This is formatted a little strangely; please forgive that. It’s something I started a while back, in the first weeks of my study abroad in England. I didn’t have enough distance then, and even now, it’s less a piece of art than an example of the function my writing always takes: unloading. Still, it means something to me. Picking it back up was inspired by a post from Barbara Ganley, whose beautiful dog Finn recently passed away.
This is less a chronicle of how Keisha
died than a remembrance of some of the moments in that day.
I had wrestled with Fate for awhile
after her death.
Those words are jarring to write even
She was a good dog. And she was more
than a dog; she was family.
Everyone says that. But that’s one
thing that draws us together, isn’t it? After a breakup. When the
chips fall. Following a death. When nothing will be the same again.
Those are the times we come together, and it’s impossible to
begrudge anyone their cliches; their crutches; their choices.
But Fate interceded in the most awful
way, cutting her out of our lives, choosing that
day to cash in on the Inevitable.
it wasn’t that she was gone, although, who am I kidding? It was. But
the worst part was that the one person she loved the most, the
person with whom she’d grown to share so many similarities—of
character and otherwise—wasn’t there to say goodbye.
told me, after she died, that in the mornings, when he rose early,
the first thing he’d do was wait until he heard the beating of her
tail (gaining pace against the wall by her bed) to know she’d made
it through the night. And then she’d greet him, sometimes getting
up—lately, not— so pleased to see him. Sundays, he’d fry
her an egg… “for her coat,” but not really. Every other
day, they’d take their supplements together. Joint medication for
their arthritis. A coated aspirin for the pain. He’d bundle them up
in peanut butter and dab it on the end of a bone for her to eat.
Those were most mornings.
that one morning, when he rose early, I don’t know what he did. The
night before, he was frustrated and angry. She’d lost control and
made a mess in the house the last two days. He was overstressed
and frustrated, and he’d been mean the night before. She’d been
outside for most of it, old and afraid. And I was a story for another
day. But when I got home, there was no sign of him or her, and I
was scared too. The next morning, he rode away in the truck to
deliver the goods he was supposed to have done the day before.
Only the truck had broken down halfway there and his frustration had
mounted. So he was gone that fateful day.
no use in saying how it happened, except that it did, around 3:15 in
the afternoon, the day before I was scheduled to fly away to England
for a semester and not come home until it was done. She fell very
suddenly and only stood again one more time. For most of it, she lay
there panting, her breathing shallow and fast. She didn’t respond to
the tests I’d been conducting all summer, my scientific mind doing
the thing to which it was most accustomed: diagnosing a problem;
seeing how bad it really was. She didn’t respond to her nicknames, or
the tone of voice we reserved for getting her tail to wag. Her ears
didn’t perk to the sounds of my excited calls of “Chicken?”
Her favorite food. The thing that, all summer, when she’d looked like
she was sick or dying, she’d responded to. And while I was inside,
calling the vet, saying I think my dog is dying, she died.
Surrounded by family, but not by him. Not by the one person who’d
been with her for ten years, playing in the best of times, rubbing
her belly in the worst. Not by the person who did silly voices and
made her eggs and took the same old dog medication. Just by us, doing
the best we could, but not being enough.
called to tell him. All of us were crying. “Oh, God.” And
just like it always does, that said it for dad. The tone of voice
in those two words. The words following. “I’m sorry you had
to be there for it.” I wasn’t. I was sorry he couldn’t be. It
didn’t seem fair, to her or him.
he got back home, my niece cried into his stomach, and I think it’s
the first time I saw him
cry. He looked like a ghoul, his mouth turned downward in the surest
sign of sorrow I had ever seen. It was the confirmation I’d had the
summer before, when all of my shit was collapsing, that sadness
isn’t histrionics or flair. Real sadness just is. He didn’t blubber
or shout. He just had some tears in his eyes and that look on his
face. His best friend had died.
the best deaths require ceremony. She’d gone without it when she
passed, but we were determined to do something for her in
remembrance. It was somewhat impromptu, the result of needing
to do something. My niece and I went to Wal-Mart to print out
pictures we’d taken of Keisha on our digital cameras. My sister
Tracy asked us to pick up a basket to put some of Keisha’s things
into; she’d reimburse us. We piled mementos into it. Everyone got
a copy of the pictures. My brother Troy—big Troy—had
carried her body onto the back porch and covered her with a tarp,
the only thing to keep her body apart from the ambivalent elements
lifted the tarp when it was dark and carried candles outside, each of
us holding one…even my young nephew, Dalton. We said our goodbyes.
For whatever reason—for the guilt I’d always felt at not being
a better owner when I was young; for the things I’d tried to do to
make up for it in the last summer I had with her; because of the way
she was always so stoic in the face of her mounting disability and
the loss of what she enjoyed the most—I said my goodbye,
“Keisha, you were better than any of us.” And that was
it. The candles dripped wax on the porch. We covered her under the
tarp and lifted her into our car and drove her to the pet
crematorium, almost impossible to get a hold of because apparently
dogs don’t die on Saturdays.
left for England and didn’t think much about it for the first few
days. But then I did, and I tried writing about it. I discovered how
bitter I was that he couldn’t be there for her when she died. That
the day before, Fate had made it so—that his van would break
down THAT one day and he’d be gone the day after. And so I held a
grudge for Fate, because he’d never apologized—not once—for
tearing a good man from his dog the day she needed him the most. The
day we’d discussed so many times, when he’d always been in the
picture. I held the grudge until a few weeks later, when I had a
phone call with my mother.
I tell you about the dream your father had the other day?”
Well, it was of Keisha. And he was in Goose Island”–Keisha’s
favorite place, a woodsy “haunt” where the deer roamed
free from fear of gunshots–“and there was a mist covering
the ground. He walked until he saw a gate in the middle of a
clearing. When he crossed through the gate, he heard a voice.”
voice had said he had five minutes. And then Keisha had walked out
into the clearing. And she’d told him everything she had to: that
she was fine. That she was free of pain. That her only pain was in
watching him suffer, so distraught at not having said goodbye, of
comforting her in her last moments. And she motioned to a spot in
the clearing where another dog stood, a Golden Retriever he and the
rest of the family had owned in his past. She said they were the best
of friends. He’d been waiting for her. All was well.
mother told me what my father never would have. That he’d woken up
and told her the dream and they’d cried together. And it was the
restoration I’d needed of my faith in Fate. It was the apology I’d
never gotten, but granted to the right person at the right time. It
was a soothing balm for a pain I held so close to me. It meant that
it all meant something. Our love for her. The ceremony of her
death. The pain we all felt. Such human feelings for a dog who
never really was. To a dog who was always more.