Hallowe'en was pretty scary for me this year. It started off with a phonecall at 5:30 in the morning from my ex. I bolt upright knowing that a phone ringing this early can only mean one thing: bad news. And it's pretty fucking bad. My dog had a stroke on Thursday night. My ex describes, when he can find his voice, how she'd fallen over, what sounds like some kind of epileptic seizure, her eyes twitching all over, her arms flailing. The way she'd tried to flip herself over to her "good" side. By the time he phones me, he's already admitted her to the Guelph OVC hospital and has no idea if she will be alive or dead the next time we see her.
I am clutching my belly the whole phonecall without being conscious of the act. He says he is sure it was a stroke. He doesn't feel confident she'll survive it. She'd been fine when he'd left for work that morning: standing, wagging her tail, with her eyebrows raised in hope, her dark eyes willing him to stay at home the way she always does. When he got home, she was lying behind the door. He took her outside for a pee and she fell over and started spasming. He managed somehow to get help from this myriad of wondrous people who surround him and actually give a flying fuck about their neighbours. Talk about All Souls. When we ended, he moved to this amazing, artistic community where people come up to you to chat when you're walking your adorable German Shepherd-Husky. Where they throw you a spontaneous welcome party 'cause you've just moved into their village. Where they come visit your dog all day in streams 'cause they've heard she's not good and you're the ex and they talk to you like they've known you for 20 years already. They're in shorts and tshirts in November. They're fey and dressed as Bo Peep for a belated costume party. They're intriguing and refined matriarchs who've raised four boys single-handedly. My eyes shift between my dog at my feet and the new friends she's made since my ex and I split.
The evening before, we find out what's wrong: it's called Vestibular Disease. They don't really know what causes it. Could be a fall. Some hidden tumour in the brain. An ear infection gone cryptic. It starts off like a seizure and suddenly your dog looks drunk. The vet describes it as "she doesn't know what's up from down right now, she's lost her sense of balance".
That morning it's still dark out, not six o'clock yet, as I stare at the wig on my table, the one I'd planned to wear to work for a laugh. My fingers work anxiously over the curled coils of the telephone cord like they're prayer beads. In my mind, I am hearing him tell me the details, but I'm going through the day as it may unfold. Will I get to look in her eyes again? Will she recognize me/us, wag her tail? Will she be gone by the time I get to touch her fur again? Or will she be in irreversible pain and we have to (pause. take a breath here.) put her down? Will he want to cremate her or bury her?
He and I have never had that talk. When she turned 10, it was like we made a concerted effort not to bring up the nearness, the possibility that one day she'll be gone from us. We manage to share her and since we parted, we walk around wondering, will I be there with her? Will she be with him or me when she goes? How will either of us cope without her? It's too painful to swallow the knot building in my throat as I hang up the phone. She will be...would be 11 years old this Winter Solstice. She was 11 weeks old when we got her. We've raised her, loved her, and been loved by her since she was handed to us in March of 1998. Just a puppy. A rescue. Born 500 miles North of Thunder Bay. She had paws the size of Manhattan to grow into. Her nose, a cute, little, stubby thing protruding between deep, dark auburn eyes, hadn't filled out yet. The softest silver tips on her ears. Her mum had been shot and dumped at the dumpster. She'd been abandoned there with the body. She'd had a really rough start and now she was ours. She'd never known what it was to wear a collar or leash. She was as wild as can be. She resembled a little wolf. A timid, sweet, petrified, wild, tiny thing. That's how Unconditional Love looks sometimes. Our hearts completely melted.
After a night of zero sleep, I drive down to the vet hospital. All I intend is to bring a blanket so she has something to lie on 'cause we've been asked not to come see her at all on Friday, that it might stress her out to visit her and then have to leave her in that place. They were talking about monitoring her until Monday. I cry on the drive down thinking maybe I still won't get to see her, picturing the last time I saw her a week ago. I'd been looking at photos and videos of her in the night, praying to the stars fading in the morning dawn. Suddenly I am standing in the reception area clutching this blanket like she is already wrapped in it and the doctor is telling me she's an exemplary patient. She's made a wonderful recovery. She's eaten, she's peed, she's pooped (with the help of 3 vet students). She is on anti-nausea pills for now to help her with balance and she can be released that morning back into our arms. I am led into a room where I lay down the blanket in a square and kneel down. And here comes the manifestation of the prayer I make on all fours, prancing in the room, a little wobby, her eyes smiling, her tongue panting and lolling, wet sloppy kisses all over my face. And there's that perfect fuzzy Husky TAIL, lashing around like it's Babe Ruth's bat ready to hit a homer. Out of the park. Goodbye Mr. Spalding. I LOVE that fucking tail! She almost falls on me in her excitement and I start weeping in mine. Her head is slightly tilted. She is twitching, but it's an old twitch she's had since the broken collarbone in her first year of life when she ran into a concrete bench at the tennis court in Riverdale park near Broadview and Danforth. We can take her home this morning. She will always have a head a tad askew. She will be a little off-kilter (join the club, is what escapes my lips as a slight murmur). She will be clumsy (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). But she will survive (in all these ways, there's no denying she is her mommy's puppy, the resemblance, uncanny.)
My dog is alive today. Her tail thumps a little rhythmically at my foot as I sit and knit and read between her and a warm fire for 10 straight hours at my ex's apartment while he's away working a long day. Waves of visitors arrive with stories and smiles to make sure she's recovering. Her head is tilted as she looks up at me each time she wakes. She leans against my leg a little as I walk her outside to pee. That morning, the vet tells us she'll always have a bit of a quizzical expression and I have to crack a smile. That doc just doesn't know it's something she's always had since she was that lost, little bundle placed into our lucky, loving arms.
I am writing this thinkin' bout the first baby I lost a decade ago, how relieved I was then to have an adorable, little puppy who needed a mommy. 'Cause I needed to mother and it ended up being this crazy, furry, little girl. It is balmy and sunny today, this first day of November, but I have a fire going anyhow. I'm relishing the way my dog's ribs move up and down as she sleeps and I breathe deeply along with their rhythm. My wooden needles click and clack and I pause. My hand moves slowly in a circle over my burgeoning belly. I am now at 12 weeks, beginning week 13, the final week of my first trimester. A new milestone. My Lil Sweet Potato I got cookin in this here oven is developed now and can, apparently, suck her (his?) thumb. A phrase pops into my head: I Yam what I Yam. HA. Then the song. Maybe it's his (her?) way of reasurring me...
I'm strong to the 'finich'
cuz I eats me spinach.
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man.
Take after your mum and her good, ol' dog, kay? Stay strong to the finich. Pinky promise me.
The dark of All Souls Night has passed. It is the Celtic New Year. A Sunny Samhain. And my dog is ALIVE!
Music: (S)He's a Good Dog, Fred Eaglesmith
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