And you should always know
Where ever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away...
- "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) by Billy Joel
So, at some point I knew I was going to have to write about this.
You’d think, after the events of last year, that I would be better at coping with this type of thing, but, no. The way I manage just seems to keep changing. The way I grieve? It’s bordering on the self-destructive side of things. What happens to grief when one is no longer merely sad?
This one. It leaves me… bankrupt. I simply want to roll into a little ball.
You see, my life began, again, when Beau came into it. Before that, I was living through a period of an all-time low; uncommitted to continuing – I didn’t see the point. Back in 1996, life as I had known it was over. A vapor. For some reason I was still alive, but wasn’t sure why. I felt I had nothing to live for.
And then, one day, in the fall, I was on my way into a local Menards to buy an area rug to warm up this awful little apartment I had just rented in a shitty neighborhood in South Minneapolis when our eyes met. His were so large and scared. I recognized the look, for it was the same one I had seen that morning in the mirror as I prepared to shave and get on with another day. A frazzled woman was holding him, with a small girl clinging to her side. They were all three just standing there in front of the main entrance to this store. I approached and asked what kind of dog it was and her reply startled me. “Do you want him?”
He was a four month old Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix brought up from North Carolina. He was absolutely adorable. They had to get rid of him because they had just moved into a motel that didn’t accept dogs. At the time I was not all that sure that I was physically or emotionally ready to take care of a dog, but I told her that I would think about it as I shopped and if the dog was still there when I finished, maybe I would take him off their hands. Truth was, I had already fallen in love with him and just wanted to buy some time. I shopped quickly, for I was really hoping he would still be there when I got through the check line.
He was. And I had just told the woman that I would take him, when this old woman walked up and said “I just lost my dog. I want a new one. I’ll take him.” Part of me wanted to fight for him, but then part of me continued to wonder if I was ready to take on such a responsibility. Maybe the old woman could provide a better home, a better life. Maybe the fates were stepping in to ensure that this little guy had a great life.
So I let the old woman take him. I gave her my number and told her to call me if it didn’t work out. I watched as the little girl cried as the old woman took the dog and the dog’s toys. His name was Bobo.
The next day, as I sort of hoped and expected, the old woman called me and told me to come get the dog. She had four steps she had to go up and down to get to her yard, and she didn’t want to risk that on an on-going basis. I drove to Richfield to pick him up. I was very excited. I walked into her house and there he was; his eyes still as big and scared as ever. But I also caught a glint of something else. Something joyful. I scooped him up, grabbed all his things, and made my way to my vehicle.
Once inside, he settled down on my lap immediately. He wasn’t scared. As we drove away, he fell asleep and I thought, wow, he must be a very experienced traveller. I told him that I would never leave him. That he would always have a home with me and that I would do my best to provide a safe and clean environment. And that he would never go hungry or want for anything.
And I did. I kept my promises. I got my act together and created a better place for him, and in the process, one for myself, as well. Within a year I was out of that crummy apartment and Beau (as I renamed him), had a fenced in yard and lovely place to live. He was the start of my new commitment to life and to living.
We travelled a great deal together. I worried about him whenever I had to travel without him, never quite trusting whomever I arranged to take care of him. I was as protective as I could be.
He survived being attacked by a pit bull. We were walking in a park and the owner of the pit bull lost control of his dog. It was an ugly, messy, scene – one which sent both Beau and me to the emergency room. He survived a series of seizures during his first year. I spent a lot of money at the U of M trying to find out why he would suddenly only be able to walk backwards before rolling into a little ball of pain. It was freaky and terrifying to witness. Fortunately he grew out of it.
He was smart. I taught him a series of tricks, including “Bang, You’re Dead” and “Kill The Baby”. He was a quick study. He loved his toys. And he was nice. He would growl at babies and puppies younger than himself, but other than that, he loved everyone. Trusted everyone, instantly.
He had so much personality. He was one of the few dogs that I’d ever met that actually smiled. He had such poise, too. I’ve never been so smitten in my entire life.
But years go by… and as they do, we tend to take for granted that the one thing that has been a constant source of stability, acceptance, strength, joy, and love – will always be there. The last three years of his life it was like living with a hostile adolescent. He loved his brother Paco, and even welcomed Mona, but when they died, he was the only dog again, and I noticed how attentive he suddenly was again. I think he really wanted to be the only dog. Then Millie came into our lives and took a lot of attention.
Beau knew I loved him. I told him often enough. I would imagine my life without him and simply ache. I didn’t know how I would handle it.
On a crisp, Sunday morning, I had the dogs out in the front yard with me, talking with a neighbor over the fence. The conversation ended, I took Millie back in the house, but left Beau to sniff around the front gardens. A few moments later, I heard Beau make a lot of noise. Some people were walking two large dogs past our front gate. Beau must have been racing up and down the length of the fence. Suddenly I heard him yelp, as if he had been hurt. I raced to the front yard. The people with the dogs were walking away, as they did, one of them said, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s not that bad.” But it was. I picked up Beau and knew, right then and there – it was the beginning of the end.
Multiple trips to the emergency vet and my regular vet. Not a good candidate for surgery; enlarged heart, age. Nothing they can do. The pain meds make him loopy. He can’t stand to pee. I sleep on the floor next to his bed. The vet takes him off the pain meds. He’s in a great deal of pain and cries. I put him back on the pain meds. Six days of this. No more.
We make that final trip. I talk to him. The vet gives us lots of time to say good-bye. I tell him, “I always thought we had more time.” He’s 14 years old. 14 years, 4 months, 19 days. I didn’t have a birthdate for him, but I estimated that he must have been born around April 1st, so I chose that as his birthday, and we celebrated it every year.
My little April’s fool.
I handle it all much better than I thought. At least, on the face of things. But secretly – and now, not so secretly – I’m crushed. My self-destructive tendencies are running a bit amok. I do a great job of covering it. But it will catch up to me. Sooner. Later.
The house is so quiet now. No more shedding dog. No more barking as I prepare the dog food. One less dish to prepare. No more hopeful glances from across the room. He was only 10 lbs., but emotionally, he took up a lot of room in my house.
Yes, I regret not taking him for more walks (he loved them so). I regret choosing to do things over spending time with him. I regret that I couldn’t make him the only dog in my house. He had a wonderful life. That’s what everyone tells me. But I know it could have been better.
And mostly, I blame myself. Had I not left him in that front yard he wouldn’t have twisted his back. He’d still be here. He was a very healthy 14 year-old. He was the best dog, ever.
Millie and I manage. At first, she spent a lot of time looking for him – trying to find his scent. She’s blind, but she knew something had changed. I don’t think she misses him much, if at all, now. Still, the house seems so quiet. And when I’m not there, I’m sure she notices that being alone is different without Beau around.
I notice it, too. Even with Millie sitting on my lap, I feel, very much – alone.
So, I haven’t been able to write much since August, 14th, the day Beau injured himself. My mind feels fragmented; my focus non-existent.
I don’t know what comes next. I don’t want to regroup. I don’t want to hunker down. I don’t want to refocus on something more positive. I don’t want to go to therapy. I don’t want to go to the doctor’s. I don’t want to take pills. I don’t want to do… anything.
I don’t. And then I over-indulge in something that is not healthy. I do things that don’t feel good.
But then – I don’t feel much. Not much of anything. So, does that mean I’m handling it? Does that mean I’m doing okay? It’s like waiting for the flood wall to burst. Am I punishing myself? Or is it because I can’t feel anything… so doing something that makes me feel worse, something hurtful… is feeling something bad better than not feeling at all?
So, what happens to grief when one is no longer merely sad?
And like a ship out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me