Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When? or, Tuesdays With Mona

If most of my duties as The Lady of the House are unglamorous and menial, there's one that's undeniably important, if difficult: the task of keeping the living things in our home alive and well. And as the prime caregiver to family members of the canine kind, I'm also sometimes burdened with the say-so over the dying part.

Our nine-year-old Lab/husky mutt, Mona, is the victim of something that has taken away the use of the right side of her head. It's moving fast, whatever it is; this morning her right eye is rolling around, her lip is dangling from her jaw, and her head is perpetually tilted. She can still walk, but the right side of her body is visibly atrophied. Plainly, it's all in her head. It's probably a tumor.

Knowing that there are people who put their dogs on life support, I know that veterinary care for one's animals is one of life's deeply personal decisions. We've decided against an MRI, because we've decided that we're not going to opt for brain surgery or chemotherapy. She's sedated, medicated, and for now, comfortable. We call her Sister Morphine. I'm sad to the point of paralysis. I didn't think I'd be this sad. I never do; I'm a procrastinator that way.

I knew something was up when Mona began acting funny a few months ago, slobbering and eating funny. I thought her teeth were bothering her. At least we can say that, when she gets to Dog Heaven, she will have nice, clean teeth.

I'm doing the best I can with this, the strangest of all familial duties, and I know the drill. After what's done is done, I will say something stupid like, "No more dogs. It's too hard when they leave." My friend Dawn, who has had dogs and horses and all kinds of animals for a million years, will tell me what a shame that kind of thinking is, reminding me that the price of being a Dog Person is outliving most of your friends. "But at least we can give them a good life," she would say.

I may have to decide when to say when, which is one of my job's cruelest or merciful decisions. It's a hard one, even if Mona could tell me whether or not she is suffering under pain's harsh rule. I may have to make some distinctions about quality of life, both mine and Mona's. She will forgive me.

Whatever happens, I can enjoy her company now, and remind myself of our time together later. I'm grateful to our Mona: for being our friend, our companion, the gentle and infinitely tolerant introduction she gave our daughter to big, loud dogs. She is proof that I like a big, dopey, old dog more than anything in the world. She has something to do with the feeling of safety I enjoy in our home. I like that she has replaced me as the resident nutjob for the past five years. And I like that she still perks up at the invitation of a walk, and barks with what's left of all her might at whomever dares cross her lop-sided path. She's still eating with the gusto of a pup; I'm happy to feed her steak while she can still eat it. We're sympatico that way.

And when she's unable to act crazy, or look interested in knocking over the trash; when she can't walk, or eat, I'll know that we're there yet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

When the Lights Go Down in the City

It's with just a pang of nostalgia that I'm going to San Francisco for the BlogHer Conference in July. I realized, while shopping for a hotel room, that I haven't been to the Bay Area in twenty years.

My sister lived there, just before her life took what could be called a dismal turn, followed by several other disturbing ones, and eventually culminated in one big tragic one. She was ten years my senior; we were never close. In Facebook parlance, "It's complicated." So were her relationships with pretty much everyone else.

The anniversary of her death was about a week ago, and when I think about her, I'm not sure what I feel is grief. It's something closer to remorse. Now that she's been dead five years, the time we spent together in San Francisco is my fondest, clearest memory of her. I still have one thing she gave me ten years ago: her dog. He's old and gray and ornery. I love him.

The year Sophie was born, I began to wonder what my sister would have been like had Things (with a capital t) been different. I began reinventing her in my mind, making up the kind of person she might have been. In my mind, she became someone who always had gum in her purse. Her karaoke song was "It's Raining Men." When she laughed, she would show you every filling in her mouth. She would be my example that there is nothing to fear from forty. And whenever visiting The City, she would pick me up at the airport.