Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We'll Try This Again

I once was a writer. Meaning I got paid to write weekly. A small sum, yet it still gave me license to call myself a writer. Well, a year has passed, and I haven't written anything but papers for class, grocery lists, and emails.

So, here we go....

I'm no stranger to dogs dying. I understand the whole circle of life thing. People, as well as dogs, are born. They die. From start to finish, there's pleasure and there's pain. One hopes that the pleasure outweighs the pain, and eventually time works its magic to heal the latter and remind you of the previous.

One of my earliest memories, early in that I was maybe three at the time, finds me at the bathroom door, curious what my mom was doing with wet, tiny puppies in her hand. She raised Pomeranians, and for whatever reason that remains a mystery no matter how many times I've inquired about this memory, the mother dog deposited her newborns into the toilet. Six plops into the toilet water. My mom was trying to revive the nearly drowned pups. I didn't understand what was going on, but I remember the horror I felt, and my dad whisking me away from the door. Likely for fear I'd get attached to dogs that would be a source of income when put up for sale, I never got too friendly with any of the survivors.

The first dog I ever had died before I even got it home. Her name was Butterscotch, and she was the sweetest little beagley thing I'd ever laid eyes on. That's not saying much since I was about five at the time. We'd moved into our new house that fall, and I was promised a puppy. My grandparents' neighbor raised coon type dogs, as did my grandpa, and since Butterscotch was the runt of the litter, the man said I could have her. Grandpa agreed to take care of her until she got a little older.

I remember checking in on her when I visited - begging to go out to the little red barn, lift the lid on the box, and scoop her out. She had that sweet little bald puppy belly, and smelled like a combination of straw bedding and puppy breath. She was heaven in my lap. One day, I was informed that she died when I asked if I could go see her. I was only subdued from wallowing in grief by the promise of one of my grandpa's pups.

Enter Jake, another beagle type, who was my best friend, if only for a short time. He helped make my rounds with me, playing in the barn, gathering eggs, antagonizing my arch-nemesis Roger the rooster. We had fun.

A kid needs a dog, I think. Jake wasn't long for this world, however. The story I got was that he supped on rat poisoning at the neighbor's. Now, though, it makes me wonder. How did my parents know this? I don't know. I don't think I will ask, either.

At any rate, dogs came and went a whole lot in those years. Strays, which made the best pets, showed up. Some left under suspicious circumstances as Jake did, and others were taken out by a passing train. Getting the wheelbarrow and a couple shovels to scoop the unlucky remains hardly fazed me.

But, the dogs in my adult years have stuck around a lot longer, kept from trains and poison. Wedging themselves deeply into my heart and life, and leaving a sizable hole when the universe beckoned them from this earthly plane. People say (and who these people are leaves me curious because they do say a lot, some of which is actually quite prolific and deep) that death becomes easier to deal with when you get older. I'm afraid I might have to call foul on it. People also say they understand and offer their empathy, or well-meaning sympathy at the least. Again, I'm not sure anyone totally understands unless they are in the throes of the kind of grief that pours a cup of coffee, grabs a 1,000 page novel, and sits down with you for quite a stretch until the sting starts to wear off.

My almost fourteen year old dog died about three weeks ago. I had to have him put to sleep after a stroke that left him unable to walk. He'd flirted with death for a couple years, having a similar spell that I was able to coax him out of. This time I knew it was different. It broke my heart, but as I'm told, this is too is another life lesson that creates a nasty scar that breaks open and oozes just when you think it's healed.

I remember after burying my sixteen year old dog some years ago that I never wanted another one. I didn't think I could endure that life cycle of pleasure and pain again. But, I did get another dog then, just as I did this time around. The same day my youngest came home with a little black puppy who plopped down beside me on the couch and hasn't left my side since. He'd lived in a barn with his mom and littermates, and had that same straw bedding smell, and was complete with the bare puppy belly and puppy breath. I was also informed that his daddy was a coondog variety, and his momma was a Lab. This is what reminded me of Butterscotch, my first dog that never became mine.

This little booger certainly hasn't taken the place of my old pooch, but he's made the loss a bit more bearable. To paraphrase a quote I came across, grief is crying over that which had brought you pleasure. This perspective, however bittersweet, brings comfort in the understanding.

I miss him. I still glance to the floor at the end of the bed expecting to see him sleeping there. I've reached over to pet the new pup after seeing black from the corner of my eye expecting it to be my constant companion of thirteen years. My family and I have reminisced, and I see in hindsight that he hadn't been the dog he was for a long time.

I'm not convinced, as they say, that death becomes easier to accept and deal with as we get older. Perhaps, it's that we accept it is a part of life, a part of the cycle of start to finish. It doesn't lessen the grief or hasten its departure. Truly, we grieve that which brought us pleasure and happiness. That much I can accept.