Tuesday, October 28, 2014
I wrote this because my younger son was worried about me and thought it might help to write something. He liked the idea of paying tribute to Pip. So here it is: for my beloved dog who died, and for my family, and really for anyone who has ever maxed out a credit card trying to save a dying pet, or ordered a burial plot in that first rush of grief, or had to face this thing which was simply fucking unbearable.
I got the call at Comic-con. It was October 9, a Thursday, the first day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot so my son had the day off from school. He and his friend and 50,000 people were packed into the Javitz Center. I could barely hear the vet over the noise of cosplaying nerds, but the news somehow came through with stunning, terrifying clarity.
I’d taken Pip in the day before because he wasn’t eating and didn’t have the energy for his usual walk. He’d lost weight but there wasn’t anything obvious. They’d done some blood work and she was calling to give me the results.
I hate when people say things like this, because it sounds phony and egotistical, but it’s true all the same: there are times when I really, really hate that I am good at reading between the lines of what people are saying to me, that I tend to listen to subtext instead of text. My mother died of lung cancer in 1997. She was 54. I mention it because during the six months between her diagnosis and her death, I got a lot of practice listening for what the doctors were really saying. Their actual words don’t mean much—medical jargon that they know their patients don’t understand but they share anyway because they’re humoring you, or they’re trying to cover their asses, or because they think it gives you some illusion of control, something to focus on. They’re human and they don’t like giving bad news, but I got good at hearing what they were really saying, at their techniques for blunting unbearable truths.
I got the refresher course with Pip. I knew with that first call, the one at Comic-con, that it was hopeless. That my dog was dying. The vet, who was wonderful, talked vaguely about 4-6 months, which I immediately translated to 4-6 weeks. She knew he was very loved, and I honestly think she and her staff fell in love with him a little too. She didn’t want to give up hope. I refused to go on the internet like my husband did or look up anything about canine Leukemia. I made no effort to keep track of details about platelet counts or white blood cells. But every time we talked, that number got revised down like I knew it would, though I hated myself for being right.
We adopted Pip from a no-kill shelter as a puppy on October 10, 2009. That’s me holding him as we drove home for the first time:
We called him a corgeranian—for corgi-pomeranian—but that was just a guess. I picked the name, from Great Expectations, and it really did fit his personality. He was incredibly cheerful and playful. He liked to lounge on his back in the hallway, wagging his tail at anyone who walked by, hoping they’d rub his stomach. He didn’t like closed doors. Every time I went to the bathroom, he nosed the door open and went to lie down at a favorite spot underneath the sink. His fur was incredibly soft for a dog. He looked like he was wearing eyeliner and had a really fluffy tail that little kids especially loved. I read once that corgis with his coloring are described as “red.” We all thought he looked a little like a fox. I didn’t want to post personal stuff about my kids so I posted pictures of him pretty often. My husband loves photography, so we have thousands of him. This is a good shot I've posted before of him as a full-grown dog.
In the end, it wasn’t four months, or four weeks. It was one week. The following Thursday was another Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah, so my younger son was off from school again. It felt a little like a TV show when the phone rang around 9am. A kind voice that told you everything you needed to know, even without the actual words, “Could you come down to the hospital to talk to us about how to proceed.”
My husband couldn’t bear to go. I promised my younger son I’d say goodbye to Pip for him. I sent an email to my older son’s adviser at his boarding school warning that this was coming, because we all knew he was going to have an impossibly hard time with this. He was passionately fond of the dog, and idiotically, unforgivably, we’d held off from telling him how sick Pip was because we didn’t want him to worry helplessly, and we’d been thinking in terms of a few weeks or months, not seven days.
I drove to the hospital, took five minutes just to hold him, whisper goodbye from everyone, and the incredibly kind doctor did it.
I couldn’t get hold of my older son until that afternoon. After the first crash of the news, he just sobbed into the phone, “I don’t know what to do,” over and over again. It was exactly how I’d felt when I got home from Comic-con the week before. I think it was the hardest moment I’ve had in my 16 years as a parent.
I haven’t put his bowl or his bed away, though I threw away the six different meds he’d been prescribed. I tried not to be angry at them for not working. I keep hearing sounds that should be him but aren’t, like he’s a little ghost curled up in his favorite spots. On Thursday, I had to tell his friend, Jerry, at the Farmer’s Market why Pip wasn’t with me to dump our compost. He cried a little. Pip was a favorite in the neighborhood.
I can’t seem to read anything but Teen Wolf fanfics right now. I felt bad because a lot of my friends had books come out this month, amazing books that I was really excited about. But the Sterek helps so I’m sticking with it for now, some kind of fictional comfort food.
This is it, my tribute, and once it's up I'm going to have another cry and I'm not going to write anything sad again. Later tonight when I post something funny or filthy about Sterek, it won't be fake, it just won't be everything.
At different points both my sons confessed that they felt guilty that they’d not always paid enough attention to Pip, not played with him as much as they could have. I thought that too of course. And I told myself what I told them: if ever there was a happy dog it was Pip. And horrible as this is, and it is really and truly fucking horrible, I am incredibly grateful for the five years we had with him, and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything.