I thought that I might enter Real Simple Magazine’s essay contest entitled “When did you know you were a grown up?” I’m sure some people are born old and that I am one of them. They are the transcended soul of someone who has seen much and was taken too soon. But “grown up”? That is a conceptual thing that can elude them.
On September 6th, 1991 I found myself on the verge of one of those nights that I would remember for the rest of my life. My husband of nine years was out with a friend, that I didn’t particularly care for, and I was starting to worry. He hadn’t been himself for quite some time and I naturally blamed it on this new person in our lives. For two years I had been watching changes in him that made him seem eerily like his father.
His father was a domineering man, manipulative and troubled. We all lived in fear of his outbursts and shifts in temperament. All of the six boys had grown up in an abusive environment that was made more volatile by the sickness and ultimate passing of one of them. Their mother was a wonderful woman who had long ago been convinced by him of her unworthiness. I feared I was becoming her, I feared he was right about me and I feared my husband was becoming him.
I was home alone with our dog, Toby, and even he was acting strangely. Toby was a Doberman we adopted from a litter that was far too big for the mother to handle. He was the runt of that litter and weighed in at a mere three pounds so he was losing the fight for a place next to mom. I have pictures of him standing next to my wallet and the wallet was slightly bigger.
That dog and I went everywhere together. He was my first dog and the bond was immediate and strong. I fed him Nutrical off the end of my finger to get some weight on him and he grew up to be strong and healthy. But on this night he was not himself. He was lethargic and foggy. He laid at my feet for what seemed like hours.
Then he took himself outside in the far corner of our yard. I had heard that dogs will go off to die when they are ready. I had heard that they know how to die far better than humans. I had heard and I panicked that my time with this dog was running short.
Our house was meant to have dogs as evidenced by the dog doors. One was built into our back door the other was built into one of the screens of our porch. On this particular night it became clear that this would have to be changed. Once Toby went to the back of the yard I had to exit the screen porch and go through our gate to get to him. This would have been fine but carrying back a 90lb Doberman through all these doors wasn’t easy.
I carried him in but, again, he tried to go back out. I made him sip water. I stroked his head, his back, his paws, I begged him not to die. I left his side for one minute and he went back out into that yard. That damn dog door. I carried him back again through the many doors.
11pm, Midnight, 1am. Lying next to him on the bed listening to his shallow breathing, crying. 2am, crying, crying, crying. I was alone, alone, alone. 2:30am.
My husband finally came home, seeming wild eyed. His initial reaction was to yell at me for being up. The fighting that ensued was ludicrous, my dog was dying, he couldn’t breathe, what the hell do I care where you’ve been. You weren’t here, you were somewhere else.
His humanity did surface through his haze and he became manic about getting the earliest appointment at the vet; calling at an ungodly hour and leaving a message mixed with desperation and anger and regret and sorrow. I would later see many nights with all those emotions mixed together as a result of what I would come to find out was his addiction to cocaine.
We got the earliest appointment and wrapped our little Doby in a blanket that had been mine as a child. I thought it would wrap him in love, I thought it would save him. We carried the dog to the car together. Looking over the top of him, I’m sure I don’t know how I carried him in during the night alone. You gather strength when you have to.
Speeding to the vet, we were stopped by the police. My husband’s first words as he wheeled around to me were, act sick. I would hear that again in similar situations and I would comply. I don’t know why, it just seemed easier I guess.
Getting to the vet in silence was a Godsend. They met us at the car, they took our observations and then they tried to pull the blanket out of the car to see if they could get a reaction from Toby. He laid down right there in the parking lot. I thought my husband would jump out of his skin at the vets.
We got him into the examining room. They didn’t want to lift him onto the table yet. I suppose they thought it best to do that after we left. And we did leave. We left that dog in the corner of the exam room on that blanket. Alone.
We fought all the way home; I would have preferred the usual silence. The fighting, the accusations, what did I do to the dog, where were you, no more partying with your friends.
The update call, there’s a tumor in his liver. The next call…It never occurred to me that that dog would die. I let that boy die alone. I never said goodbye. I was alone now; I knew for sure this would affect the rest of my life and that forgiving myself was out of the question.
I became a grown up on Sept 7th, 1991 when the love of my life died alone. I became a grown up on Sept 7th, 1991 when I knew I would be alone for a very long time. I became a grown up when I came to the realizations that my husband was not himself and that he was in terrible trouble. I didn’t know then that he had become addicted to cocaine and that his family would be no support, and I had much to do on my own to try and save a marriage.
It lasted another 15 years. I became a grown up at 35 years old. I found peace at 52 years old when I left and took my first breath in over eighteen years. I have still not forgiven myself for letting Toby die alone, but I know he was in good hands and that the people at the veterinary hospital were kind and compassionate. I know I have never let another dog die alone. I know that I am what I am today for the hardships I endured and I am grateful for that.
Indeed some people are born old, and they continue the hardships of the soul that preceded them; the one that was taken too soon. But I also know that they can be the ones to experience the joys that those other souls never got to enjoy for their early departure. I am blessed to be where I am now, I know that everything happens for a reason and full circle moments do come to you when they should.
September 7th has a different meaning now. While I honor the spirit of that wonderful Doby, rather than mourning his death, I can celebrate a life. I am blessed to be in the company of very good people one of which was born on September 7th. She is a piece of good fortune for which I can never fully repay the universe. Never mind the contest, Happy Birthday Muriel