Dear Current Students,
We put our dog down yesterday. 24 hours before, Sarah, a vet who did in-home euthanasia, came over to examine him, and make sure we were doing the right thing. She sat with us on the floor of our hallway, our beloved pup breathing heavily on his pallet, sometimes raising his ravaged face to see who was there. She told us gently that there wasn’t much time left no matter what course of action we took, and described how the euthanasia process worked. We paid her and made an appointment for the next day at noon.
He slept there in the hallway that night to stay warm. I went out with friends and came home late, stumbling over him, not used to having his bulk in my way, as most nights he stayed on the back porch. I looked down at him for a few moments. He slept soundly. I had never known that he slept through the night, as I did. I had always imagined that he had been awake while we were asleep, standing sentinel, despite how useless he would have been against an intruder. Perhaps it was the rapidly spreading cancer that caused him to sleep so deeply. Either way, it struck me that we must have been dreaming at the same time all these years. He had no idea of his death that would occur the next day.
We carried him into the sunlight in preparation for his departure. He loved nothing more than to roll around on his back in the grass on a blazing summer day, and it felt right that he should die in his favorite spot. Sarah arrived on time, and we gathered around him silently. Tears streamed down my face, as they had for the past two days. I looked down at my precious dog, onto whom I had bestowed a part of myself, possibly the best part. He still didn’t know he was about to die. I rubbed his ears. My dad cleaned his eyes, even though it didn’t matter if his eyes were clean or not, or if he was in the sun, or if he even felt my fingers running through his fur. Sarah injected the sedative and we watched as his breathing slowed. His muscles relaxed. She tried to look for a vein in his back leg and failed. He still did not know. She eventually found one on his front leg and with much deliberation and care, injected the light pink liquid into the catheter. His great barreled chest slowly stopped heaving, and he lay still, as if he were only sleeping. She listened to his heart, and proclaimed softly that he had gone.
In my life, as in many lives, I have always been able to look forward to the next thing. The next weekend, the next winter or summer break, the next birthday, the next opening or closing to a play. A report card. The events in my life were housed in a neat container. The projects, the parties. They lived there. The event of graduation, that shining exuberant pinnacle after which a column of light would take me into the sky towards not a destination, but meaning itself, loomed through even the darkest clouds. Loomed through depression and self-harm and shitty breakups and hangovers which felt like the end of the world. Another house in which to contain my life was being built for me. Every paper and performance and in-class presentation was another cinder block. After graduation, I would simply open the door to my mansion and live like a queen.
But I never found it. As I languished in my apartment, in my ex-boyfriend’s apartment, in my own loud and beautiful brain, I couldn’t ever find the house I’d broken my back to create. What greeted me after I carried the flag into the stadium and sat in my robe full of self-importance and mostly sweat, was the quiet hum of electrical appliances and the ghostly rattling of radiators throughout Chicago. The clink of ceramic mugs in the coffee shops I sat in. My own reflection.
There are still “next things” to look forward to. A house party with my close friends, the holidays, the trip I’m taking myself on, the future of the screenplay I’m proud of, the farcical weight loss goal I keep failing to achieve and wonder if I even should, the fact that an intelligent handsome young man is coming over later to spend some time with me. But the next “thing,” the only thing, really, has always been death. Our oldest, most trustworthy mutual friend.
I spent today sitting on my couch watching television about other people who are sitting on their couches. I felt full after eating breakfast tacos. I drank water from a plastic gallon container. I took a hot bath and read about a man who I admire and wish were still alive. I painted a very silly watercolor painting that I hoped would look better. I checked social media incessantly, feeling like there must be something about to happen. Give it to me, phone. Give me the event. The one that will call down that sad, incandescent column of light that never came on June 20, 2014, who still won’t arrive when I’ve moved to another city, or I’ve seen the northern lights, or when I get my first big paycheck, or have a child.
I’m sitting at my dining room table, looking out at my very empty backyard where my dog used to ecstatically roll around on his back. Now among the patches of grass and the old jungle gym, I only see the small pile of rocks we gathered to mark where he’s buried. Under which he is currently being reclaimed by the ground. I realize now I have spent all day trying to run away from that truth. My dog is dead. He was just a dog. My dog is dead. He’s in the ground. I attempted escape in these various ways, but ultimately you can’t escape yourself.