleeping under a table in the dark.
A week later we arrive back home just before midnight after an incredibly long eleven hour day on the road. We drove from a campsite somewhere in Idaho back to The Valley. Normally we wouldn’t do this but it just felt like everyone needed some space; cabin fever beginning to set in.
I open the front door and am greeted with a blast of heat that my thermometer claims peaks around 105 degrees. My house is not what one would call “insulated properly” so in the summer it’s an oven and in the winter it’s a freezer. With no one around to open doors, turn on fans or, at the very least, try to battle the heat with the pathetic AC window unit, my home has turned into an Easy Bake Oven / Human Incinerator. I gasp and fall to the floor, dragging myself, clawing myself over the hardwood and tile until I reach the backdoor and rip it open. Cross breeze. It’s incredible how wonderful 92 degrees feels after coming down from the triple digits.
Kaidance’s bed lies abandoned on the kitchen floor, a 2 x 3 ft genuine Orthopedic mattress. She may have died of cancer / overdose of fatal poison but her back was in perfect condition. The children still haven’t asked about her, which surprises me. It surprises me that, even after seeing my brother-in-law’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, they didn’t at least inquire as to the whereabouts of their own dog. With the proof of the empty mattress I’m certain the pieces are going to click… but they don’t. Their lack of observation shocks me.
I pull out Clementine’s dish to feed her for the evening, a task that Rory typically helps me with. I fill it with salmon tasting nuggets that look like Peanut Butter Crunch and set it on the ground, feeling as though the chore is only half completed. Rory looks at me and says, “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I say, “What’s that?” I don’t know why I answer this way. I heard him. I heard his statement. It’s just that, now that it’s here, I’m trying to figure out the best thing to say. How honest should I be with a 2 year old?
He repeats himself. “Kadie wants to eat too,” and I squat down and say, hesitantly, “Kadie doesn’t live with us anymore. Kadie lives with Jesus,” and then, not certain if I should say it or not, I blurt out, “Kadie died.” Rory repeats it, “Kadie died?” and I say, “Yes,” and he sits down and plays with his trains while I keep crying. Stupid tears!
I pull out a broom and mop bucket and clean the floor of the last tracks of mud Kaidance will ever make. With every swipe, I erase a little of her presence from the Earth until… she’s gone.
Six days later we’re still trying to get accustomed to life without a big dog; the baby gate has come down, Clementine roams the house and sleeps with us at night. Our house and floors are eternally cleaner but there are more leftovers around. After dinner, Jade jumps in the shower with Quinn, who asks to be picked up. Jade complies. Quinn asks for the bathroom window to be opened. She says she wants to watch Kadie. Jade sets her down and says, “Kadie is with Jesus,” and Quinn, without missing a beat, says, “I don’t want to live with Jesus.”
Jade strolls into the living room in her dead great-uncle’s housecoat that still smells like cigars, even after 45 years. Quinn has a towel wrapped around her head and nothing else. The towel is so heavy, her head tilts largely forward, forced to watch her feet as she walks. We all lie on the couch together and feel The-Baby-In-Mommy’s-Tummy. Rory places his hand ever so gently on her stomach and says, “Baby,” and it’s so sweet until he starts pushing so violently that I have to quickly restrain him and wonder if he didn’t purposefully lull us into a false sense of security.
Quinn turns to me and says, “Daddy, Kadie dead.” I take two breaths and then nod. This is the empire that I have built, the hole that I have dug. “Yes, dear. Kadie is dead. She’s with Jesus now.” The following conversation plays out like so…
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus.
Jade: Well, you do… but not right now.
Quinn: I don’t want to live with Jesus right now. I don’t want to die.
Jade: You don’t have to worry about dying, honey. Not for a very, very long time.
Rory: I can’t die!
Jade: Uh…….well, honey… You can die…
Rory: I don’t want to die!!!!
Jade: Don’t worry, you probably won’t, not for a long time.
Rory: I can die.
Me: It’s okay, Rory. You don’t have to worry.
Rory: I can die……but I don’t want to!
Me: Neither do I.
Quinn: I want to live with Jesus!
Jade: Well, yes… but not right now. Right now… let’s just play with Baby. Remember the baby in–
Rory: I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!!
Then, my daughter, who I legitimately suspect of being able to see into the spirit realm says, “Kadie does not want to go. Kadie does not want to leave home,” and Jade says, “This conversation is over.” We ultimately distract them with Skittles and beef jerky.
It’s been nearly a week since we’ve been home and Kaidance’s dog dish is still sitting on the counter and her bed is still sitting on the floor. I know that it all has to go but I’m finding it difficult to corner a good chunk of time to walk it all out to the garbage can.
I still suspect Clementine of being depressed, although I think she might be coming out of it. The Effexor I’ve been crushing up and placing in her food certainly seems to help, although I wish she wouldn’t drink so much. She has escaped our yard twice from parts unknown since we’ve returned, has rolled in mud / poop once and has taken on a propensity for farting. I believe there may be a strong possibility that Kaidance, in her last dying breath, expelled the Black Smoke Monster that had been living inside of her for so long and passed the torch to her smaller canine companion.
This letter is to you Clementine. I’m watching you. I have my eyes on you. I know your games. I learned the rules from The Master. Behave… because I know a guy that knows a guy… that knows a vet.