Tag Archives: tragedy

Talking to Strangers: Gary

I’m standing in my kitchen preparing to feed my dog when I suddenly hear an intense, gut-wrenching wail emanate from outside.  The pitch and tone of this noise is so off balance, so absurdly wild that it’s hard to equate it to anything that is “everyday” without bastardizing and perverting it first.  It is whale music if said whale lived on the land and had first consumed a large quantity of oxycontin; sort of a very slow motion ooo-waaaahhh

It is a sound so haunting and unearthly that I assume whatever creature is making it is probably either in the throws of its death rattle or a raging frenzy fueled by pure blood lust.  It is the sound of a cat dying while giving birth.  it is the sound of a real life tree frog so amped up on Monster energy drinks that it’s genuinely trying to sing something by Limp Bizkit.  It is the sound of eternal despair.  Standing at my window, an image from The Princess Bride pops into my mind wherein the main character screams and his friend mentions that it reminds him of The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

This is The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

I set the dog’s food on the counter and approach my side door, peering out, past my driveway and over the tall hedge that separates my family from The Neighbors – the nameless entities that exist within such close proximity to me without actually affecting or intruding upon my bubble of influence.

There in his driveway is The Man, walking by himself, shoulders slouched, head down, feet dragging.  He walks down the concrete path, turns at the sidewalk and heads towards the grocery store; his body shaking and wrenching and racking with sobs.  I am compelled to immediately leave my house and grip him and ask, “What’s wrong?” because he looks to be in so much emotional pain that my heart, as a human, is hurting just watching him… but it feels strange to me and the task feels like a true challenge that I’m not sure I can take on.  I want to call out to him but I don’t know his name.  After seven years of living next to this man and his wife… I don’t know their names.  This fault is a personal short coming of my own and says more about me than it does about them.

I watch him disappear out of sight and then the opportunity is gone…

A physical description of the pair would look something like this…

The guy is tall and slim with uniquely distorted facial features.  He looks to be in his late 50s / early 60s.  Huge eyes behind bigger glasses; long scraggly hair that cascades down his skeletal face but the crown of his head is hopelessly bald; jutting chin with small mouth; thin arms, big hands; long legs that take tiny steps; he’s an odd pairing at every angle and, every time I’ve overheard him speak while sitting outside, I can’t help but imagine Goofy, that famous Disney character, after having smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for the better half of a century.  His voice is bubbly and cartoonish while still maintaining a throaty quality, unexpectantly hitting the highest-highs and lowest-lows seemingly at random.

His wife is short and plump with long black hair and a featureless face.  I have probably glanced at her sideways 300 times and… I’m not even certain that I could pick her out of a line-up.  This, however, is not a short coming of her face.  This is a short coming of myself and my own awareness.

Everywhere the two go, they go together; always and forever the two are a pair.  In all the years that I’ve lived in this house, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen either of them one without the other.  And this is why, on this particular day, I knew something was up.  Something was strange.  Something was wrong.  Something somewhere was not right…

On this day, disappearing from my sight, the man was walking alone.

The next day my sister, her husband, my niece and my wife are all packing into our cars, rushing out of the house; we have hot plans to hit the zoo in about 25 minutes and we’ve got free tickets if we can be there by one o’clock.  A friend of ours is doing us a favor by meeting us there to get us in even though it’s during her children’s nap time and so she’ll have the kids in tow and it’s just, y’know, it’s rude to keep people waiting.  Time is ticking and the kids aren’t listening and they won’t get in their car seats and the sun is beating down on me and dangit I’ve forgotten my phone inside so I run back into the house to grab it.  When I walk out, the first thing I see is my sister and her family sitting inside their car, waiting for me.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  The second thing I see is that my wife has successfully buckled in my children and is now sitting in the driver’s seat, waiting.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.

The whole show – hurry, hurry – is on my – hurry, hurry – back.

The third and final thing I see is my skinny, nameless neighbor standing in his driveway staring at me through the hedge, his eyes peering out between broken shrubbery.  I nod but he doesn’t move.  I step off my porch and say, “Hey,” but he doesn’t respond.  Just those eyes… watching me, staring at me, unblinking, vacant.  I open my gate and begin to walk down my driveway, wondering if this guy is in some kind of drug induced hallucination (because he strikes me as the type who has them once in a while) and I’m trying to debate just how weird this is about to get…

He sidles a few steps to his left to a vantage point wherein I can see him a bit better.  He stares at me and cocks his head and I say, “Hi, there.  How are you doing today?” and he says, in that haunting, helium-high voice, in a tone that suggests he’s done nothing worse than burn the meatloaf, “Well, today I am not doing very well,” fiddles with his hands, looks at his knuckles, looks up at me with direct, piercing eye contact, “You see… my wife died yesterday,” and immediately I am hyper aware of my surroundings.  My sister is watching me.  My brother-in-law is watching me.  My wife is watching me.  This man is watching me.  I do not know his name.  I do not know his wife’s name.  He has been my neighbor for seven years and I do not know their names.  I want to hug this man and give him some comforting words but, first and foremost, I don’t believe there are any words that will help him without simply minimizing his tragedy.  Secondly, there is a hedge separating us.  I pick up a leaf and begin tearing it apart.  I say, “Your… what!?  What happened?” and then immediately wonder if that’s a socially acceptable thing to ask.

How does one respond appropriately?

Why is this man telling me this?  Who am I to him?

And then I realize that, outside of his wife, I am perhaps the closest thing to a human in his life.  I don’t talk to him but when I see him I lift up my hand in recognition.  When we run into each other at the grocery store down the street I nod, I smile.  I say hi.  I do nothing.  I don’t do enough.  But I wonder if I’ve somehow done more than anyone else.  I wonder if most people turn their backs on this guy with his unique features and strange voice and ratty clothes.  I wonder if I, even in my state of absolute minimal contact, am The Guy Next Door for him; a familiar face.

Someone.

My phone in my pocket is on silent but it buzzes.  The Family is wondering what I’m doing; chatting up Mr. Tall Glass of Water when we gotta be hitting the street.  They can’t hear anything.  They don’t know.  They just see Johnny having a quiet conversation with The Neighbor.

I am acutely aware of their waiting and watching.

He gathers himself up and says, “Well… we used to live in Denver.  When we moved to Los Angeles several years back, she developed asthma.  Two days ago she caught a cold.  Night before last it got worse.  I told her that we’d take her into the hospital in the morning if she was still ill.  Yesterday morning we woke up and she was having troubles breathing.  She sat up and I said I’d get her some tea.  When I got back to our bedroom she… she had died.  I tried giving her CPR.  I tried like hell.  I called the paramedics.  This was at 7:45 in the ay-em.  They came and tried to revive her.  They really did try their best.  They took her away and pronounced her dead at Kaiser at 8:16 but… that’s not true.  She was dead at 7:45.  She died here.  In our bed.”

And then he stares at the hedge and picks up a crisp leaf of his own and begins to destroy it, bit by bit.  I don’t say, “Are you alright?” because I’m sure he’s not.  I don’t say, “How are you doing?” because I’m sure he’s not doing well at all.  I don’t say, “Do you need anything?” because I think he just wants to talk to someone and have someone, anyone, listen to him.  I think the words don’t matter as much as the physical presence of a human, leaning in, nodding, making eye contact.  I think he’s a lonely man who was living with a lonely wife and they both took care of stray cats and now…

I look at him and hear his voice and realize that the sound I heard earlier were his true wails of grief; a man sobbing with unexpected loss and inconsolable grief.  It truly was The Sound of Ultimate Suffering.

He says, “We always thought I’d die first.  I’ve had Stage 4 cancer for 15 years.  I’m 57.  We talked about what she’d do when I died but we never… we never talked about this… she was only 46.  She was healthy…”

The phone in my pocket buzzes and I’m certain it’s my family again, asking me what gives.  I ignore it and instead say, “I had cancer… I had Stage 4 cancer…” and he says, “You and me… we are both miracles,” and I nod because the idea makes me feel like there is magic living inside of me, as though I somehow cheated death and now everyday is a bonus I wasn’t supposed to receive.

He says, “I don’t want to keep you,” and I say, “Don’t – you’re not…” and, while I am always physically uncomfortable making people wait I just… this is obviously too important to walk away from.  He sees I mean it and I’m not leaving until he’s done talking and so he opens a floodgate and begins drowning me in a very personal history about how he used to be addicted to oxycontin but now he only strictly consumes methadone (which he “pack rats away”).  He tells me horror stories about oxycontin and about his struggle with drug addiction and how he couldn’t let it go.  He calls it a Merry-Go-Round from Hell that I couldn’t get off of

He shrugs, done with his story.  Done talking.  Done, maybe, with everything.  I stick out my hand and say, “I’ve lived next to you for so many years but we’ve never met.”  He grabs my hand tightly, in a firm man-handshake that I would not expect from his physical frame, and says, “I’m Gary,” and I say, “I’m Johnny.  What is your wife’s name?” and then a thought runs through my mind that tells me I should have said, “What was your wife’s name,” but I don’t bother correcting my macabre grammar.

He says, “Veronica,” and I say, “Beautiful.”  I say, “Gary, I don’t know what you’re going through but let me know if there’s anything I can do…” and he says, “There is nothing you can do for me.  I see your kids.  Hug them.  Enjoy every day.  Because it will be taken away…”

And then he turns and walks up the driveway.

Two days later I see him returning yet again from the grocery store (alone) with a bag of cat food while I’m sitting on my front porch.  I raise my hand in the air and shout, “Hi, Gary!” and he stops in his tracks, stares at me for a quick moment before averting his eyes, mumbling something under his breath and disappearing out of my sight.

Another two days pass and, as I’m pulling into my driveway I see a couple of Jehova Witnesses walking up to Gary’s house, towards his front door.  They knock but there is no answer so they turn and try their luck elsewhere.

Another 48 hours have slipped by and still I’ve neither seen nor heard any sign of life from The Tall Man that Lives Over the Hedge.

It’s now been five days since I’ve seen him and I’m beginning to wonder at what point I realistically need to walk over there and knock on his door because, honestly, all I can think about is his large stockpile of methadone.

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No Concern of Danger

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I’m sitting at a friend’s house, at a Superbowl party.  The game is on but, like most people at Superbowl parties, I’m not really watching it.  Like most people, I come for the queso and stay for the deep fat fried turkey.  Everywhere I look are close friends, good acquaintances and strangers who, judging by their honest faces, have the strong potential to someday be either.

The man next to me, Curtis, is one of my closest friends and is currently holding my youngest daughter on his lap, letting her spittle and saliva run over his thumb and down the back of his hand.  This is the sign of true friendship.  At my feet his daughter, three, plays with my twins, also three.  I am grateful to avert my eyes from The Big Game to focus instead on their little one.  Rory picks up a green truck and begins to slowly push it across the polished wooden floor, making noises that sound like the imaginary driver is grinding the imaginary clutch.  I slide off the couch, reach forward, grab him by the foot and pull him to me.  He squirms and laughs and fights me off and says, “NO!” but I say, “Play with me!” and I take the green car and he crawls away.  I roll it across the ground and Rory retrieves it for me.  I give him a hug and kiss him on the cheek and say, “Thanks for bringing this back.  I love you…” and he wipes off my kiss and runs away.

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Later, I’m standing outside as our host lowers a turkey into a deep fat fryer.  The oil rises, the turkey sizzles and the smell of cooking bird immediately fills the air.  The Host clinks his beer against my coffee cup and says, “I hope I don’t burn my house down,” and I silently nod in agreement.  The front door opens and Rory pokes his head out, looking from side to side.  He lays eyes upon me and says, “Daaaaaaad?” and I say, “Yes, Rory?”  He walks out the door, leaving it hanging open, walks down the steps, makes his way across the driveway, approaches me, standing toe to toe with my person, looks up into my face and says, “I want a cupcake.”

A reasonable request.  I say, “Okay… let’s go get you one.”  He leads me back across the driveway, up the steps, through the door, past the TV, to the table and points at a tray of frosted pastries.  He says, “That one.  The green one.”  I grab it, put it on a plate and, just as I’m getting ready to cut it up for him he says, “No… I can do it.  I can eat it.  By myself.”

He’s growing up and it pains me.

Sitting down on the floor I convince him to let me hold the cupcake and feed him because it’s so messy.  When we’re finished, his lips, chin, teeth, fingers and hands are covered with green frosting.  Without thinking he wipes his face on his shirt and asks for another cupcake, a request which I deny.  Instead I take him into the kitchen where I begin to press a wet a paper towel against his face and hands.

How much longer will this be acceptable?  When will he push me away, embarrassed?

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The game ends and the slow murmur and shuffle of people gathering their items begins; jackets, car seats, tupperware, car keys.  My wife puts shoes on the kids and packs Bryce away while I wander through the house aimlessly, saying needless good-byes to people.  We both thank our friends for hosting the party and then walk out the door, into the light drizzle.  In my right hand I carry Bryce’s car seat and in my left hand, Rory and I grip each other tightly.

Having to have parked on the street, we make the long walk down the driveway of the gated community, through the gate, and into the wet street, the neighborhood being one of these places that simply doesn’t have sidewalks.  The van is about a block and a half up and the street is fairly isolated so there is no concern of danger.

The group of us walk and talk and we praise the children for playing nicely and for sharing and for being so good.  We walk and talk and say that we had so much fun.  We walk and talk and I turn around and say, “Here comes a car,” and all of us push to the side of the road until it passes.  We continue to move towards our car, twenty feet away, so close, which is nice because I’m starting to feel the weight of the baby seat on my right arm.

Rory begins pulling at my hand and I say, “Rory, we’re walking in the street.  You need to hang onto Daddy’s hand,” and he says, “I don’t want to!” and I say, “You have to,” and I say, “We’re almost to the car,” and then I turn around and see another automobile coming towards us.  I holler behind me, to Jade, and say, “Another car, step aside,” and we push ourselves towards the side of the road, in between two parked cars.

Rory tries letting go of me again and I say, “Rory, stop it,” because now he’s just being naughty and he knows that he needs to hold my hand.  He jerks once, twice and then screams, leaning backwards.  I say, “Rory.  Rory!  RORY!” and then he gives one final scream and then everything else happens fast.  Too fast.

Rory jerks his hand free from mine and I feel him slide out of my grip.  His little body stumbles backwards, foot behind foot.  The dark road suddenly goes bright with headlights and I cry out and Jade shouts, “RORY!”  He takes two more steps, out past the parked cars, into the street, and my stomach turns into a knot.  I reach out but he’s gone, too far away.  I drop Bryce and try to move but I know I can’t make it in time.  He steps on his shoelace and his body tumbles to the ground.  The car – a large black SUV – comes up on him and my breath catches in my throat.

Rory shuts his eyes and I want to but can’t.

The SUV blasts past him no more than a few feet away.  If he hadn’t stepped on his shoelaces… if if if… the possibility hangs in the air like a vampire.

I take three large steps towards my son, grab him by the collar and lift him into the air, his feet dangling, and I forcibly drag him back to the curb while he still, to my great amazement, continues to attempt to pull out of my grasp.  I drop him on the hard concrete, squat down, grab his face in my hands and squeeze his cheeks so he can’t look away from me.  I say, in the absolute angriest tone I can fathom, “Rory!  You do NOT let go of Daddy’s hand when we’re in the street!  You were almost run over and KILLED by the car.  That car almost RAN YOU OVER.  You almost DIED.  You do not ever, ever, EVER let go of my hand EVER AGAIN.  Do you understand me?!” and, instead of confirming with me he simply begins to scream and pull at my hand saying, “LET GO OF ME!  LET GO OF ME!”

I grab Bryce and begin to march to our van at double speed, dragging him behind me, scared, angry, furious.  I open the back door and say, “Get in your seat,” and, instead of listening, he says, “NO!” and so I pick him up, throw him into the car, crawl in after him, pick him up and throw him into his car seat.  He screams, demands candy, which totally baffles me, throws his hands in the air and screams again.  I thrust his arms through the straps of the car seat and say, “Candy?  Candy!?  You’re not getting candy!” while in my head I’m just thinking, “Thank you God thank you God thank you God that I get to buckle him in tonight kicking and scream I love him I love him I love him…

On the way home all I can think about are small coffins and cemeteries that I can’t bring myself to leave.

I almost lost him.

I could never forgive myself.

We get home and I put pajamas on Rory, put him to bed, kneel down next to him and whisper prayers in his ear, prayers that only he can hear.  I say, “Dear God, thank you for Rory, thank you for giving him to me, thank you for protecting him tonight.  Thank you for everyday I have with him.  Thank you for blessing me with another night with this beautiful little boy,” and I pull back and I look upon his face and I see him in a new light.  I see how blue his eyes are.  I see the swirls of designs in them.  I see how little and how white his teeth are.  I see the perfect gaps between them.  I see his blonde hair, pieces sticking up in the back, his little fingers poke over the blanket and I see that his fingernails are filthy with perfect dirt.

Everyday with my children is a beautiful gift that makes me sick with despair and anxiety.

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KID COUNTDOWN: DAY 4

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When you have children, two things will drastically change forever.  The first is, obviously and, in a broad sweeping movement, your life.  You will forever feel as though part of your heart has been trapped outside of your body and is meandering around the world alone and you’re just trying to do everything in your meager power to protect it from all of the dark and nasty stuff that’s out there.

The second thing that will forever change is your dreams.  And I don’t mean this in that goal oriented I want to own a house and be mayor of a small rural town sort of way.  I mean it in the Nightly Subconscious Sleepy Time way.

Goodbye Dreams About Being Buried Alive And Falling From The Sky And Being Chased By Beasts Who’s Description Escapes You In The Waking Hours Except For The Words, “It was so real… It was just… horrible… and so real.”  Hello Dreams About  Your Children Teetering On The Brink Of Death Just Out Of Your Reach And Ability.

It is a regular occurrence for me – a regular occurrence – that I dream of my children playing on railroad tracks that I can’t reach, a train barreling towards them, or the two of them crossing a bridge far above a violent  river that begs to swallow them up, me knowing that they’re there but having no idea where the actual location is.

Last night I dreamt that I had enlisted in the military (the first red flag that should have alerted me that this was nothing more than a nocturnal movie) and was stationed on a base that was built right on the ocean.  A large interconnected system of excessively swervy roads allowed you to navigate the premises but the edges weren’t guarded and you were constantly in danger of sliding off the side.  Perhaps you’ve driven on tall mountain roads that presented a similar danger.  The concrete was always wet from the constant onslaught of waves and spray and the roads curved in nonsensical U-Turns as though Dr. Seuss had designed the base’s layout plan.

In my dream I was an even worse driver than in real life and my brakes never seemed to work.  The U-Turn would approach fast and I could never slow down enough to make the hard cut and… over the edge I would plummet, into the cold waters below, screaming and bracing myself for impact, over and over again.  It never got easier.

I swim to the shore, make my way to my barracks and deal with this very strange human drama that is going on.  I believe somebody had stolen something and then there was a kind of murder and it was being blamed on me even though I hadn’t had anything to do with it… or maybe I did… it was that fuzzy dream logic that didn’t matter.  As of this point in the dream, I’m sure most of these details are stemming from my dad currently being stationed in Afghanistan (military base) and me worrying about someone breaking into our house and then writing – yesterday – about having to attack them with a knife (the murder).  Where the water motif is coming from, I have no idea, although I do have a fear of open water that I don’t often talk about.

I leave my barracks and begin walking down one of the long pedestrian bridges when I hear a familiar scream.  My daughter is crying and I can hear water splashing and my stomach drops and I start running, my feet sloshing through small puddles.  For whatever reason, someone has placed various cargo boxes along the path that I’m forced to climb over – there’s always something blocking my way!! – and when I finally reach the edge of the bridge, I hear Rory crying far to my left and I see Quinn floating face down and not making a sound.

Which one do I choose?  My dream has forced me into a horrible corner and makes me decide.

The moon is casting a blue glow over the scene and I’m having difficulty making out anything further than a few feet away.  I know I can physically see Quinn and I can physically see that she isn’t moving.  I can still hear Rory, although I have no idea how close (or far away) he is.  I leap into the cold, rippling water, submerging myself into darkness, grab Quinn, flip her onto her back and paddle relentlessly back towards the bridge which, of course, has no kind of ladder or steps to clamber back up, but rather a slippery and mossy side that I can’t seem to find footing on.

I hold my breath and kick my feet as hard as I can, lifting my duaghter into the air and lay her on the surface before turning my attention to Rory and scrambling after him.  I see his head bobbing above the water and then dropping back down.  I dive under, find him, embrace him and begin to pull him towards the side but he fights me, not wanting to be held or constrained or helped.  He’s scared and he’s screaming and pushing against me, shoving his hands into my face and his feet into my stomach and I keep thinking I’m going to lose my grip on him (forever) and he’s going to slowly just sink to the bottom of the ocean.  MY SON!  His face goes underwater and I try to lift him up higher.

Finally at the side I somehow (somehow??  More dream logic) manage to pull him onto the bridge along with myself where I find Quinn lying, totally still but awake.  Awake and alive.  I put them both in the car (where’d that come from?) and begin to drive the three of us back to the barracks, doing my best to keep them safe but… the road is too slippery and my breaks aren’t working properly and the turns are too sharp and I’m going over the side again, both of my children strapped into car seats.  GOD HELP ME!!!

And I wake up.

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Kaidance: Epilogue

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Green Mile

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The phone rings.  The vet is ready when we are.  It’s 5:45pm on Sunday.  We ask her to meet us at The Farm in two hours.

The clock is ticking.  What do you do with your dog for the final two hours of its life?  She’s too weak to really walk or play and she can’t see.  It’s 90-something degrees outside and, since she can no longer control her bowel functions we can’t take her indoors.

We lie in the grass and pet her and talk about her and tell stories about her and I think it’s the closest thing to a funeral you can give a dog.  She moans and wheezes the entire time and I watch bugs crawl all over her body, treating her like she’s already dead.  I put my hand on her ribcage and feel her heartbeat, wondering how many pumps it has left.

I feel mournful and sad but in control.  I feel like I have it completely together but I know the worst is yet to come.  An hour and a half.

Earlier in the day my wife and I had dug a hole.  “Hole”.  A grave.  Kaidance lazed in the grass nearby and slept while we worked.  At one point I glanced over and she appeared to be sleeping with her eyes open.  I shouted her name but she didn’t respond.  “KAIDANCE!” I shouted again.  Nothing.  I walk over to her and nudge her with my foot.  She blinks.  She’s alive.

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It would be just like this dog to give me the final “screw you” by being disobedient even in death; passing onto the next world on her own accord when I’ve orchestrated this whole beautiful thing.  I turn around and keep digging, through the top soil, through the clay, through some roots.  It’s a very textbook operation.  I turn to my 8 month pregnant wife – who is using a spade to flatten the edges – and say, “It’s better than I thought.  I thought I’d be a mess but this is sort of cathartic.”  She agrees and stomps on the top of her shovel.

It’s now around 7:30 and we decide to make The Long Walk before the vet shows up; get her comfortable Out There before hand.  I try coaxing Kaidance to follow me but she seems reluctant, maybe even more so than usual.  I loop my finger through her collar and start walking very slowly while whispering, “C’mon.  Good girl.  It’s okay.  C’mon”.  And she follows me.  Off the driveway, through the yard, past the electric fence, into the pasture, towards a small grove of trees.  It’s not exactly The Green Mile but it’s definitely The Green Block and a Half.

This is it.  20 minutes and counting.

The first purchase my wife and I ever made together was a striped comforter.  It’s come with us from house to house over the past ten years but, as we’ve upgraded our home, the blanket has slowly found it’s way to the back of the closet.  Every year or so we pull it out while doing a spring clean and say, “Maybe we should donate it to Goodwill….no….no, it’s too emotionally valuable.  Put it back in the closet.  We’ll talk about this next year”.

And so it goes.

But today we’ve found the perfect use for it.  Today it stops being a comforter with high emotional value and it transforms into a shroud.

We lay the blanket out on the grass in the field about ten feet from the grave and, since she won’t sit on her own anymore, we force her backside down.  I set a white Burger King bag down on the blanket and something turns over in my stomach.  The Last Meal.

I say, “Look what I’ve got for you,” and pull out a Whopper Jr.  I tear it in half and feed it to her.  She swallows it in one bite, barely chewing at all.  I tear the half in half and give her the first piece.  A pickle drops on the blanket.  She sniffs it out and picks it up.  I feed her the final bite of the Whopper Jr.  I pull out a second one and the exercise repeats itself.  My wife and I continue to talk about her and joke about how bad of a dog she is.  I pull out a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast croissant and feed it to her.

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I say, “You’ve never had one of these,” and I pull out a King Sized Snicker bar and unwrap it.  I break it into quarters and feed her the first bite, the second bite, the third bite.  I put the fourth bite in her mouth and my wife says, “Last bite” as she’s swallowing it and I immediately feel a sense of loss, like it should have been cherished more.

But it’s gone.

I start to choke up a bit.  We get her to lay down on her side and I think I hear something in the distance.  I look.  Nothing.  I huddle next to her and I pet her behind the ear and my wife pets her muzzle and I put my hand on her heart and I feel the beating again and I just want it to be over but I feel so guilty for wanting that and then I definitely hear something and I turn my head and I see a truck pulling into the driveway and it’s so real and it’s happening now and panic washes over me and tears start running down my face and I’m sobbing and I’m hugging Kaidance and I’m telling her how much I love her and I’m whispering in her ear and I’m telling her that I’m sorry and she’s so good and everything is spinning around and it’s all so surreal.  The sun is setting and there is a breeze and it couldn’t be more beautiful or horrible.

I turn around and the vet is walking towards us and I know this is the end.  This is what the last week has been leading up to.  We’re here and it’s now and it’s happening.  The vet is blond and tells us that she’s very sorry.  My wife and I are both puffy and salty with tears and we both mumble something about, “Thank you so much for coming out here on your day off”.

She sits down on the blanket with us and hours has turned into minutes has turned into one minute.  The final minute and I’m not ready to let go and I don’t know if I can do this.  I lean down and whisper, “It’s going to be okay, good girl, good girl, good girl,” and the vet pulls out a syringe filled with something intensely blue and she tells us that it’s a high grade anesthetic and that it will be just like going to sleep.  I put my hand on Kaidance’s heart and the vet asks if we’re ready and there’s no way we are or ever will be but we both nod yes and she sticks the needle into her leg and words just start pouring out of my mouth.  “I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance, I love you, Kaidance.  Good girl.  I love you so much,” and I can’t say it enough.  I can’t get it across.  Every bad thing I’ve ever done to her is flashing into my mind.  Every time I’ve ever yelled at her and every time I’ve thrown her outside for tearing into the trash and every moment of our stupid road trip where I asked her to stop breathing on me and I just want her to stay here and be okay and I just want it over with and it’s done.

Before the vet even pulls the needle out, Kaidance has stopped breathing.  Her heart has stopped beating.  No matter where I put my hand, I can’t find the labored thump-thump.  I lay my forehead against her and I weep.

The vet walks away and Jade and I are left in the field alone with our dog.  We try to shut her eyes but it’s not like in the movies.  They just stay open.  We sit with her for several minutes and we both cry and pet her and say those final words.

Jade picks up the Burger King bag with the old wrappers in it and lays it down on the blanket by Kaidance’s chest and says, “We should bury her with this.  She would have wanted it,” and it’s so stupid but she’s so right.  Kaidance would have wanted an old Burger King bag.  We wrap her up in the Striped-Comforter-With-High-Emotional-Value and we each pick up a side and there is definitely a reason they call it dead weight.  120 pounds is much heavier than I was imagining.  I step into the grave and I grab both ends of the blanket and I lower her in.

We each throw a couple handfuls of dirt on and then we grab the shovels and for the next 15 minutes we move dirt and tell more stories.  When we’re done we stand above the grave, the sun just dipping below the horizon and we say a couple more things.  “Kaidance, we loved you and we valued you.  Thank you for your protection.  Thank you for loving us.  You were a terrible dog but we loved you.  We will think of you often.  We probably won’t miss you, but we’ll think of you often.”  I say the last part mostly in jest because I need to laugh.

We grab the shovels and we begin walking back to the house.

Alone.

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ABOVE: The last photo.

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The Cost of Living

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‘Tis  better to have loved and lost than never to have–”

SCREW YOU, ALFRED TENNYSON!  YOU PROBABLY NEVER HAD A DOG THAT YOU HAD TO PUT TO SLEEP!

It’s 12:30am on Saturday night / Sunday morning.  I have to get up in about 8 hours to dig a hole.

Someone offered to help.  I said no.  Someone offered to bring out a Bobcat.  I said no.  It feels wrong.

This is the only way that made any sense.  This is the only way that feels right.  Doing everything alone.  Somehow making it mine.  It feels like it’s my last gift to her.  It feels like I’m cheating if I do it any other way.

The whole thing; the whole event.  The journey.  It’s supposed to celebrate Kaidance and give her one last “hoo-rah”  before going out… but it’s difficult to have a party when you know you need to kill the guest of honor at the end.

 

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The last two weeks have watched her go from bad to worse.  I would guestimate that she is now roughly 95% blind and equally incontinent.  She’s covered in tumors and struggles with breathing and standing.  A dog that was once a passionate connoisseur of food now can’t even find her dish when it’s placed directly under her nose.  Watching her desperately weave her head back and forth over her dinner breaks my heart and makes me sick.

The cost of living.

I have to splash water under her mouth so she knows where it’s at.  She can no longer walk up and down stairs or get into or out of the van.  I have to lift her up and, at 120 pounds, it’s no joke.  Last night my wife and children slept on the second floor in a bed while I slept on the couch in my mother’s living room because we couldn’t get her upstairs.

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ABOVE: Kaidance in the days following surgery.  The vet said if we removed all of her tumors we could buy her another six months.  Ended up getting us almost three additional years.

 

People kept saying, “You’ll know when it’s time, you’ll know.  The dog will tell you” and… I know it’s time.

It’s 12:40am and this time tomorrow she’ll be in the dirt and the thought of the bugs eating my dog twists my gut.

Standing outside at the farm today Jade says, “Let’s bring her a giant bone tomorrow” and I say, “No.  Tomorrow we’re bringing her a Snicker’s Bar and a Whopper and maybe even a personal pan pizza because… why not?

When she finally goes, I want her to think she’s in Heaven before she actually gets there.

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Responsibility vs. Debt

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AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I was 25 miles away at the time of this incident so the story is being retold from my perspective as it originally happened to Jade, who was my girlfriend at the time but is my wife today.

It’s past midnight.  The moon is just a sliver in the sky making Denver darker than usual.  The year is 2004.  My wife is living in the basement of a 4-plex down the street from Capitol Hill right off Colfax.  The area is sort of a living juxtaposition as Capitol Hill is pretty nice but Colfax is a dump so you never know who’s going to walk into you.

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Something pulls her out of a dream.  Something has lassoed her consciousness and started to slowly tug it towards the surface.  Clink-Clink.  Two people in the dream click their glasses together in celebration.

Her eyes come open and the room is black.  The simple apartment consists of a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom, each darker and dingier than the last; all of them looking like they should belong to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.  She’s tried her best to gussy it up but still it just looks like a dungeon with some tulips in the corner.  She shuts her eyes again.  Click-Click.  The dream changes to the face of an old robot, its mechanical parts trying to operate a dead system.

The consciousness floats a little higher and her eyes open again.  Click-Click.  She wonders if that noise were in a dream, sort of those lacy tendrils of memory we have when we wake up – the fog of the unconscious waving in front of our brain.  Was it real?  She waits, quiet.  Click-Click.  It’s not in a dream.  It’s in real life.  In her basement.  Click-Click.  She can see the doorknob leading to her unlit backyard from where she lies.  It shakes once.  Pause.  It shakes again.  Click-Click.

And it falls to the floor.

The doorknob falls from the door frame, onto the floor.

Capitol Hill / Colfax.  You never know who you’re going to get; sometimes Buffalo Bill walks right into your house.  Be sure to ask him for an autograph before he sticks you in The Pit.  Get a photo with him before he makes you into a skin suit.  Update your Facebook status before he turns your thumbs into decorative earrings.

Jade’s eyes open.  Her consciousness is full surface.  A large figure steps into the door frame and then through it.  He’s inside the apartment and, just like that, Kaidance is up like a piston.  While Jade is stiff with fear, just waiting politely to be scalped and boiled alive, Kaidance charges straight towards this dark shadow without hesitation.  She doesn’t need questions.  She doesn’t need answers.  She only knows that someone is here who does not belong.  It’s the bravest thing she’s ever done and it is majestic.  She barrels across the floor, all four of her feet lifting off the ground at once, her teeth bared, her head down, her hair up.  The noise emitting from her mouth is neither bark nor growl but a primal language that is very clear.  It simply states, “If I catch you, I will hurt you”.

Kaidance is young and in her prime and for this one act of service I owe her so much.

The Man turns and runs out of the house.  Jade hears the chain link fence in the backyard rattle and then silence.  Kaidance waddles back into the basement with her slow lioness gait, meanders back to her bed and lies down.  No “Thank you” necessary.  No “You Owe Me”.  Nothing.  This is simply the unspoken contract a dog has to its person.

It’s this one moment that I carry with me for the following decade that makes me grateful for her presence.  What did she save my wife from that night?

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Fast forward roughly ten years and Hurricane Kaidance is the the most burdensome creature in my day-to-day routine.  She ruins my house, my belongings, my clothes.  She makes my life more difficult than it needs to be and certainly more difficult than any other dog owner that I’m familiar with.  At one point the “Maybe-We-Should-Give-Her-Away” conversation comes up but…

I can’t help but remember 2004 when Kaidance saved my wife’s….. what?  Life maybe?

Maybe.

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I believe that when you bring the responsibility of a living thing under your wing, you are making an unspoken contract that lasts for the big haul, through thick and thin.  Ashes to ashes and all that.  It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun but it’s yours.  Hanging up the hat is not an option.

Have we discussed getting rid of Kaidance; donating her to another family, leaving her in South Dakota for “farm life”, dropping her off on the side of the road and speeding away as quickly as possible and never looking back free of her burden forever and ever amen?  Yes.  We have.  Countless times.  But we can’t.  Because, even though my personal motto is “’til death”, I owe Kaidance considerably more than a generic PETA themed fortune cookie.

A dog is a responsibility, but I owe Kaidance a debt.

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Brown Desert

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There’s a strip of desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that runs dark for about 300 miles.  It’s an area of the Earth so void of hope that no one has ever bothered to develop; it’s no man’s land.  Anything goes.  Mad Max.

It’s in this stretch that Kaidance suddenly begins breathing heavily; goes straight from her average, low volume wheezing to full on post-marathon panting.  Like a floodgate that has been switched, saliva begins dangling from her mouth in long tendrils.  Droplets of spittle bounce off her tongue like confused raindrops and begin covering the top of our cooler.  It’s day one of our Fantastic Voyage to Take Kaidance Home to Heaven and we’ve been traveling for 2 1/2 hours.  In case you’re uncertain, this is definitely foreshadowing.

Your Woman by White Town begins playing and, as though on cue, Kaidance sticks her slobbery jowls between our seats like Donkey in the first Shrek movie and just begins to……. exist.  And I could never be your woman.  No, Kaidance, you sure couldn’t.  Her putrid breath heaves onto us.  You can feel her stank exhale resting on your skin like a thick Georgian humidity.  She mouth-dribbles on the cooler.  She mouth-dribbles on the arm rests.  She mouth-dribbles on my wife’s Diet Coke and, if you know anything about my wife, you know you don’t mess with her Diet Coke.

Homey don’t play that.

She shouts something incoherent, threatening the life of the canine.  The panting gets louder.  My wife cracks a new, untainted DC because she’s certain some of “that damned dog’s” mouth water has poisoned the well.  The panting gets louder… louder… louder… it has successfully drowned out the radio and we’re beginning to grow concerned that the noise of her breathing is going to wake up the children.  Something by Nirvana comes over the speakers but I can barely make out what song it is.  This says less about Kurt Cobain’s choppy vocals and more about the noise of a pervert hissing in my ear.  Why is she standing so close to me?    Kaidance has her mouth full open, jaw unhinged, tongue dangling 16 inches past her teeth, a waterfall of saliva in full stream running down her chest and into a bag of groceries.  There goes the fruit.

My wife says, “This is disgusting.  Dog, you are disgusting.  This couldn’t be any worse” and I say, “Don’t tempt the universe” and my wife says, “What’s that?  What is that smell?”  I think perhaps she’s making a Teen Spirit joke, what with Nirvana and all but then, no.  It’s a fart.  No.  A shart.  No.  A turd.  No.  A bunch of turds.  No.  Diarrhea.  For every ounce of saliva that Kaidance has splish-splashed on our belongings, she has perfectly matched with The Liquid Brown.

Softer than any velvet and more pungent than the strongest cheese, it’s on the door, the floor, the blankets.  It’s week old green eggs and ham.  It’s Operation Dumbo Drop.  It’s The Devil Inside.  It’s a hot dog factory where everyone has BO and bathes in horchata.  It’s……. still coming.  The Spray.  She’s a sprinkler with a pulse, a faucet filled with rusty water, a fire hose gone wrong, and I’m gunning it at 80mph down the freeway into Oblivion.

My wife turns to me and says / sobs, “What are we going to do?” but she already knows the answer.  She already knows the horrible, inescapable answer even before I say it… she knows.

Nothing.

It’s 10:30 at night and there’s nothing between us and civilization but 60 miles and a trillion specks of sand.  My wife gags and rolls down a window.  She gags again and says, “I think I’m going to puke”.  She sticks her head out the window and starts making these loud breathing noises that don’t sound dissimilar to Kaidance and her wheezing.

I turn the volume up on the radio.  Something soft by The Shins juxtaposes everything that’s happening.

Like a turd, the next 45 minutes are long and smelly.  Finally, we find a lone gas station that’s lit by a solitary flickering bulb.  Horror movie’s have started here for sure.  We clean the van out.  The kids wake up.  Kaidance lets the concrete know who’s boss.  Clementine runs away.  The kids go back to sleep.  The dogs get back in the car.  It’s midnight.  Everything stinks, the upholstery is clean-ish but covered in a sticky residue.  Pandora’s box has been closed… or at the very least plugged up.  We only have 23 more hours until we reach our destination.

This is vacation.  Welcome to Paradise.

This story and a million like it are what I will remember about Kaidance long after she’s gone.  Some people have stories about hunting dogs and farm dogs and family dogs and wonderful little dogs that fit in purses and lick you on the lips and wear sweaters and know fun tricks.  Not Kaidance: Destroyer of Hope.  No.  She is a breed of cruel, dastardly perversion all her own.

Below, I’ve compiled a quick list of memories I have with my dog, both the good and the bad.

Kaidance, this is your life…

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1. When you were a puppy you would sleep on my pillow, curl up next to my ear and snore.  That’s a cute one.
2.  I remember taking you to the park in Denver on a winter day, the snow standing taller than you.  Another cute memory.  You were so tiny.
3.  One day you ate my friend’s pet turtle.  She was pretty upset.  That’s a sad memory, for sure, in case you’re keeping tally.
4.  We took you to The Turtle Girl’s parent’s house and you did that diarrhea thing you’re so good at all over their brand new white carpet.  They said it wasn’t a big deal but I could tell… they were pretty upset.
4.  Jade had spent a considerable amount of time on a three tier cake for her Cake Making 101 class.  You knocked it off the counter and ate most of it moments before she left to present for a final grade.  You also ate my celebratory “I beat cancer” cake that my favorite nurse gave to me.
5.  I remember you pulling a bottle of vegetable oil off the counter, tearing it open, drinking the whole thing and then dropping peppermint patties all through the house.  PS. Peppermint patties = more diarrhea.  This happened while we were out so by the time we got back it had all dried into these dusty  rocks that had stuck to the floor like anal barnacles.

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6.  You went through a phase where you tore open the trash every single day.  Even if there was nothing in the bin but newspapers, you simply didn’t care.  This was frustrating.
7.  Towards “the end” when you were no longer able to control your bladder, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to let you out at 11pm, 2am and 5am like a newborn baby.  This too was pretty frustrating although I do understand.  Even at 30 it is rare that I don’t get up at least once a night.
8. You were never a dog that could be taken to someone’s house for a social function.  When you get excited you drool… and you get excited about pretty much every thing.

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9.  Once, when I had cancer and was having a particularly tough day you suddenly crawled up into my rocking chair with me, completely unprovoked.  You’d never done it before or since.  It was very thoughtful of you and was exactly what I needed.

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10.  I once purchased 20 Whopper Juniors and gave them all to you on a platter.  I know it wasn’t healthy but I’ve never seen you happier than on that day.

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11.  One day I left some carrots on the counter.  You pulled them down and then pulled down Jade’s favorite turquoise ceramic bowl.  She was upset.  At both of us.

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12.  You once sat on my pillow and when I pushed you off there was a brown starfish where I put my face.  Why do you do these things to me?
13.  You are one of the biggest dogs I’ve ever seen and you love pushing yourself between people’s legs like a bridge.  It freaks newcomers out.
14.  You used to sleep on the bed with us and would full on stretch out, taking up every square foot you could.  I would typically curl into a little ball and try to work around you.

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15.  You’d get so excited when we pulled out your leash, you’d jump onto your hind legs and bark… and then when we got to the dog park you’d just lie down next to us and observe those which you considered inferior.

You’ve been with Jade and I since 2002 and, as evidenced by this list, have taught me a considerable amount about patience and grace, which I’m thankful for.  In a very backwards way, you’ve helped me to become a better father.  Trust me when I say that being a parent of 2 1/2 year old twins is 90% patience and grace and 10% damage control.  Whether my kids are destroying an object that I’m fond of, pooping on my couch, waking me up at 2am to pee, or hogging the bed with their strange sleeping aerobics, you did it first.  You forged the way for these pioneers.

Am I surprised that you blew the stinky all over the inside of our new mini-van?  Absolutely not.  I know your track record.  Like a moth, you’re going to go out big and I’d expect nothing less.

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Dirty Dog

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I’m sitting in my car, alone, in a grossly lit parking garage.  My lips are curled back and pulled down, tugging my face-skin tight.  My nose crunches in on itself and everything goes blurry.  I’m doing that thing humans do when they’re sad; I’m crying… alone… in a parking garage… in the building where I work.

There’s a banana sitting in the passenger seat and, since I’m sort of hungry from an early lunch, I lift it up and start to peel it.  Tears streaming down my face, I quietly whimper and take a bite of the fruit.  FACT: You can’t cry and eat a  banana at the same time; you feel too foolish.  It’s like the two cosmic ends of the universe are colliding right into you – the mournfulness of tears and the comic genius that is representative in 1000 people slipping on banana peels over the years.  One must break.

I prioritize my hunger, finish eating the banana, set the peel down and then pick up where I left off with the crying.  I start my car and, through blurred vision, navigate out of the garage and start my journey home to my dying dog.

Kaidance is an eleven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that has been with my wife and I since we were in college.  She’s moved across the country with us, she was there when we got married, she was there when we had children (and when we were trying to have children, wink-wink-nudge-nudge-dog-in-the-room-while-you’re-having-sex-joke-wacka-wacka).  She watched me go through cancer and enter remission and has also dealt with her own battle which, sadly, she is finally succumbing to.

Over the last four years she’s been, like the Fast and Furious franchise, sick but active.  However, over the last four weeks, we’ve watched her go from an overweight bitch with a penchant for food and destruction to an overweight bitch who is blind and has trouble standing up and sitting down.  Even when she lies on her bed she just moans like every breath is killing her and I suppose, in some regards, it is.  That whole Ticking Clock Syndrome each of us suffers from.  Every second is closer to our own endings but there is something reassuring about not having any idea about when it is; next week, next year, next, next, next.  Not Kaidance.

Kaidance doesn’t have anymore NEXTS left.  This week Kaidance has only The Lasts.  The Last Bath.  The Last Night of Sleep.  The Last Walk.  The Last Meal.

My family and I are leaving on a road trip very soon.  We’re leaving Los Angeles and heading to South Dakota to see my sister’s new daughter.  From there we’ll hit Montana to see my sister-in-law’s new son.  When we leave LA we’ll have our two kids in tow along with our two dogs; Kaidance and a cocker spaniel named Clementine.  When we return, we’ll have only two children and the cocker spaniel.  When we get to South Dakota, we’ll stop at my mother-in-law’s farm and she’ll call her vet.  The vet will come out to the farm and we’ll put Kaidance to sleep somewhere in a field.  I will dig a grave and I will bury my dog.

We’re doing it this way because I cannot stand the thought of taking her to a vet clinic.  THE SMELL ALONE.  She hates going and begins shaking compulsively when we pull into the parking lot.  It’s not fair that her last feelings would be those of fear.  She is more valuable to me than that.  She is better than a cold steel table, the reek of cleaning supplies and a needle.  I just need her to know that we love her and I just want her to be as comfortable as possible.  Kaidance is not JUST A DOG.  No dog is JUST A DOG, the same as no person is JUST A PERSON.  Emotions, impulses, instincts, feelings; love, excitement, joy, hunger, thirst, fear.

Kaidance has five days left to walk the Earth.  She has seen her last Monday.  She has seen her last Tuesday.  The numbers on that stupid clock are getting smaller and smaller and sometimes I wonder if she can’t tell something is up.

Over the following week I’d like to share with you all the reasons I love and hate this stupid dog and my final journey to take her home.

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