The Little Heroine


She thinks she thoughts in butterflies
that floated on the breeze
Where weightless words their clamor sound
she sinks the deeper on her knees.
                              Sometimes, I just take the dictation, folks.

So, yesterday I spotted the unmistakable contour of greyhound ribs as I approached the coffee shop.  Sorja (or something like that), was sitting on the long covered porch outside the cafe, with her friend, the black lapdog Slick (this name I am sure of), and two humans whose names I never did ask.  And when I say sitting, of course, I mean she was standing with her nose at exactly the height of the table top, looking hopeful with large, dark eyes.   Slick, being about 10% Sorja’s size, was nestled majestically on his human’s lap, looking serene.  I gathered the details of Sorja’s life while scratching her white velvety haunches – a breeder, from Dubuque, finally adopted at age nine.   Her life had not involved any table top surfing, of that I am sure.  Not wanting to be too much of a greyhound stalker, after a brief mention of my own retired racers, I left Sorja in peace and went inside to get my coffee.

As I waited for my 3 espresso shots (and yes, I let them give me the fourth for free),  a little tide of loss and joy surged through me.  I thought of Sorja waiting so expectantly for Something Good to Happen for Dogs.  I know just how this feels – I experience it myself, an emotional undercurrent so deep I have to close my eyes and focus on it more or less everyday. (I call this lovingkindness meditation, though Sorja might call it A Nap.)  I looked around the cafe for something that could make Sorja’s dream come true.  Not quiche, not a peanut butter sandwich.  In the cooler, below well ordered rows of colorful cans and bottles of organic bubbling sugar water, I spotted Something Good for Dogs.  String cheese would do nicely.

“Can Sorja have string cheese?”  I asked her Mom.  “Oh, yes!” she said.  Sorja had her wide, dark eyes already fixed alertly on my hands.   She had felt the connection of expectation engage between us, like the moments before the gates crack open and all the world is just this chance to Catch The Bunny.  The promising crinkle of plastic peeling apart held her attention.  Here was Something Good for Dogs.   With flat, polite teeth, she took a pea sized nibble from between my fingers and looked back up at me, as I gave Slick a little treat, too.   I laid the remaining cheese in front of her Mom. “You can give her the rest,” I said.  (No one appreciates a stranger who makes their dog sick from too many treats).  Sorja moved her head towards the cheese, drawn magnetically to the hope of the next nibble., completely ignoring me as I said goodbye and left.

The obvious truth, that Sorja had not stopped expecting that something good might happen, no matter how long the wait, stirred up a painful loss – that I have come to the edge of my willingness to help where I see things have gone beyond me.   Sorja the Greyhound gave me a few moments of certainty that I knew how to make some creature happy, knew how to be good enough.   All it took, for both of us, was a little cheese.


Katey Sunbug and the Stars


The green traffic arrow signaled abruptly.  I turned onto the darkening highway, accelerating toward home.  Twilight thickened around the horizon, pulling each vehicle along its pulsing connection to the road like a magnet.  In the glow-worm shine of the speedometer, I said to myself for the first time, “This is Katey’s last night on Earth.”

I had needed an afternoon of errands and coffee and denial to let it sink in.  Craig had finally asked the vet to come the next day to end our greyhound’s life.  Now, all at once, southbound on Hwy 18/151, my whole body and mind knew what was happening.  Whatever this precious place is – our home full of sidewalks and stars and grass to nibble on when no one is looking – Katey’s time here was passing into the softness of night, counted in hours and minutes and seconds.

There was only one thing I wanted to do, but still I hesitated.  I drove all the way home, mentally listing the reasons why I could not spend this night with Katey – powerful fears masked as excuses so pitiful I can’t even remember them now.  When I got home, I heated some dinner, and stood in the kitchen, eating.  The fork, the stove, the counter, the dish – all seemed solid and somehow alive.  My mind cleared, and I gave in to the certainty that filled my heart.  In all the world, there was nothing else for me to do but get in the car and drive back to Madison, and spend as much of tonight as I could with Katey Sunbug.

For a few hours, I curled up next to her bed in front of the radiator in the living room of the Victorian house where my ex grew up.  Katey’s caretakers hovered around, wondering outloud if she wanted attention or needed the incontinence pad changed.   As always, Katey showed what she wanted with her gaze.  We had only to follow her eyes toward her water bowl, less than a foot from her head.  It might as well have been in the other room, she was so helpless to reach it on her own.  After a few licks at the the bowl held under her lips, even the power of her thirst failed, and her head dropped back against the cushions.

Worried that his Sunbug might get cold, Craig covered Katey in soft fleece throws.  I thought of my own father’s last hours, when he had used his remaining strength to kick off the blanket and sheets, saying, “These things keep tangling me!”  We set aside the blanket, and in a few minutes, Katey settled down, nothing but skin and fur between her and the air.

Soon I knew I had truly done all I could for Katey.  Her body only needed a little while longer to catch up to the freedom of her heart and spirit.  Sunbug and I had seen Night together for the last time, and no distance she would cover in the next hours would give her anymore of me than I already had.  I put on my double-down coat.  Outside the cozy airlock of candy dishes and family portraits, the world was below zero.  Mammoth icicles, helpless against the piercing light of the cloudless sun, had melted despite the temperature.  The water they spread puddled, frozen across the front walk.   Rather than scramble over jagged snowbanks along the curb, I sidestepped the ice flows, and walked to the corner to get to my car.  The darkness shivered inky black and thin in a way that comes only with bitter cold.   I breathed in sharp dry air, knowing Katey might not live to see the light ease into tomorrow’s sky.  The sun was already waiting for her someplace else.

Katey in Three Syllables


The words occur to me when I lie on the floor next to her, propped up on my elbow, watching her face for signs that tickles and scratches and gentle rubbing bring her respite, never mind happiness.  But by the time I get home, its only the cloud of sadness I can remember, knowing that the peace I want for her can only come in one way, and that nothing afterwards will be the same.

Christmas Very Much


I’ve been giving Christmas a fair chance.  No one can say I haven’t.  The mantle is decorated with the sequinned balls in clear glass goblets.  The tree is piney, with icicles and red feathered birds.  A choir of penguins in red scarves are poised on the bookshelf, waiting for a wooly German Santa to conduct them in a carol.  All along, I’ve been planning to spend Christmas morning making pictures with my Christmas gee-gaws and enjoying a world that is invisible to me unless I am looking through a lens.

Above, however, you do not see any of the jolly, clever, Kitsch-massy photos I took this morning, and expected to add to the blog tonight. Instead, the news is Katey.  Tonight I learned through the opaque signals and vagaries of texts between ex-spouses that Katey girl has, unbeknownst to me, been sporting walnut sized tumors on her neck for 10 days now, and “isn’t doing very well.”

I can’t even begin to write about my visit with Katey; my tiredness and emotion are still too tangled up with the warm living talcum of her fur, and the sweetly rotted odor from her jowls, both lingering on my hands.  It isn’t our last visit, yet; of course, I was crying. But Katey, I meant what I whispered in your radar ears while you pretended you were asleep so I would keep scratching them – “Oh, we had FUN!

For the Duration


As much fun as they bring their humans, dogs themselves endure a lot of boredom.  And as much as your dog clearly loves you, don’t kid yourself:  she would, indeed, love you ten times more if you would never stop throwing that ball until one of you is dead, and both of you know which one that would be.   Still, we feel no qualms about raising their hopes with our tail-revving voices and euphoria inducing ear scratchings and mystifying pockets that might, oh please oh please, just might be filled with liver and peanut butter.

This time, though, I feel as fraudulent as the Wizard of Oz, my black bag full of tricks too shamefully superficial to help the really Brave and Meek one get back her very Self.  This time, Glinda ain’t coming.  Nothing will be the same again for Katey, stuck here in Kansas with all of us who have lost something we can never get back, and can make nothing from that loss except accommodation.

She is more beautiful than ever, I think.

The Wee Hours


The fentanyl patch affixed to Katey’s shaved pink rump ran out of juice in the dark of Sunday morning, less than 24 hours into her first day home.  (Fentanyl is one of the most potent opioids ever invented; I learned all about it on “Burn Notice,” when Michael cons a heroin dealer into using it to boost the value of his inventory.  Try and keep up, people.)

If you have never heard a dog you love crying, then let me assure you, it is an experience you never want.  Ever.  Craig and his mom endured the haunting sound of aches for which there are no words, from 2 a.m. until 5 a.m., as Katey searched for a way to get away from the pain, rising on three legs, only to lie down, then stand again, over and over.  Finally, the vet on call increased the dose of another opiate she was discharged with, but by then her humans were beyond sleep. 

Katey was her usual pettable self when I arrived, alerting her radar ears at the clink of cereal bowls and rustle of bread wrappers from the kitchen;  she knows food when she hears it.  Whatever lingers from the restless painful phantoms that visited before dawn is not more powerful, in her present moment, than chicken thighs in broth followed by cuddles.

Craig will recover, too, although he could be forgiven if it takes something stronger than chicken thighs.