W101 – Of Serial Losses
Day 4: Serially Lost
Today’s Prompt: Write about a loss: something or someone that was part of your life but isn’t anymore.
Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.
I struggle to land on the most obvious strip of thinking here, that being the death of my brother. Instead I want to search my mental hard drive for something less literal, less direct. Perhaps a toy I once lost, a track and field race, a soccer game, an opportunity, but it all feels contrived. I’m reminded of Day 2, how that one assignment threw me off this entire course because I wouldn’t just sit down and make it happen. Some insecurity expected me to write something fantastic when all I felt I kept coming up with was forced. I practiced in my head while I walked the dog one day and it came to me, then I rejected it. In the end I went back to that Chestnut tree in my childhood and along came my story. Now as I form thoughts I smush them back into a smooth clean ball like play-doh, shapeless, formless and lacking identity. The page remains the same (for the most part).
I don’t want to use it. I don’t want to walk it down the street for people to draw their attention to me and comment like I’ve got a cute dog. Then again though I think sometimes I spend too much time repressing it, avoiding it, peeking into the little box once in a while and taking in its odor. Sometimes I look away from the picture and then I feel guilty. I sit next to my sister and share these assignments with her, we get to this one Day 4 and both of us say nothing of the elephant in the room. I wonder if she wonders if I’ll take this route. I say I won’t.
Here’s the moment though where I have to decide. Some part of me says well since you’re catching up on all of these tasks why don’t you go ahead to the next one, work on a different one – I thought that for Day 2 as well – but no can’t do that because if I were doing this on time then I wouldn’t be able to fast-forward. Picking the songs for Day 3 I was drawn to making them all relate back to him, every song that I feel is his now holds a special place in my heart, so much pales in comparison to it.
The other night however I thought about a loss that was very much my own, not my first loss by any means (my grandmother died years prior to this), but one that marked a crossing over from child to adulthood for me. My first dog, Spike, a male Boxer was unplanned in so many words. My parents decided it was time for my older brother to get a dog and so my dad drove him to a breeder. What I was told later was that there were two brothers left and my dad just didn’t want to leave the other one behind. My brother picked the bigger of the two – he named him Butch – and they brought home the little guy for me. I was eight years old. Of course I was ecstatic, he was adorable, kind of scrawny, I loved him right away. I remember that first night my dad didn’t want us to allow the dogs to sleep in our beds so we made little beds in boxes for them on the floor. After the lights went out Spike whined and cried, he’d only stop when I went to him. The obvious conclusion here as you may have figured out is that I just had to bring him up on my bed with me, I mean come on that was the only way he was going to stop crying. 😉 And that’s just what happened. Funny, I can still remember the feel of his small wrinkly little face.
Part of my choosing to name him Spike was because he was fawn colored but had a white ‘spike’ on the back of his neck pointing towards his head. The other reason was because I loved “My Little Pony” and I thought naming him Spike after their little dragon friend was just the way to go. Now being a kid I didn’t truly understand the importance of good training, I mean I knew it was important but I don’t think I “got it”. And so Spike learned how to sit and he understood ‘heel’ when he wanted to. He knew not to beg, though he’d do it anyways. I guess to be honest he did a lot of things anyways, but that didn’t stop me from loving him. 🙂 However our biggest failure in not training them properly lay in their tendency to run away if they got out off-leash, and let me tell you they tried and succeeded. First it was Butch and my father’s dog Tank that got out together. Butch came back and lay on the lawn sad, depressed. Tank never returned, which was hard to believe given how big of a dog he was: a harlequin Great Dane. Some years later Spike and Butch got out together. While they had run off before it had only been an hour or a couple, this was different and heartbreaking. A week passed and still no dogs. I walked the woods – which we lived out in the middle of – and we drove around often. I stood on the porch at all hours of the day and yelled out for them at the top of my lungs. We all called for them, we all were sad.
Over a week later I went out on the porch for my usual “SPIKE!” shouting match against the world. We had a cheap fold up pen of sorts stapled down to the porch that we would put them in when they needed to be kept outside, such as when they attacked a skunk and smelled for weeks after every time they got wet. Our porch was L-shaped, the short leg of the L faced the woods. As I came up to that corner I saw his little brown butt in that pen in my peripheral vision. I went to him in a second. He was emaciated, his face covered in porcupine quills, I mean COVERED. They were nearly in his eyes, under his chin, all over his face, in his mouth, everywhere. He was so frail and weak but even more he seemed incredibly sad. When I had fully embraced his return I looked around and called out for Butch. I remember everyone else who was home came out, my older brother of course began calling for Butch right away. My heart broke, I felt horrid like some kind of survivor’s guilt as my dog had returned but his had not. Even as I tell this now deep sorrow fills my chest over the loss of Butch, both for my brother and for Spike, his brother. Butch never did return.
We took Spike to the vet right away. It took them hours to pull out the quills, but they said all the quills in his tongue would have to stay because the only way to get them out was through surgery. Over time most of them worked themselves out, as they did all around his face though I’m not sure how it went with his tongue I never noticed anything. They determined he had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which is transmitted by ticks and wasn’t common in our area. He was put on a host of meds including antibiotics and sent home after treatment.
That was hardly the beginning of his troubles. In high school I participated in a school-to-work program at my local veterinary clinic. I went there a couple of times a week for a couple of hours, it was awesome. One day they got a call from my dad. He said that Spike had run into something, he didn’t know what just that somehow he had punctured his eye. That was frightening, terrifying. While his regular vet was not the clinic I worked at I had been taking him to ‘my’ clinic so I could participate directly in his care. Of course this emergency wouldn’t be any different. My dad brought Spike in to the clinic and sure enough the fluid in his right eye was coming out near the center. I insisted on watching the surgery, and I kept the eye in a small jar of formaldehyde. Now don’t be surprised, if you follow my blog you already know I’m a bit of a nerd! They told me after some time to empty the formaldehyde and replace it with alcohol. I do believe it’s still in my room at my father’s house. 😉 Spike recovered well though it was tragic to watch him learn to get around half blind as the eye he lost was his good eye, he was partially blind in the other while also suffering from ‘dry eye’. Once I watched him through the kitchen window run head on into a tree, it broke my heart. But his eyes were not his only problem as he aged. He also suffered from an unknown auto-immune disease, of which I won’t go into all the details but it wasn’t pretty, literally and figuratively. He needed eye drops and multiple medications daily including a steroid, which only added to his food hounding habits, including being a trash hound! Spike was a bit of a trouble maker up until he died, but he did pay a bit for his wild ways. He was an awesome companion nonetheless.
He made it to college with me though only into the first year. I got home from classes to find Spike listless. He did not greet me, in fact he never got up from the rug in the living room. Immediately I took him to an emergency clinic. None of us knew what happened for sure but they suspected he had some kind of stroke. A decision was at hand, a decision I had to make. Another emergency came in and I had to leave the treatment area; that was a good time to do some thinking so my boyfriend (at the time) and I drove to a nearby McDonald’s for something to eat. On my way back to the clinic I called to tell them I was coming (I still didn’t know what I was going to do), however they had news for me: Spike had just passed. It was bittersweet in that I thanked him for not making me decide. He was just about 12 years old, I’d say a long life for a trouble-making Boxer.
We drove Spike home to my dad’s house. But before I left the clinic with him several crows flew into the wind – causing them to hover – not more than 20 feet above. I nodded my head at the sky, a fitting send off. Spike was buried on the hill overlooking the lake next to my sister’s Dalmatian, Flint. Ironically – because he’s been accused of killing several of my dad’s sheep back when we had them – we buried him (and all the dogs) with sheep pelts my dad kept over the years. It is no doubt a fitting resting ground. I stop in for a hello every time I visit. In the years that have passed since Spike we’ve also buried my second Boxer, Raja, a rescue who live a brief but sweet time with me and saw many trials herself (suspected abuse prior to my adoption, cancer, bloat, heat stroke, separation anxiety, and more) as well as Kenobi my dad’s last Great Dane. My little brother’s dog died of a heat stroke while hiking in the mountains in Utah with my brother years before he himself died. Jake carried Brutus – an 80+ pound Olde Englishe Bulldogge – down the trail and buried him there on the mountain. Brutus, in all honesty, was exactly where he wanted to be in his last year.
So my tale here is without a doubt about a series of losses, but losses that carry with them tributes to the lives and incredible companionship they provided. A pet is something more than a three-letter word, that is merely a description. A pet is a release from our human parts and a connection to the greater world beyond ourselves. They are reminders that gaps can be bridged and love, empathy, and compassion are essential to having a full life, a genuine life. Our pets are often reminders that we can be better, less selfish, more kind, and can embody ultimate compassion towards all that is not like us. Even when lost, our pets are lessons of love found.
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