I Am Her Master

This isn’t a poem. It’s not even an essay, really. I haven’t written much lately, because I knew if I did, my tears would cloud my vision, and my whole chest would clench into a ball. I knew it would hurt to breathe, and I would hate the moments I spent doing it. It’s a good thing I don’t have to see to type, because I was right about how I would feel; I was spot on about what would happen if I opened up and let this out.

I have been struggling for awhile over sweet Sophie Sue, my doggie. She’s been struggling ever since she was attacked by my other dog, Maggie. I ended up putting Maggie to sleep. Maggie’d had several strokes. She’d also gone blind and deaf. She’d been growling for a few weeks, and I will forever regret that I didn’t realize something was amiss sooner, before she did something horrible to Sophie Sue.

I will admit, Maggie was always a troubled animal. I will also admit, that a selfish part of me felt like I gave her a good life in spite of it, and now I felt like Sophie and I deserved to just be able to hang out together, without all that trouble.

I had no idea what was in store for me, or for Sophie. It’s been a helluva ride. She got infected, her immune system went into overdrive, the sedation made underlying kidney disease bloom out in the open, she got constipated, and got an enema that made her poop blood for a week. She stopped eating, she was shaking and limping. Her veins started collapsing from too many IVs. I almost lost her; I came so very close. But then? I didn’t.

Her kidney’s are failing, and no one knows how long she has. But she’s finally a little stable now, and certainly doing much better than she was. Her kidney blood numbers aren’t in normal range, but they’re better. I have no idea if this will go on for a day or a week or a few months. My world has narrowed to my daily care of her; pills and subcutaneous fluid…making sure she gets up, moves around, goes out, and enjoys when she’s awake.

It’s given me a lot of time to reflect, and staying here, hunkered down, has given me time to really get things in order for whatever is next in my life. I didn’t make next year’s plan at the end of the year like I usually do, because how can I? Should I plan based on having her? Or plan based on her being gone?

This situation has been a priceless lesson in appreciating limbo, in staying present to the moments I have. But still, my heart is broken, and I don’t want to think about what’s next.

This crisis also caused me to focus on my connections with others. It’s made me see clearly who’s in my corner, and who’s not. In the middle of all this, I leaned on someone I really needed to lean on, someone I considered close and important to me…only to discover in a way I could no longer ignore, how fragile the connection was – it couldn’t at all take the weight of my leaning.

So in the end, on Christmas of all days, I decided to just step away from that person, letting the whole situation go the way it had been trying to go for awhile. I thought letting go would cause me paralyzing pain for awhile, but if there’s any blessing at all in this trying time, it’s that I was already in so much pain, it didn’t matter if I had to take on more. I’ve been so consumed with Sophie, and then so busy getting my life in some kind of moving-forward order, that I haven’t had the heart or head space to pay front and center attention to that situation or that pain. So by the time I’m through aching from all this, and through the other changes I’m making right now, I’m pretty sure I’ll be past mourning for the loss of that connection, too. It’s already been far easier to stay clear of than I’d imagined it would be, and I’m already feeling like I’ve dodged a bit of a pretty sure bullet by letting it implode when it did.

So…back to the real content of this post…I haven’t been writing, because the pain of all this has been so intense that I’ve been running to my piano to soothe me instead.

A few days ago, though, my vet said something to me that rattled me, unexpectedly, to my core. She said “Sophie sure is lucky to have you.” And since then, I can’t stop thinking: “Is she?”

And for SURE I didn’t want to write about that, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it in. I could feel it bubbling and oozing under the surface. I also knew writing about it wasn’t going to change a thing about it for me. In fact, the black and white of writing, has torn yet another piece off my already ripped up heart. I can’t focus on it, or let myself feel it fully enough to write a carefully crafted poem or essay, so this is what I’m putting out instead, and at least I’ve started getting it out.

I hope you know, too, that I am always so grateful for those of you who take the time to read what I’m thinking about and sharing here, especially now.

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I am my doggie’s master. I own Sophie Sue. I’m in charge, in every meaningful way, of what happens to her each day, of what she eats, what medicine she takes, and what she does. I choose where she goes. Wittingly or un, I choose how much pain she tolerates, and for how long. My choices determine how safe she is in my car, my yard, my house, around other animals or people.

I have a good deal of power over how long she lives. I am in charge of choosing to put her to sleep or of choosing to keep her alive until nature makes that irreversible decision for me. She doesn’t get to decide anything much at all about her life, other than basic instinctual responses.

The truth is, I’ve always harbored some small delusion in the back of my head that somehow Sophie had chosen to be here, has picked me out as her special person, has graced me with her beautiful presence, when she could have graced another. That isn’t true, though, and I know it. I bought her; that’s why I have her. I bought her, after the breeder took her back from the people she’d originally sold her to. And she would have been the same with anyone else as she is with me, if they treated her well. I’ve always felt so honored to have her, but the truth is, she doesn’t have the ability to go anywhere, and she never has. She has to stay with me, because I own her. I am her master.

It doesn’t feel right to have power over another creature, especially now, and especially over her.

I’ve had many moments during her life when I’ve felt un-redeemably horrible about the things she’s had to bear because of my other dog’s attacks, and because of her immune disorder. I haven’t felt worthy many times, of having her in my life like I do.

It hurts that I can’t ask her what she wants, or get her to tell me how she feels. I have to guess when it’s not clear. It aches every single moment when I know for sure she’s hurting. I can’t avert my eyes, I can’t avert my thoughts. When her ears are pulled back, or she limps, my mind, my heart, go to dark places of empathetic pain. The deepest parts of my heart drown in remorse-filled guilt over everything I’ve done wrong by accident or ignorance; guilt and pain I can’t shake when I’m awake or when I’m asleep.

I lose sleep worrying about each moment I can’t tell how she is. I constantly twist the worry over that big final decision I’m terrified I’ll have to make, into knots that torture my stomach. I let it grow so much mass that it turns into rocks weighing down my heart. It is so loud, that it threatens to drown out the joy of the moments I do have with her, and I have to constantly guard against it.

Should I let her go? I can’t make myself stop thinking about it. Why am I doing this to her? Am I “doing” something bad to her? And why can’t I stop thinking like this either?

I monitor everything she does. Is she wagging her tail? Sitting up in the car? Snuffling the bushes? Snoring without shaking? Is she having a good enough day today? She’s sleeping a lot more, and participating in her life a lot less.

Is she just going through a rough patch the past few months because of her age and all she’s been through recently? A rough patch she’ll come through if I’m patient?

After the vet said this, it crossed my mind that even if she comes through it, it’s not like she’s going to get to the other side of it, and exclaim “Wow, Mom, thank you for sticking with me! It was all worth the trouble!” She doesn’t get the reward for dealing with this.

I do.

Only me.

All me.

Two days ago, this hit me with a pummeling force. Glaring, brutal recognition came crashing in on me, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

This is for me.

What I’m doing to her, what she’s going through.

It’s for me.

Not her.

What does she get for this? She gets to exist. But then my cruel brain reminds me that she doesn’t care if she exists. She doesn’t know. She is who she is each moment, because that’s just who she is. The beauty of her is how zen to the moment she is. She doesn’t plan or regret. She doesn’t set intention or have goals. She just has instincts. She exists. Until she doesn’t. And she doesn’t care when ceasing to exist happens, because she doesn’t understand what it means to exist. She just does it.

When she wants the window down in my car, she paws the door, and it goes down. When she wants to pee, she goes outside. When she wants to be pet, she paws me. When she wants a door open, she paws the door. She eats when she’s hungry, and poops when it’s gone through her system. She doesn’t think about how her morning was. She doesn’t reflect on a particularly good bit of steak she just ate.

She’s not aware of yesterday or tomorrow. She’s not even really in touch with today. And she doesn’t care if she stops being here tomorrow or 3 months from now, at midday on a Tuesday. She simply cannot care.

But I can. And I do. Desperately.

I don’t know what to do about how I feel; I want her. I want her here. For me. She is my woobie, my buddy, my pal, my company in my silent house. I want to pet her and snuggle her and hang out with her and listen to her snore and hold onto her tail when she’s in the seat next to me, and see her round the corner looking for me. I want to look in her beautiful brown eyes, and laugh at where she sticks her face or how her ear curls against her little bed basket.

I want to take photos so I never forget, and she never leaves my sight. I want to post photos of her so my friends smile, and take her places so strangers smile. I want to see her wag her tail. I want to experience her looking for and finding me…and then plopping down nearby.

I’m the one who will know if she isn’t here. I’m the one who will miss her with my whole broken heart. The quality of my life will be significantly reduced without her tail wagging and her sweet snoring and her soft snuggly heart-filled body covered in fur.

As it turns out, I will do a lot to keep her in my life. I will take her to the vet nearly every day for almost 2 months. I will give her pills, and IVs and subcutaneous fluid. I will cook her lamb, and hamburger and noodles and rice. I will get her fajita meat and play-doh cookies. I will buy her a coat and diapers and training pads. I will make sure a heater is pointed on her, there is always food available, and her water bowl is always full.

I will monitor her and medicate her, because I cannot stand when she suffers. I will compliment myself for hanging in there with her. I will be angry at myself when I make a mistake. I will sweat every little detail of her care and her condition. I will call a vet on Christmas Eve, at 10:30pm, when something’s gone wrong with her. And I will show up on Christmas morning so he can take care of what went wrong.

But are the vets really taking care of her? Well, I suppose they are. But now I’m being honest with myself. Who they’re really serving, by taking care of her, is me. She is my neurosis, my psychosis. I am not hers.

I know when the vet said “She’s lucky she has you”, she meant it as a compliment. She appreciates how much I love Sophie and how much I want to see her get better.

But is Sophie really lucky she has me? Sometimes she limps. Sometimes she shakes. She’s pretty tired. Every day, twice a day, I stick a needle in the skin on her sweet back to leave a bubble of fluid under it. I stick no less than 10 assorted pills in the back of her mouth in a day.

Of course she’s tolerant of it. Of course she doesn’t fuss about it. I anthropomorphize this and assign her the human traits of patient and sweet. I tell her she’s a good girl over and over, and caress her like she’s my child. But she doesn’t have a choice, does she. She can’t say “What do *I* get for what I’m going through, Mom?” She’s not going to whine and cry and say “Let me go, would you!?”

I want to thank her for the gift of her life being in my hands. I want to thank her when I have to stick a needle in her, or stuff a pill in her mouth. I am so grateful when I coax her to eat or come with me when I leave, and she does it. I appreciate that she is bearing all of this for me.

But she isn’t really doing that by choice, is she. She exists to please me, without a say in the matter. I am her master.

I got her a collar when I first bought her. It said “Who rescued who?” That says it all. I didn’t rescue her. She rescued me.

All I can do for now, is take care of her as best as I can, so her tail wags as often as she can happily wag it. And I hope with my whole heart that I can master being a good master; the kind of master who will honor her for serving me by letting her go when being here for me hurts her more than she should have to bear.

~ cj 2015.01.06

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5 Responses to I Am Her Master

  1. Morine says:

    :'( And that, my dear CJ, is the very definition of authentic and absolute love and devotion. Do not doubt for a moment that SS adores you and is devoted to you. I learned that with loved ones — be they people or pets — the quality of life is what matters in what we commonly see as their final days. So have you, with this sentence: “…by letting her go when being here for me hurts her more than she should have to bear.” You will know. Somehow, you will know. I’ll be here when that day comes. What a good woman and human being you are. I respect you so much. Kisses to you and SS. xoxo <3

  2. Dee says:

    You will know when that time comes. Sending hugs and much love.

  3. Steven says:

    CJ don’t be so hard on yourself. SS loves you & your as much her world as she is yours. Just keep trying to enjoy y’all’s time together as much as possible. You haven’t done anything wrong. Any mistakes you may have made were not on purpose we all know how much you love SS. I believe SS knows a lil more than you give her credit for. She goes thru all the stuff because she trusts you. The time. You’ll know when. Your friends will be here like always & you can lean on those closest to you. SS is lucky to have you as a guardian angel. Someday she can be yours.

  4. Steven says:

    Oops. Supposed to be. The time will come.

  5. Billie Korstad says:

    I’ve been feeling all those emotions in you as this most recent tragic part of your journey with the two has evolved. I’ve had to turn away from a few posts you put up – and I’ve cried with you as well. I have only imagined the rest until now you have laid out all the raw gnarly thoughts and doubts and wonderings – so a part of your current reality.
    I want you to know I care and pray for you dearie and for your sweet pooches.

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