I don't have taxes on my mind today.
I don't have them on my mind in part because I finished them months ago, as soon as I got my W2s and my 1099 with my paycheck and in the mail, respectively, as I always need my tax monies in a Very Big Way As Soon As Is Humanly Possible. Until all the media outlets started reminding me and every other American of tax-filing age that the ides of April were upon us, I had all but forgotten about that aspect of the date.
I don't have them on my mind because last year April 15 gained a new meaning for me.
On April 14 last year, my mom called me, saying the four words I'd expected to hear for months prior, every time she called, every time I called. Every time I hadn't heard those words at the onset of a conversation, I'd inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Every time we started off with "Hi Poopy Butt" or "Hi, it's me," my heart unclenched, relaxed, pumped its blood, went about its daily business. It was by unspoken agreement that should the time come, those four words would start the conversation, not be buried in the middle of it, as an unwelcome surprise, as a hefty credit card bill in a pile of junk mailers, as a decision in the midst of frivolities.
"I think it's time," she said when I picked up. April 14, my heart stopped. April 14, my heart resumed normal function, but my brain's function slowed to a crawl, not able to formulate the necessary words. April 14, I wanted one more day.
"I'm coming over," was all I managed.
I wanted to see how bad it was, how bad she'd gotten. She was old, fifteen years, a good age for a corgi-mix pound puppy, but she'd never lost the spring in her step, the wide smile on her face.
Molly had gotten out of bed that morning, done her business, and retired back to the bed. After that, nothing could coax her out, not even food, and especially not her favorite food in the whole wide world, cheese. When she did move around, it was drunkenly, with no semblance of balance. I got there after work, and lay with her, all night long, holding her, petting her, not wanting to let go but knowing that in the morning, I would have to. I hardly slept at all. I had a bottle of water for her, and a plate to pour it into. When she looked thirsty but unable to drink, I wet my finger and let her lick it. She ate a few bites of cheese, a few bites of rice, a few bites of chicken, and my hope soared. It's not her time, I thought. My selfish heart told my logical brain that, and they had a conversation, and my logical brain almost took my selfish heart's side, until it looked the facts squarely in the eyes.
In the summer of 2005, Molly had developed a large bump on her face. We took her to the vet, they drained it of a lot of blood but not much else. It came back shortly after, Bigger, Badder, probably Bloodier. Back to the vet she went, and this time, even though she was 12 years old and not an ideal candidate for surgery at all, our vet said he would do surgery on it and biopsy the lump in case it was more than an infection. She had the surgery on July 20, and the lump turned out to be cancerous, so we were all extremely glad that we'd gone ahead with the (expensive) surgery. There was no bone involvement, so that was a good thing, but we were advised that nasal carcinoma in dogs is extremely invasive, and it could come back.
Molly in the car on the way to the vet for surgery
the size of Molly's BBB lump
Molly, post-surgery, beautiful and happy as a clam
Molly's incision site
In October of that year, Molly's "sister," Raisin, my mom's Lab mix, lived out her life, and Molly lost a good friend. Raisin Anne and Molly Jane had not always gotten along perfectly; in fact, in their early years, Miss Raisin used to terrorize Molly with alarming frequency, being about 30 lbs heavier, three years older, and of a more aggressive nature than Miss MJ. As the years went on, they grew more comfortable together, settling into the kind of canine life that could be most accurately described as affable doggy spinsterhood. Since we'd gotten Molly a few years after Raisin, she'd photographically fallen under the radar, due to "Second Puppy Syndrome," in that we took many many photos of Raisy as a wriggling baby pup (and far too many of me at 9-10 years old, in huge glasses and technicolor clothes, sporting an unfortunate haircut, but it was the early 1990s) but considerably fewer of Molly, who was, in my VERY Humble and Completely Unbiased Opinion, the cuter of the two dogs (sorry, Raisin, I do love you and miss you very much, but Molly was My Dog). I regret letting Molly fall victim to SPS, because honestly... adorable. She was an adorable puppy.
Molly and Raisin, their last summer together.
Mom got a new dog a few months later, and Molly sort-of accepted him, in the way that much-older sisters or brothers accept new baby brothers or sisters: reluctantly but with a touch of happiness at having someone to boss around.
Molly and Petey
Two years after Raisin's death, Molly was wheezing and having trouble breathing at times, so she got vetted, and we were told that it was likely that her nasal carcinoma was making a comeback. There was a small chance it was simply an Upper Respiratory Infection but in all likelihood, it was the cancer. We got her on antibiotics, and some pain medication. She improved, but not enough to blot out the probability that her cancer was back. The vet talked with us about our options, which included radiation and a second surgery, neither of which she recommended due to Molly's fourteen years.
She made it through both my birthday in late September and Thanksgiving, when Mom and I packed up all three of our dogs, her dog Petey, my Miss Molly, and the dog I'd adopted at my new house, Frankie, and went down to Ohio to visit family. Frankie, a pit bull, adored, loved, and respected Molly. He doted on her. Cherished her. Would not let her out of his site, and was at her side to protect her if anyone dared to disrupt her. (Molly had always been a happy, loving dog, but in her old age had grown a little crotchety and a lot opinionated!) She, on the other hand, accepted his adoration reluctantly and gave him little back - a character trait I consider slightly virtuous now and wish I could adopt in my own interpersonal relations.
Molly in Ohio around my birthday
Frankie, always on Molly-Watch.
Two months later she already looked older and not as "there"
Christmas passed, with Molly intact. She had no patience for the unwrapping of gifts, though she did enjoy the bones and treats we plied her with.
Winter came, went, gave way to spring and the green grass made an appearance. What I really really wanted most for Molly was for the grass to come in thick and full, as one of her favorite things in the world was to roll, back and forth, in it, and then luxuriate in the sun on her squashed-down patch of earth. She got it, but barely. The effort was tremendous.
Molly in her squashed-down patch of earth in earlier, better days.
So when my mom called that day, I was ready, and I was not ready. I'd grown up with this dog, she'd been there for me through some very tough times as I went through high school and its accompanying angst. I'd loved her for fifteen years, longer than I've ever loved a person outside of my family, and I'd lived with her for nearly that length of time, spending most of my nights with her at my feet on the bed, or snuggled into the crook of my knees. I wanted more time, my selfish heart wanted more time, I wanted one more winter of throwing snowballs to her - the one "toy" she would willingly try to fetch, but end up destroying between her flailing paws. Yes, I wanted one more summer of her lolling in the grass. I wanted one more of every season with her, and one more of every one after that.
I stayed by her side that whole night, went home briefly in the morning to take care of Frankie, went back to take her to the vet. I carried her downstairs, as one does a baby, and in essence she was one again, just bigger and older. I talked to her the whole ride to the vet's office, while my mom drove and I tried not to cry.
"What a good dog."
"What a beautiful girl."
"You are my favorite."
We hadn't even made an appointment. Dr. Smaller had been seeing Molly for years, knew her age, had arranged her surgery, had been there when the cancer came back. He saw us walk in, Molly helpless and a bit confused in my arms, and he knew.
It was quick. We were in the examination room and she was being prepared before I had the chance to change my mind. It was my decision after all, I was her caregiver, her "owner," but she was as much mine as I was hers. If this was the wrong decision, if I was killing my dog because I couldn't afford another surgery or radiation or more aggressive treatments, or if I was killing my dog because... no. After the split second where my selfish heart battled my logical brain, they came to an agreement: she was suffering, she was old, she was ready to go, she did not blame me, but loved me for my decision. I'd made "if" compromises at the last minute - "If she struggles during preparation, I'm changing my mind," etc. She didn't struggle. She was ready to go, and I let her go, which to date has been one of the hardest decisions I've ever made in any facet of my life.
I held her. I stroked her all the way through the end, and past the end, past when the last breath of life had left her. Dr. Smaller let us stay in there with her as long as we needed, which was a very long time. I used a lot of Kleenex. We told each other stories about her, like the time when Mom brought home a pizza and Molly had been accidentally shut in the computer room, which was not an uncommon occurrence, as she was very quiet and rather liked her solitude. She rarely made a fuss of being shut in there alone, but on that day, she made a royal racket about being shut up in there, having smelled the cheese and grease and delicious that was being enjoyed, sans her, by her human companions. We talked about the grass in the summer and the snow in the winter, and the trot she affected only when we were going for a W-A-L-K: purposeful, strident, businesslike. We talked about the smile almost always on her face, and her gentle nature, and how in the past fifteen years the only sign of aggression she'd ever shown was once when she was feeling sick and I tried to pull her out from under the bed and she snapped at me only as a warning. We talked about her begrudging acceptance of the two new dogs in her life, Pete and Frank, and the comfortable companionship with Raisin that we were sure she'd missed in the past two years.
When we couldn't talk or cry anymore, when all we could do was look at her and know that we'd done the right thing, it was time to go. I took her collar off to take with me, and then I did something utterly sentimental and utterly unlike me: I scavenged a scrap of paper from somewhere within my cavernous purse, and wrote on it "I love you, Molly" and put it under her nose with a strand of my hair that'd fallen out, as if she could still smell me. I'm good at make-believe.
I hadn't made any aftercare plans, even though I'd known this day was coming for quite some time. The staff at the vet's asked if I would like to have her cremated, but I didn't have any extra money, so I said no. After getting home and remembering a segment on Oprah about dog pounds, I freaked out because I was worried they would put her body in a black plastic bag with ten other dogs, and throw her in the dumpster. I called back and said I would rearrange some funds so that I could have her cremated and keep her ashes. A bunch of lovely, loving, wonderful, beautiful friends donated some money to me to make that even more feasible, and for that I am forever and ever grateful. I got a very lovely card from a very sweet friend, who had printed out and enclosed The Last Will and Testament of An Extremely Distinguished Dog, a eulogy of sorts that Eugene O'Neill had written after the passing of his Dalmatian. I still love reading it.
The day I got her ashes back, I cried, and cried and cried. I cried when they called, I cried when I drove there, I cried in the office when Dr. Smaller hugged me to him, I cried on the way home. I still cry.
Today Molly lives in a wooden planter in my backyard, with a tree branch fashioned of metal on the front. In it, I planted "Irish Molly," a strain of viola that serendipitously happened to share her name and also resemble her colors, along with a black varietal of viola that may or may not be called "Molly Sanderson."
Frankie and I say "Goodnight, Molly" every night when we go in the backyard for Frank to do his business. Well, I say it, but I'm pretty sure he thinks it.
Goodnight, Molly. I still miss you.
-from The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog, Eugene O'Neill