Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Unpause (Unpaws)

Author's Note: On September 29 of this year, I informed my readers and friends that I'd be taking a break from blogging--a pause, if you will--until the insanity of my life calmed down. I had, I said, taken too much on. Part of that too much involved keeping careful watch over our beloved Shadow. But writing helps me deal with grief, so I put together this post and decided to share it. 

The shrill yelp wound up the stars and woke me. My eyes popped open and I lay there, breathing quietly in the still air of my bedroom, waiting for another sound. A quick yip followed. My fingers fumbled for my glasses and I padded as quietly as I could down the stairs. The creak of the wood floor announced me to Shadow, who stood in front of the back door. His large eyes glistened in the moonlight that filtered through the glass panes.

"You need to go out buddy?" I asked him. He snorted in reply.

After I shut the door, I lowered myself into the recliner and placed my head against the back of the chair. It was too early to be up. Even though I'm a morning person, 3:46 a.m. is categorized as too early even for me. A yawn escaped my mouth. I rubbed at my eyes and craned my neck to see if Shadow was at the door yet. I didn't see my friend, and I knew that he was probably hanging a few feet beyond the door, laying on the patio in his classic pose. I imagined his back legs spread out behind him as he enjoyed the calm darkness of the early morning and the coolness of the concrete patio beneath his belly.

No sooner did I close my eyes when a sharp bark alerted me to his presence at the door. I twisted the door knob and pulled the door toward me. He hesitated and then trotted inside before looking up at me, the skin of his face wrinkled, his eyes, so tired looking. That face said everything: "Where are you going?" When I walked up the two stairs to the living room, he yelped again. Turning back toward him, I looked another time into those friendly dark eyes."Stay with me," they said. So, I did.

We both settled in: Shadow on the floor and me on the couch. I pulled my grandmother's afghan around my shoulders and curled my knees up toward my chest. I leaned into the cushions, hoping to find warmth and comfort. But the couch had stood empty for hours and I gained nothing from the soft fabric beneath my body. I heard a large sigh come from below me and I listened to the steady thrum of Shadow's breathing. I buried my face into the scratchy yarn of the afghan and covered my eyes, hoping to control the tears that wouldn't stop spilling across my cheeks.


When it first became apparent that something was wrong with Shadow, it wasn't because he voiced his discomfort. A trip to the veterinarian came on the tail end of GI issues. But no matter what Shadow felt--and it couldn't have been good--he never complained. In fact, since the time we were graced with his presence in the summer of 2007, we've had many a malady, but never a true way to know that something was the matter.

"Goldens are like that, " Dr. B always said. "You can't tell that something is wrong sometimes until it's too late."

As I revealed two months ago, it was too late (and nearly impossible) to do anything about Shadow's liver problems. But as of two weeks ago, Dr. B diagnosed him with an unidentified ear mass, too. It had grown so large that the beast stuck out of his right ear and had rendered Shadow deaf on that side. The doctor wasn't sure what the mass actually was, but based on it's odor and leaky discharge (and the inability of an antibiotic to cure it), it was clear that something was amiss. Putting the dog under to resect the ear canal made no sense, considering his age and liver diagnosis.

"If he didn't also have those liver masses, we could do something," Dr. B said. "So give me a call if you need something, but let's just try to keep him comfortable."

Maintenance of his comfort level had been my goal every day since the liver diagnosis back in August, when the doctor told me to take stock of good days and bad days.

"When the bad days outnumber the good days, you'll know it's time. Just keep him comfortable in the meantime," the vet had said.

So it wasn't hard to adjust to that demand two weeks ago because I'd been doing it since August. And if I think about our time back to August, it's clear that I've done my job. I've tried, every day, to take stock of Shadow's appetite, activity level, and behavior. I've scurried home from work to make sure he gets outside on time. I've roasted chickens and ditched the regular dog food. I made cheese sandwiches and waffles and PB and J for him and snuck him bites of pizza crust and leftover ravioli. Each day, I looked at him and thought, Has it been a good day? Or Was this one of the bad days? Sometimes, it wasn't so easy to tell, but over the last three weeks or so, I had a nagging feeling that Shadow's hourglass of sand was almost empty.

But Shadow and I had a deal. Right after we'd come home from the vet and he had been diagnosed with that ambiguous ear mass, we were in the kitchen--I had been doing some cooking and Shadow had been lounging across the floor--both of us listening to Vance Joy on Google Play. I turned toward him and started talking, to him of course. His ears perked up (the left more so than his right), he opened his lazy eyelids, and he blinked at me a few times. He knew I was talking to him, of that I'm sure.

"You have to let me know, Shadow," I said, my wooden spoon in hand."You have to let me know when it's time." I knelt in front of him so our faces stood level. "I can't read your mind and I'm not going to want to let go of you. You have to find a way to let me know." The fingers of my free hand trailed through the fur across his back. I ruffled the edges, still soft and smooth even at 12 years old, and moved my hand up toward his head. As I traced the outline of his skull, he leaned into my palm, stayed there a moment, and then moved away.

I took Shadow's response as affirmation that he'd let me know when it was time to say goodbye. And while I didn't want to notice it when it happened, the morning after I slept on the couch, when I opened my eyes against the grit of not enough sleep and too many tears, I realized what had happened.

"Stay with me," was Shadow's way of saying, "It's time to let go."


If you knew that you were sending someone somewhere they'd never return from, would you do it? My head--most of the time grounded in common sense and logic--scrambled and fought with the mournful note that sang within my heart. But in the end, I made the call. The time was set. Dr. B could be there Tuesday evening, and so could we.

I found myself struggling to get through the day. My patience for students and children and colleagues wore thin and I simply wanted to run home and spend the last few hours of Shadow's life with him. I knew that even though my shaggy friend waited for me--probably under the dining table or laying next to Tim, who had taken the day off to be with Shadow--only silence would greet me when I walked in the door. It had been weeks since Shadow had barked a welcome upon hearing the lift of the garage door. But the stillness from that day would be nothing compared to the heavy quietude of the next day and the next and the next. I needed to gather as much peace and strength from this faithful, strong soul as I could, before he visited Dr. B for the last time.

The afternoon trudged on. I sat outside, ate my lunch, and graded papers as Shadow and I basked in the fall sun, the rays warming our skin. After I'd gone inside, I put away dishes and performed other mundane tasks around the house. I couldn't concentrate on lecture notes or editing tasks because Shadow was outside and preferred to be there. It was as if he knew this was his last chance to be in his own backyard, on the patio, in a place he'd always seemed to cherish. From time to time, I went outside, stuck my foot out, and ran it across his side as he lay on the concrete. The warmth of his body assured me he was still with me, at least for a little while. I knew that within the span of five hours, that statement would no longer hold true. And yet, somehow, I couldn't see it. I didn't want to see it. I refused to see it.

The minutes crept by. Melina came home. I told her to begin on homework while I rubbed Shadow's belly. I picked the girls up from school and dropped them off at viola lessons. I gathered Aaron from school and asked him to do whatever he had to do. I rubbed Shadow's belly. I began our dinner, rubbed his belly again, and then went to get the girls from their lessons. The clock on the dashboard read 4:45 p.m. Shadow had just under an hour left of the wondrous life he had led. He deserved so much more than I could give him, didn't he? But the only thing I had to give was a belly rub. This time, the belly rub turned into an enormous hug. I held onto him for as long as I could, until the fur of his back was saturated with my tears.

My alarm didn't sound this morning. Instead, like I'm sometimes wont to do, a random noise awoke me well before I needed to arise. Unable to go back to sleep, I crept down the stairs. Rectangles of light illuminated the foyer floor, the spot where, on most mornings, I'd see a sleepy Shadow stretched across the uniform squares. The emptiness of the tile mocked me, and I slumped onto the carpeted steps. The thud of my weight echoed across the foyer. Breathing in and out slowly, I timed my breaths with the whir of the refrigerator, knowing that concentrating on something concrete would help the abstract thoughts in my head dissolve. But once I made it to the kitchen, where the dog bowls sat and Shadow's blue leash hung, limp and alone, I crumbled against the cabinets.

I know with time, I'll no longer miss the click-clack of his nails against the hardwood floors and that I'll stop hearing the ghostly echo of his hearty bark at the back door. My inclination to dash home to let him out will wane within weeks, because he won't be there, needing to go outside. But over the last nine years, I've developed muscle memory with respect to this dog. My guess is that I'll call out when I walk in the door, talk to a being who no longer lounges on the floor when I cook, and look forward to the gentle bump of his nose on my knee as he rises from under the table.
I'm sure this morning the dried tears will stand out against the stark paleness of my face. The skin around my eyes, puffed from too much crying, will tell the story of what we did yesterday. My throat, irritated by the myriad salty tears, isn't up for lecturing or leading a lab session, but such is life. Shadow moved on, no matter what the obstacle, and so must I.

Peace be with you, Shadow, and much love and happiness to you.

Shadow, 2004-2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016


We're at the end of week six for the semester and I'm hanging on by a thread. I've taken too much on. Let me repeat that: I've taken too much on. I have Literary Mama duties, an anthology I'm trying to put together, home school religious education for two of my children and two friends, plus five classes to teach. I'm also still mother to these four lovely darlings we have here and trying to maintain a blog. Add the animals into the mix and, as I said, I've taken too much on. I'm not complaining, I'm just stating a fact. Since this is my blog. I can do so. I've taken too much on. (Don't you wonder how many times I can write that same sentence? Am I starting to sound redundant? Yes, I am. Even to my own ears.)

So what's going to give? The teaching? Ha! As much as I teeter on the edge of making that decision to say goodbye (and I say it every year),  I can't give that up. Of course, I can't give the kids up, either. Which means that yes, it's the writing that will be going by the wayside. (Not the anthology, and not anything to do with Literary Mama. Just the blog.)

Say it ain't so, right? I know,  I know. I'm shaking my head as I write this post. A post that might be the last one for a while.

And yes, I've said that before, but then words usually need to come screaming out of my fingers and I can't stop. This time, I can stop and I will.

But fear not, dear readers. I have a plan. Unlike someone else who does not have a plan, even though he says he has a plan. I'm telling you--he has no plan. And that no plan thing is not what we want in the White House! I don't care if you like Hillary or not. She's qualified to be there. I've never been her biggest supporter, but next to the egotistical, racist, sexist, liar that Trump is, I'll take her. Plus, she has experience on her side.

But this is not a Tell Me How You Really Feel post. No, this is an I'll see you in a few months post. Because my plan entails writing down the things I think of, but not posting them. Then, I don't have to worry about grammar and such and I won't feel the pressure to put words on this page so that FRN can read them. (Ahem.) I also plan on participating in NaNoWriMo (yes, even though I will then officially have gone off the deep end by taking on even more), and coming back to you at the end of December, right after the semester ends.

Now, just so you know, should anything fabulous happen in my writing life, such as I publish a book or a story, I will post the good news here. But until that happens...

Hiatus this is, goodbye, it is not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kitty Cuteness, XX

Our 20th installment and we have a guest kitty...

We met this little guy when we attended a local Autumn Fest. Only six weeks old, he and his brother had been brought to The Learning Tree Farm to serve as resident mousers. As of Saturday, the kitties were unnamed, but our friend Brooke said she might name this little one Ferdinand, in honor of one of our favorite feline friends (a guy I still miss).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Broken Hearts Indeed Do Crack, II

To read Part I of this story, go here.

Hands had always been important to Caroline. Adam had large, warm, capable hands. Unlined, palms slightly calloused. When they first started dating, she'd never have described his hands as capable, but she'd read that description once in a romance novel and she realized that yes, her Adam, did have capable hands. Sappy, but true.

Now, she looked at their intertwined fingers and wondered exactly what his hands were capable of. Did they harbor the capacity to cheat on her? Had his fingers trailed down the arm of that girl her friend had told her about? When he said he'd been at work, which lately, he'd been doing more of, had he really been out with her? The girl?

She clutched his fingers tightly against her palm, afraid to let go of them. Caroline knew, if she did, she might float away from this world, never to come back.

"Seriously, Caro. Let's go. I want to show you something."

"What is it?" Caroline let go of his fingers and wiped at her eyes, not wanting to let Adam see the tears perched there. She needed to stay strong, to show him that she was still her own person, but if that was the case, she should have been able to call him out on his supposed behavior. On the other hand, though, she didn't have any tangible evidence of wrongdoing. Just a snippet from a friend and a feeling in her gut.

But those feelings in your gut usually spoke the truth. Everyone knew that. It was following up on gut feelings that Caroline had trouble with. She knew what her therapist would say to her about this latest gut feeling and Adam. "Don't hold onto someone just to have someone," Dr. T would tell her. "It's better to be alone then questioning and unhappy. You know this. Trust yourself."

Caroline could hear Dr. T's voice inside her head. She envisioned his kind face and experienced eyes. He had her best interests at heart and had helped her through some trying times in her past. But what about Adam? Over the last several months, she'd questioned Adam's sincerity too many times. Caroline wasn't sure if he had her best interests at heart anymore.

Adam's smooth voice interrupted her thoughts. "I can't tell you until we're there." He tugged on Caroline's sleeve, wrapped his arm around her waist, and led her through the door. "Come on, Caro. Let's go."

The steps of the stone church, damp from the evening mist, glistened under the street lamps. Adam guided Caroline over to the far right corner near the entrance. As she waited, Caroline looked at the doors, old and worn, made of wood that had long ago warped from the elements. She turned around, toward the sounds of cars and people, and realized this church faced River Street. She clenched her fists at her sides and waited as Adam moved toward her.

"Adam, why are we here?" The dim light of the lamps cast uneven shadows on his face, making it difficult for Caroline to see his face.

"Caro, I wanted a place to talk. To speak to you about something important." Adam's eyelid twitched, a tell that Caroline had learned long ago meant he was nervous.

"And we're just going to stand here and talk?" Caroline felt her face wrinkle in confusion. Why couldn't they have chatted in her apartment? She'd prefer a dry space, a safe space. She stood out in the open here.

", but..." Adam reached for her hand and moved her over to the small stone wall that encircled the top of the steps. They'd moved into the light. She could see him better now and what she thought was nervousness had been replaced with something more...what? She couldn't quite place it.

"This parents used to take me here," Adam started. "We came here for many years until we moved too far to come here. But when I came back to the city, I knew I'd make my way back. And when I met you, I knew I'd bring you here."

Caroline's heart rate picked up. "But why? Why are we here?" She looked down at her lap as her fingers wrestled with each other. Her hands, small and soft, probably wouldn't have been termed capable, but they'd always served her well.

"My Dad proposed to my mom here. They got married here. We went to church here. This place has history." Adam gestured toward the door. "This place..." He moved toward Caroline and bent at the knee, all the while reaching for something in his pocket.

Caroline's vision began to blur and her ears picked up a wooshing sound. She blinked back tears and breathed in large drafts of air. She knew nothing had changed on the outside: that the spit of the rain still ticked against the pavement and the hiss of tires filled the night air. With eyes partially closed, he clung to the real world in the only way she knew how: she reached for Adam's hand, the one that didn't hold the small cubic jewelry box.

"Caroline, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Caroline squeezed Adam's fingers between hers. She looked at Adam's face, filled with hope. She envisioned the future: a cape cod house, three children, and a part-time job. She saw Adam skip up the walkway that wound from the street to their front porch. She watched as he picked up their littlest child and nuzzled his nose against the baby's naked belly. She looked away, toward the gray night sky. She felt the first tear begin to spill down her cheek. "I don't know," she whispered. "I don't know."

To be continued...

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Friday Five

1. Marveled at the complexities and awesomeness of the written word (not mine).
2. Marveled at the atrocities of the written word (mine).
3. Set up a time next week to see an old friend for lunch.
4. Explained a concept to a student, who seemed to understand it better after we spoke (fingers crossed).
5. Looked at the dry grass on the front lawn and was struck by the fleeting nature of life.