September 5th, 2014
Yesterday was the longest day. We watched a lot of movies to distract ourselves from the quiet. I sat up and realized my husband had picked up all of the toys, which had been everywhere. Worried that he had thrown them away, I had started to cry, but he hadn’t. He had just gathered them up and put them in the Dieter’s box. His bowls were washed and I put those away. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Since when had I been completely alone with myself? Not in fifteen years.
I didn’t want to go to sleep. As if time and the days would keep moving and only carry me further away from him. And I’m not okay with that. I just have pictures. I can’t play with his ears or tickle his feet. I can’t bury my face in his fur. Then there’s that moment when I start to wake and I feel him there, but fully awaken to realize he is not. I had wanted to sleep with him so bad this past week; to feel his stretched out along my legs or curled up by my stomach. Something we’ve hardly done since his back problems began. But I didn’t I was worried about him being thirsty from the medication and being able to reach water. I was going to sleep with him that night since we were alone and I had put his water on the nightstand. Then he was gone. And I told him not to keep struggling, but I really want him back.
For years, I had poured myself into work. Not even my art career, just jobs to pay the bills, the student loans. I was a firm believer of the motto, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” I prided myself on being efficient, quick and dependable. I’ve missed weekend family gatherings and most holidays since I was sixteen. I turned down opportunities because I was already scheduled to work. In the past two or three years I’ve only called in sick because Dieter had to go to the doctor. I didn’t care so much about my own physical wellbeing. I haven’t been to the dentist since 2009, but I never refused anything Dieter needed. I was a robot, a machine, an ice queen. A stone cold, poker-faced bitch. The only thing I cared about was my little guy.
And everyone thinks, “It’s just a dog.”
No, he’s not just a dog. He’s been my reason for living in my darkest times; the reason to keep soldiering on and keep trying, to make something of myself, to make a home, just for us. When I moved back in with my mom during college, I said I wasn’t leaving without him again, ever. Since I was fourteen, he’s been there, loyal, loving. I tried to buy a house, which fell through three times. I had wanted him to have his own yard so bad, to have another dog to play with. He was my baby. I only wanted the best for him. And I tried.
A year ago, Dieter was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease. It was a scary time, but after a few lifestyle changes we eventually hit calm water and normality again. He had allergies that led to the occasional skin infection and more medication. Two weeks ago, I had a week day off and stopped for more antibiotics. By Saturday, I noticed a swelling in his neck. I worked all weekend. I took him to the vet on my next day off: Tuesday. I had a suspicion of what it was. I didn’t want it to be true. The test results came in on my next day off: Friday. Lymphoma. The average dog has 1-2 months to live. I was devastated. I returned to work the entire Labor day weekend, just trying to make it to Wednesday, and my next day off. I had plans for us, Dieter and I. Pressing issues arose at work and I had to go in at 6AM on Wednesday. We had our usual breakfast together and I tucked him back in with my husband. As I opened the front door he ran out and gave me this imploring look.
“Are you leaving today? I thought we had plans.”
It’s true; we still had a good evening. We made it to the park, but we didn’t make any of the mementos I wanted. We didn’t sit in the afternoon sun. That night he was gone. A week after diagnosis and I spent every one of those days at work. The most important being to me was dying and I still didn’t stop. I didn’t say no. I didn’t take the time to enjoy every minute we had left.
I think about that first day when he crawled into my lap and looked up at me as if he had done it all the time and I wasn’t a stranger. As if he had picked me. I can’t believe that there is absolutely nothing I can do. I can’t bring him back. I couldn’t make him live forever. I don’t like feeling helpless. The husband says to take it one day at a time, but I’ve never had such a profound hurt before. There’s not even anyone to blame. It was just Time. Time keeps marching forward and pushing me with it. I hardly have a moment to decide which path I want to take. It’s January, June 2008, December 2010, October 2013, tomorrow, next month is today and I can’t keep up. It slips through my fingers.
I was terrified about having to take that long walk with him and having to make that decision that it was over, the fight was lost. I was worried about him being scared. To think my mom wanted to put him to sleep ten years ago. TEN. She didn’t understand how much I needed him. Still do.
I can’t even talk about it. My throat closes up and soon I have tears running down. A pain in my chest like my heart is breaking over and over again.
No one out there will really understand. I might crack a joke with tears running down my face, but that’s because it hurts so bad. If it hurt any worse, I’d die, my heart would stop and there would be no one to remember him.
It was probably the easiest lesson to know. It should be common sense, right? To put your family before work. Your own emotional and mental health before the bottom-line, but I had to learn it in the hardest way possible. Our home is too quiet now. No one greets us at the door. I still expect him to poke his head around the door as I’m doing my makeup. And hear the faint tinkling of dog tags that isn’t really there. I am no longer loyal to any boss or company. I just wish I learned that earlier.
Dieter was awesome. So awesome, in fact that he starred in my first children’s book, Dieter is Lonely. I wrote this book to help with separation anxiety in children. It teaches that our loved ones are always with us, even when they aren’t.
The print edition is available HERE.