Like a black hole, but with emotions

In a perfect world, I would have posted more in the last year, because so many wonderful things have happened. I fell in love and started a new career. It felt like my real life started. But it’s not a perfect world. Instead of posting, I was learning about business analysis & writing requirements by day, kissing & laughing with Mike by night.

I’m posting now because it’s the only thing I can think to do. When my heart feels fractured and my contacts salty, my mind gets restless. For the last few months, I’ve sought easier outlets than writing: HBO, new crochet projects, wistful novels, adult coloring books, and binge-drinking. Writing about pain is difficult. Writing about personal pain is exhausting. Writing about family pain is dangerous.

Yet here I am, about to dig in.

The specifics aren’t important, but the basics are probably necessary. The last time I saw my mother was on my birthday, February 29. She left without notice in early March. The last time we spoke was mid-April. She filed for divorce sometime late April. She’s been with a man in Oregon since early June. The last time we exchanged texts was Saturday, while I was recovering from a hangover. The night before I either instigated an argument or cornered her into confessing her sins, depending on your perspective. Either way, I blame alcohol.

Part of me is terrified to write about this – privately or publicly; the other half doesn’t give a damn – it is what it is. These thoughts and feelings have been churning for a long time, and I haven’t been able to do much with them. I talk to Mike. I see a counselor. I try to spend time with my dad and brothers. I take vitamin D and sleep in on the weekends. But when I slow down, I realize I’m buckling under the weight. I just want to be past all of the frustration.

I thought my depression phase of the grieving process was very short. There were only a few days in June where I couldn’t concentrate and slept so hard I woke a zombie. Other than that, I’ve been angry. My counselor assured me that I would likely be going through cycles of grief for the next few years. The idea is daunting. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never had to deal with something so emotionally massive.

This isn’t just something I’m going to have to deal with over the course of the next few months. I’m going to have new questions, frustrations, and concerns as I hit my own milestones.

800px-Black_Hole_in_the_universe

My emotions, circa spring/summer 2016. Everything is at the event horizon, basically.

I want my rhetorical questions to have answers.

How? When? Why?

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Canine Cancer

Last night I learned that my dog has cancer.

When my dad told me, I didn’t really feel anything for about a minute. News like that never feels real until you hear your father’s voice crack.

Jack’s a 100lb black lab. He’s about 8 years old and blindly adores me and my family the way only dogs can. I visit my parents a few times a month and if Jack sees me from the top of the driveway, he just about plows me over. If I were to match his excitement, he’d squeal for an hour. He’s a happy dog. He has the same amount of energy now as when we picked him up from the shelter seven years ago.

According to the vet, he has a really aggressive form of cancer. Realistically, he only has a few months left. I’m too scared to look at anything on wikipedia about canine cancer, so I don’t know what his life would be like for the next few months. My family has decided that we’ll be putting him to sleep.

Discussing when to schedule euthanasia makes you feel helpless, though you’re basically playing god for a few moments. It’s something that has to be done. We don’t want him to suffer through another bloody nose. They started in July and escalated to what my parents describe as a looking like a crime scene on the front porch, the living room, the back of the car, and the exam room.  But when he’s wagging his tail and excitedly chewing on a stick while dad putzes in the garage, it’s hard to accept that he’s dying. He’s too damn happy to be dying. It makes me sick to think about Jack no longer greeting me when I stop by, but I know it has to be done.

While my family discussed this, I kept thinking about how weird it is to say that we put our animals to sleep. That phrase is stupid. I know it’s supposed to soften euthanasia, but it kind of cheapens it. It’s not sleep. It’s death. The emotional blow isn’t any less harsh just because you use a pleasant euphemism. “Letting him go” seems more appropriate, but if we’re talking semantics, letting him go would mean more that we just let him die naturally. But that’s not what we want, because if we were to let him go that way, it could potentially be by a very traumatic bloody nose that never stops. Though it might be natural, it’s not humane. But what the hell does humane mean in this scenario? Horse doctor? White Fang-style disowning? Because I clearly have excellent coping mechanisms, this is basically what was going through my head while my brothers were sharing how they felt things should go: the language and cultural expectations surrounding dying pets.

We’ll be having the vet come into our home to do the procedure, then we’ll pick up the remains later. I wish I could shut my brain off sometimes, because then, as soon as the remains were mentioned, I recalled a This American Life episode in which they investigated whether or not families truly received their pets’ remains. It’s been a few years since I heard it, but I’m pretty sure they arrived at the conclusion that you’re probably not getting your pet’s ashes. I had to force myself to shut up about it because though that tidbit is probably factual, it wasn’t going to do anything but frustrate my family and remind them that I can be an insensitive ass.

I’m not sure when exactly he’ll be put down, but probably within the next month. As with all things, this sadness, too, shall pass. But right now, it’s kind of heartbreaking.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something's awry. Just look at those eyes.

This was taken earlier tonight. He knows something’s awry. Just look at those eyes.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn't get any stronger.

My little brother wrote and addressed this card to Jack from summer camp a few years ago. The bond between boy and dog doesn’t get any stronger.

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn't a dog who has cancer, right?

Typical Jack. Taken in July. Clearly this isn’t a dog who has cancer, right?

He's patient, but not coordinated. I think I've seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

He’s patient, but not coordinated. I think I’ve seen him catch four out of about fifty treats that rested on his nose.

Chill out, bro.

Chill out, bro.

…and then I cried to a strange asian woman.

So, you know how  my last post was about how I got anxious about driving and losing everything in a second? There was an accident on the highway yesterday morning. Thankfully, I wasn’t part of it.

But my car did die on the way to work. That word sounds so dramatic. Die. I suppose context doesn’t matter either. But in this context, it’s almost certainly not the right word, but I don’t know what else to say.

My car ceased to work on the way to work. My car lost power. My car decided to nap on  the way to work. Instead of driving to work, my car preferred to overheat and force me to coast into a parking lot.

I tried to call my dad. And my brother, Corey. And my parents’ house. No answer at any of them. I was particularly worried about Corey, because he leaves for work around the same time I do, and his phone went directly to voicemail. I was half convinced he was in what Facebook updates lead me to believe was a 12-car pileup (he wasn’t).

I didn’t know what to do. I was about to change out of my heels into the flats I keep in my trunk to walk the mile to my parents’ house when I remembered that I know people outside of my immediate family.

So I called my grandma.

She sounded sleepy, so I just gave her my spiel. “Grandma? This is Ashley. My car just died on the way to work and I can’t get a hold of my dad or anyone else. Could you come pick me up and take me to my parents’ house?” Of course, I started crying too. Because I’m awesome like that.

“What?”

“I just need a ride to my parents’ house. I’ll be able to borrow one of their cars.”

“Who ah you?”

“Is this Grandma Bea?”

“Who ah you?”

“You’re not Bernice, are you?”

“Who ah you?”

I realized I had just cried to a strange asian woman. So I hung up. I called an aunt who was going to pick me up, but then my dad called me.

He saved the day, like he always does.

Of course later that day, my dad was able to get the car started and running without any problems. I love when that happens.

Things I Inherited from My Father

  1. My left thumb. I think it’s technically called a clubbed thumb, but it’s much more charming to say that one thumb is my mom’s and one is my dad’s, right? 
  2. My hangovers. I envy people who can go into work hungover with their cute little headaches and grogginess. My hangovers are all-day puke fests. Saturday night, I went out for the first time in months. My apartment is just a few blocks from downtown, and I hadn’t taken advantage of my proximity since I moved in three months ago. I had two beers (one was an AMAZING creme brulee milk stout), a mixed drink (bartender thought I wanted a little lemonade with my vodka), and a jaggerbomb (bought for me by a boy I remember as a Jersey Shore character). Sunday morning, I woke up wanting to die. I spent all day in sweats, curled up in a blanket, taking frequent trips to the bathroom to get rid of my stomach contents. When I say all day, I’m worried you’re thinking that I mean till 2 or 3. I didn’t start feeling like a human until 7:30. I peed for the first time at 8pm. I ate my first and only meal at 8:30, and I was still a little worried I wouldn’t keep it down. After I recovered, I visited my parents and my dad told me that’s what his hangovers are like, which is why he never gets drunk. Smart man.
  3. My Sense of Humor. It’s crass. A bit abrasive and often sarcastic. I’ve tweaked it by adding a bit of self-deprecation. My dad might say, “Well, you just have to be smarter than what you’re working on.” I might say, “Well hell, I thought I was smarter than the thing.” We love tv shows like 30 Rock and Community – the twisted sort of sense of humor that’s a little obnoxious and meta.
  4. An Unwarranted Affection for Law & Order SVU. I know. it’s a terrible show. Each episode is essentially the same, the only variations are Munch’s one-liners and Elliot Stabler’s latest personal crisis. Once I start watching an episode, I must finish it. I have to see it to the gruesome end where the rapist gets away because of a technicality or the pedophile somehow tricked his way into getting immunity. If there’s a Law & Order marathon, it’s probably on my father’s television and he’s probably playing solitaire on his computer while half watching Ice-T get melodramatic with a uncooperative teenager.
  5. My Need to Plan Things. I like to know the game plan for things, even if it’s just a guess. What time should I expect my friends for dinner? Where will I meet you after work? What is happening for dinner? This is also closely tied to my impatience. If I say I’m going to pick you up at 7:30, be ready and waiting at 7:25. If I’m going to meet you at 5, I’ll probably show up at 4:45. I like to have a little breathing room in case I run into a problem.

Best father/mechanic/confidant a girl could ask for

I have to say, of all the things I got from my father, I could definitely do without the hangovers.

Youth in Asia

I spent the day at my parents’ house, writing and editing a few pieces for a portfolio I have to hand in next week. When I walked through the door, Jack, my family’s younger dog, came lumbering through the kitchen to greet me. Hallie was asleep in the living room. I walked to her and ignored Jack’s insistent whining, and pet Hallie. It took a few seconds, but she cracked her eyes open and she threw a paw over my wrist, as if she were saying “Don’t, for any reason, stop petting me. Ever.” I wasn’t prepared for the tears to come as early as 9am.

I camped out on the couch with my laptop, diligently editing the Dear Jackass essay (which actually works better as a story than as an essay. As an essay it’s disgustingly self indulgent and pathetic sounding. As a story it’s got a great torch song sort of feel to it) and redrafting another piece I’ve been working on. Jack slept under my feet, and Hallie slept on the bed across the room. I found myself wondering how I was supposed to treat her. It was her last day alive. Was I supposed to shower her with affection all day? Was I supposed to indulge her every whim? If I did that, then she would know something was out of the ordinary. And for some reason, I didn’t really want that. I didn’t want her last day to be this festival of canine indulgences. I wasn’t going to take her for a car ride because she couldn’t get into my car, and I couldn’t lift her. Even if she did make it into my car, she’d spend most of the drive whining, even if I opened the window or got her to lie down. I thought about taking her for a walk, but she couldn’t do that either. Arthritis must have attacked her back hips because her back end would collapse every now and then, surprising her. She stopped chewing on toys when Jack came into the house and decided to tear them apart. What he didn’t tear, he drooled all over. I was left to give her affection and food. At this point, those were the things she loved most. Luckily, there was a canister full of peanut butter treats in the cupboard, and she looked at me with just pathetic enough of a look for me to give her half my turkey sandwich.

When my family returned at the end of the day, my mom asked Corey if he’d take pictures in the backyard. My initial reaction was, “God that’s tasteless. I don’t want a picture of her on her last day, prancing around in the backyard as if everything’s okay, when she’s just going to be dead in a few hours.” But I kept my mouth shut, because it wasn’t tasteless. It was just sentimental, and there’s really nothing wrong with that. We were all outside, quietly crying in our own ways. I don’t think anyone wanted to look at each other. I looked to my dad to give me a hug once I wiped my eyes, but realized he was doing it himself. It seemed like a selfish thing for me to ask for comfort at a time like this. We were all hurting, and who was I to say that my pain was any greater than that of my father, mother, or brothers?

Corey snapped photos, and it still seemed forced and exploitative. I felt a weird surge of anger, but I wasn’t sure who I was mad at. Myself for reacting? My mom for making the decision a few days earlier? The vet for agreeing to make a house call? My brother for taking the pictures? My dad for going along with it? My parents for getting her eleven years earlier and making me fall in love with her? Luckily, there was no portrait of the family, pretending to smile. I think I might have screamed if anyone had suggested it.

It just seemed so awful that we were all grieving while she continued to wag her tail, trusting us completely.

Back inside the house, we waited for the vet to arrive. I wondered who would be the last to touch her. It occurred to me there was another weird injustice that had happened. At some point, she started developing fatty tumors on her body. Her ears itched constantly. A canine version of menopause (that’s a thing, right?) developed and she’d stand in front of you, panting and dancing, not indicating thirst, hunger or the need to release her bladder, just saying, “I’m hot and you’re going to suffer with me by smelling my breath.” I got annoyed with her, not wanting to pet her as much since she was so persistent. But here we were, giving her the most attention she had gotten in years, and she was loving every second of it.

So many details made me angry: how my family all sat at the perimeter of the living room, waiting for a turn to pet her, how the last car she’d bark at would be driven by the man who was going to kill her, how he backed his truck into the driveway, how he had brought an assistant to watch our mourning, how strange it was to hear my father cry, how my when my mom cries, she lets out these quiet squeaks at the end of her exhales, how Ryan didn’t move to touch Hallie without an invitation from my father, how she needed two shots of tranquilizer before she rested her head on the blanket, how the vet and his assistant stepped outside to give us time, how he had to shave some fur off to find a vein, how when injected her with the anesthesia I couldn’t see the needle because my mother was leaning over her, blocking my view, how her tongue wouldn’t stay in her mouth and her eyes wouldn’t close, how the vet listened to her heart and stepped back, and how my father finally asked if she was gone and the vet replied quietly, “Yes, she’s gone.”

She was gone at 6:10.

The details made me angry because though they were my details, I knew this had all happened before. The vet knew the most convenient way to take the body was to back the truck in. They had seen families cry before. He knew that sometimes labs need two shots of tranquilizer before they slow down. To the vet, this was just another appointment. This was just the final task in his day, and it was his job to make sure we felt as if he had a meaningful connection to our dog, as if he remembered her as a puppy, though he sees hundreds of animals every week.

I wanted some sort of reassurance that this was important to somebody other than myself. I wanted to know that Hallie no longer living was going to effect the world in a bigger way than Jack wondering where his buddy had gone and my family feeling her like a phantom limb. But the fact is that there will not be giant ripples felt throughout the world. My childhood dog is no longer alive. I know that other people may not care that she once carried around stuffed animals that we called her “babies”, but it matters to me and my family. And while it might be disheartening to realize my experience is not truly unique, there’s a comfort in knowing that millions of other people have experienced what I am, and that they have gone on to remember their dogs by photos and fond memories.