Valium Vickie

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

What do you do when that dog you love too much dies too soon?

What do you do when that dog you love too much dies too soon? That question sounds ridiculously dramatic coming from anybody -- especially a guy who sends letters to fancy restaurants about fictional German swinger dudes who rub mashed potatoes all over their genitals. And, in the scheme things, it is. But ever since my Boston Terrier Luna died, I've been trying to figure out how I'm supposed to make myself feel better about the whole thing. And a big part of that has involved finding some type of answer to that dramatic question.

Time has definitely dulled everything a good deal. But if I think about it hard enough, I feel almost as shitty as I did on the day the vet called and told my girlfriend Liz and me we lost Luna -- and I don't think that will change any time soon.

If you've ever had a conversation with me for more than five minutes, chances are you knew about my dog. Had she lived, Luna would've been the ring-bearer at my wedding in May. And when I proposed, I tied the ring to Luna's collar and let her do all the work. For most people, putting your dog in your wedding is an absurd idea. For my girlfriend and me, it was never even up for debate. Liz and I decided to get married so, naturally, Luna would have to play some major role in the wedding.

Tissues, tests and meds

I should've know Luna's days were numbered the moment we walked into Metropolitan Veterinary Associates and Emergency Services and saw that every seat in the expansive waiting room was accompanied by its own personal box of tissues. Even the waiting rooms in the human cancer wards I've visited didn't have a chair-to-tissue ratio of one to one.

We probably made at least a half dozen trips to Metropolitan before Luna died, and there was always at least one distraught pet owner who really benefited from the personal tissue supply. "At least we're not in that situation," I thought every time except for that last visit.

In just two months, my girlfriend and I experienced everything from joy that Luna's tests (blood, ultrasound and endoscopy) confirmed she didn't have cancer to fear that her meds weren't working to a short-lived cautious relief she actually was getting better to shock that she was never going to pull through.

Luna lived to be about a month short of six years old. Based on the breed descriptions I've read, the average life expectancy for Boston Terriers is around 13 to 15 years. So it's hard not feel like I was cheated out of some key years we were entitled to -- at least according to all those expert books.

Coming home has been the worst: Pulling into the driveway, walking up to house and still half expecting to see my dog going ape shit the minute I walk through that door. Whatever happened while I away, seeing that crazy little dog when I came home made me feel better. And not just better, Luna's unwavering excitement always made me feel like everything was going to be work itself out just fine -- even when I wasn't so sure.

Luna always greeted me the same way. She'd rush up to the door, start shaking her upper and lower half's in two completely different directions (like those Chinese dragon costumes that are manned by multiple people) all while making these adorable whimpering sounds. Then, before I could get to her, she'd run off and return with a plastic squeaky hot dog, or a dirty, old tennis ball or one of her other many toys. It's as if every day Luna's instinct would force her to rush forward empty-handed (technically empty-jawed) the moment I walked through the door but, right before greeting me she'd catch herself and think, "Oh shit, I can't let this guy see me like this. I don't even have anything to show him," and she'd rush off to remedy the situation by bringing me one of her many treasures.

Having a dog is a never-ending series of daily routines -- routines that can be annoying when you're time-pressed (or hung over), but become second-nature over time. So every night when that unthinking autopilot part of me sends out the alert that I have to let the dog out before I wrap it up, I'm reminded there's no dog to let out anymore. I'm not trying to be overly sentimental here. Neither me nor Luna were fond of the morning dump ritual in the pouring rain or sac-shriveling February cold. But we still did it. And because of those many routines, I'm constantly being reminded of what I've lost, which is a big part of what I think makes this process such a bitch.

Because Luna's health went south so quickly, we put her through a regimen that seems a little crazy now. In her last month, Luna's routine consisted of a series of pills and elixirs administered several times throughout the day and night. Each morning, she'd allow me to shoot two milligrams of Peptobismal down her gullet because she knew what came next: Anywhere from five to seven pills (diuretics, steroids, anti-nausea meds and more) hidden in tiny pieces of lunch meat or peanut butter or canned tuna. This was repeated again in the afternoon and on a smaller scale before bed. We even had one of those special pill boxes that looks a sad Advent calendar where little doors open up to reveal an array of pharmaceuticals instead of delicious pieces of candy. The pill box remained in its spot on the kitchen counter for weeks after Luna died, and every time I happen to glance at it, I couldn't help feeling like we -- me and the stupid pill box -- failed that dog.

Then there's the house. That place just feels so empty now. In every nook and cranny of our home, there are spots where I still expect to see a little Boston Terrier lounging around and farting generously. To her credit, Luna made use of every inch of the place. She had spots in the kitchen, the living room, both bedrooms and even the upstairs bathroom, where she'd wait patiently until my girlfriend or I finished showering.

Whenever I'd change rooms, Luna would follow just to remain close. But she always let me know she wasn't happy about the move. When I'd go from watching full-length Stone Temple Pilots DVDs in the living room to searching for obscure Stone Temple Pilots YouTube clips in the guest bedroom, it would only be a matter of time before I'd hear the familiar patter of paws and see Luna making her dramatic entrance. She'd hop up on the couch and look right at me. Then, she'd let out this giant sigh and flop herself down in the type of position you'd think she planned on remaining in for at least a week. The only thing she hated more than moving from room to room was being away from the action -- even if all that action consisted of was re-watching old Stone Temple Pilots' clips.

Ever since she died, I've been thinking a lot about Luna's first home, the apartment Liz and I shared in Drexel Hill for five years. We hadn't even been living together for six months when we decided to add Luna to the mix. Luna was a sign of how serious our relationship was because: We got the dog together, dogs live for a long time (relative to the length of most relationships involving 20-somethings), therefore, Liz and I were going to be together for a long time. A + B = C. Simple math, right?

Luna, Liz and I were a little family, and that Drexel Hill apartment was our family's first home. Looking back now, it feels like I found my own version of utopia right there in Delco (that's Delaware Country, PA, for all of my Filipino readers). Of course, even the most awful experiences can seem appealing when you're far enough removed from them. In reality, our mouse-ridden apartment needed a ton of work our landlord was in no rush to do, and our upstairs neighbor was a rough, Russian single mother who allowed her "baby" (the kid was at least eight!) to run wild at all hours of the day and night -- making it sound like an FBI raid was constantly taking place directly above us. Then, to top it all off, our lease included a No-Pets Clause. Luna was never even recognized as a legitimate tenant and had to be tucked away secretly in the back room every time our landlord made an appearance. Plus, we never seemed to have much money, and it felt like we were always working through some drastic family (normally not the Luna, Liz, Jared family) problem or another.

But I don't think of those things when I think about 709 Morgan Ave., Apt. A. All I can think of are the trips to Luna's favorite park where she'd exhaust herself swimming out to retrieve sticks I'd throw into the deep part of the creek over and over again, or the walks to my favorite Chinese take-out place where I'd apologize for eating her people but promise her a piece as compensation or the Ppring hikes at Ridley Creek State Park where Luna would sit down right in the middle of the giant hill that marked the end of hike, indicating she expected to be carried the rest of the way back to the car.

I keep wondering why Luna’s death has caused me to not only think about Drexel Hill and our old apartment more than I have in years – but also to miss the place in a way that just doesn’t make sense, not when you consider how nice it was to finally get out of that old apartment with its crumbling front wall, rotted-out deck and no-pets lease. It’s probably not the apartment or the town I miss. More likely, it’s the point in my life I was at when I lived there. We were just starting out, and there were so many possibilities for our little family. No matter what life threw at us, it seemed like it would always be Luna, Liz and me. Now, almost six years later, I’m trying to adjust to living in this dog-less house, and I’d give just about anything to go back to that old apartment where all those wonderful years with my little dog were still ahead of me.
But I can't. So now back to that initial question. What do you do when the dog you love too much dies too soon? If you're like me, you cry ... you cry a lot. Unless I'm watching an emotional movie (or an exceptional episode of a show created by Shonda Rhimes), I don't cry too often. But the entire week after Luna died, it was the first thing I did when I came home from work. I'd trudge through the front door, look around the house, half expecting to see my spastic Boston Terrier doing her Chinese dragon costume impression, and just lose it for a while. It probably didn't help that our entire dining room wall was covered with Luna pictures from the impromptu memorial/Shiva (story for another blog) we held. But I'm pretty sure the involuntary late afternoon crying sessions would've taken place with or without the visual reminders.

Work was a challenge, too. That entire first week I felt like I was Dick Vermeil, and work was this terrible 40-hour press conference where at any moment, without any logical context, the waterworks could start up. Unlike Dick, I didn't break down on the job. But I did start crying while I was getting a massage. Thankfully, it wasn't during a happy ending. It was two days after Luna died, and Liz had sprung for this fancy deep tissue massage as a birthday present to take my mind off the whole dead dog thing.

There I am, lying on my back with the "relaxation therapist" working the hell out of my thighs when, out of nowhere, I start thinking how I'll never be able to take Luna to the park again and just like that, I'm tearing up. I wasn't falling out or anything, but it was noticeable. So of course this lady thinks I'm unable to handle the unbearable pain of her deep tissue massage and says, "I'm so sorry. If the deep tissue is too hard, just let me know, OK?" And that just made me mad. I mean, did this woman really think she could make me -- a guy who was branded with a stove-heated coat hanger and didn't make a peep -- cry with her tiny little masseuse hands? I wanted to let her know I wasn't crying from the massage, I was crying because my dog just died. But she was a relaxation therapist not a mental health therapist, so I said I got something in my eye instead.

I actually had a mini-crying episode before Luna even died. I was sitting in my little work cubicle -- a cell that's more bearable because of the pictures of Luna I hung up -- when Boyz II Men's version of "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" unexpectedly came through my headphones. I don't care what anybody says, that's one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever recorded. Even under the most controlled circumstances, it's tough for me to listen to that song without getting a little teary-eyed.

But that song happened to come on around the time we discovered that Luna was sick -- really, really sick -- and I just happened to be glancing at over at this one particular picture right when the harmonies had kicked into full gear, and that was all it took. There I was, just another grown man sitting in his cubicle crying to Boy II Men's beautiful music in the middle of a routine workday with my neighboring co-workers blissfully unaware they were sitting a few feet away from an emotional lunatic.

In fairness to me, the picture was a huge part of the problem. It's this great shot of Luna and the backside of this other giant woolly dog. It looks as if both Luna and the woolly creature were galloping off to some unknown adventure when, at the last moment, Luna decided to turn her head and take one final look at what she was leaving behind. At least that's what it looked like to an emotional dog owner who was trying to cope with the fact that things may not work out. And one very clear thought came into my head while looking at that picture: I'm not ready to lose to lose this dog. That thought during that time may have been enough to bring on the waterworks. But when you add the soulful sounds of Nate, Waya, that anorexic dude, that dude who looked 15 years older than everyone else in the group and talked during the middle of songs and that other guy to the equation, I have no control over the situation.

Besides the all that crying, I've done all the standard things: Looked at old pictures, obsessively retraced the moments leading up to Luna's death to see what I could've done differently and just just sat around feeling really sorry for myself. And Liz and I even got matching tattoos of a cartoon Boston Terrier with Luna's name underneath. It's a decision I'm sure I'll never regret -- unless I wind up doing a stretch in prison.

But mostly I've been writing. Almost every day since Luna died, I sat down to write about it. Sometimes it was only for a sentence or two, other times I was typing away for well over an hour. As a result, I've written a single blog post in the time it takes some people to complete an entire screenplay.

I do feel a lot better doing it. It's been a nice little ritual for me, and I feel like I can go on writing this Luna post forever. But I know I'm coming to the end, and I keep looking for ways to stretch this thing out. I know once I'm done describing what that little dog meant to me and what it feels like not have her around anymore, I'll have given myself a form of that thing mentally evolved people call closure. I mean I do have to end this thing at some point. After all, there are plenty of prank emails and cable-company service transcripts to get back to.

Every dog has a unique personality, a series of subtle traits and peculiar little idiosyncrasies that make each one impossible to replace. And I'm going to finally end this thing by writing out as many of Luna's as I can remember, so I don't forget what an exceptional, ridiculous and irreplaceable creature she was -and how lucky I was to have her in my life for the time that I did:

The way Luna would wedge herself between my neck and and the car seat while I was driving like she was some type of a living airplane pillow.

The way, on her own, Luna would step off the edge of Liz's mom's pool, onto her favorite raft and float around like she was on vacation.

In the car, the way she'd prop one front paw on the open car window, let her other dangle against the door (like some a guy named Rick driving a Camero) and force as much of her body as she could into the open air to take in all of the smells. (The person in the passenger seat would always have to hold onto one of her haunches or her leash so she wouldn't fly out the window).

How Luna would "climb" the wishbone shaped tree at Rolling Green Memorial Park by running full-speed up the trunk until she was firmly perched atop the first level of the tree.

The way she would never come out of the creek -- even when she seemed like she'd drown -- until she saved the stick that was thrown in

And, even though I've heard this was a common trait among Bostons, I refuse to believe any of them did it with as much vigor as Luna: On an almost daily basis, she'd snap to attention, look around briefly and spend the next two to three minutes engaged in what can only be described as an epic battle with an imaginary foe or her own personal demons. Luna would dart around the living room at dizzying speeds, barking erratically and spinning herself in multiple sets of circles -- Dizzy bat relay race style. Then, just like that, it would all be over. The fit would pass, and Luna would plop herself down in one of her regular spots, where she'd remain until I left room. Then, she'd reluctantly pull herself up, shake herself out and follow, probably wondering why the hell I couldn't just stay put.

I wish I had more footage of these battles, but at least I did capture this one:


Anonymous said...

Damn, man, just damn.

Thank you.

Jo Leahy said...

She will always be a part of your life. Someday the smiles will replace the tears. We feel for you and Liz.

Pop Leahy said...

Jared....WOW..........know exactly how you are feeling.....Here I sit in my office with tears coming down reading of Luna's antics..... My thoughts go back to Peanut who also left us too soon..... But it was her that convinced me to never have another dog that wasn't a Boston.......It does get better and eventually you will laugh instead of cry when you remember something cute about your little girl Luna..... Keep the Faith brother I know what you and Liz are feeling !!!!!

Jared B. said...

Adrian and Mr. and Mrs. Leahy,

Thanks much for reading ... and for the kind words!