11 January 2008

To My Ex-Boyfriend Upon the Occasion of the Death of His Cat

My first dog died at the age of 15 or 16. I was in college. I had inherited her from my older sister when she left for college 13 years earlier. She was a small dog, a mostly-black* miniature poodle, about which there was really nothing remarkable, except that she was my dog and I loved her.

*I now know that the technical term for a two-color poodle is "parti," but I grew up thinking she was a "party poodle" :)

What stands out is that she had quite a high tolerance for being dressed in doll's clothing and being carted around like a baby. And she never bit me out of meanness. A favorite game we used to play was when she would run under my bed and stick only her front paws out, one black paw and one white paw. I'd tap each of her paws and she'd pull them back under the bed. Then she'd stick them back out. Sometimes she would only stick out one paw. This game entertained both of us mightily. In my defense, I was seven. And in her defense, she was a dog of very little brain.

My second dog died at the entirely-too-young age of four. When that dog died it knocked me for a loop for several years, partly but not entirely because I was almost entirely to blame. It's a long story which I will not recount for you, my imaginary readers, because I still remember it much too keenly. It was my fault in the way that if one does not take every precaution to keep something valuable safe it is that person's fault if that valuable something gets broken, even if someone else takes a sledgehammer to it. Nonetheless, it was my fault, and I carried that burden around with me for quite a while. I believe I still have that burden around here somewhere, actually.

When the next two animals died -- the cat who was hit by a car and the dog who died of complications from a rare cancer of the nose (which sounds kind of funny but wasn't in the slightest) -- it was, in a relative sense, no big deal. Sure, I cried my eyes out both times. But it was pain I was able to move away from, to separate myself from, as I had not been able to with the dog whose death was my fault.

On the other hand, the last dog who died also hit me hard. This was for several intersecting reasons, which I will attempt to untangle. One was that I felt as if I had let him down long before I had to put him down, by ignoring him in favor of my baby, then toddler, and finally child. This dog had been my child-surrogate until I finally and unexpectedly had an honest-to-goodness child, and then I replaced him in my heart without much regret and without much thought, and I felt bad about it. He had always been a mopey dog, unlike the dog he was meant to replace, and only got more morose as he grew older and more arthritic and as I paid less and less attention to him.

The other reason was that this death was also my fault, in much the same way the death of the earlier dog had been my fault. In this case, I did not guard carefully enough against the possibility of this dog getting into trouble, even though I knew his propensity to eat things which were not food. And I still feel guilty because I knew he had eaten human medicine, and I knew it was probably dangerous, and I did nothing about it. In my defense, my son had a broken collarbone that needed tending. But I could have called someone and asked them to take the dog to the vet as soon as I realized what had happened, and I didn't. Also in my defense, I knew I couldn't afford emergency care for my dog. But.


Finally, the hardest thing was the knowledge that I was in no position to "replace" him with a puppy. A puppy would have gone a long way to easing the pain, but we can't afford a dog right now, we don't have time for a dog right now, and we don't have a place for a dog right now. Note how many times I said "right now." We will have another dog one day. I am counting the days until I can get another dog, only I don't know when we'll be able to have one, which makes the counting rather abstract.

So I still miss all of my animals who are gone, and you will surely miss your girl for a long time to come. It took a good six months before I stopped expecting the dog to shuffle off the couch to come greet me when I came home from work. And I know it is a burden to be the one who decides when it is someone else's time to go. And mostly, I'm sorry there was nothing I could do to make it all better.

And although I never told you this, I'm sorry I didn't ask you to come with me when I had to put down my dog. It's true that if I'd asked you might have said no, thereby letting me down. It's also true that you might have gone with me but still let me down by saying the "wrong" thing, or by not saying anything at all. But at least I would have given you the chance to be there for me. Instead, I chose to protect myself. And told myself that if you really cared you'd have offered to come with me; that I shouldn't have had to ask.

But everyone is different, and I find now that I have absolutely no idea what you need from me when our situations are reversed.

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