I had planned on introducing myself in this post and explain why I have turned to blogging, but as you’d hear repeatedly in any writing class or group of authors working on their manuscripts together, “show don’t tell.” With that exhortation in mind I’ve scrapped my introduction for a little showing.
Three weeks ago, riding in my brother’s car on our way back to the east bay of San Francisco after visiting family in southern Oregon my I Phone vibrated in my pocket. I hit the message icon and read a brief note from my wife, Judie about our 11 year old golden retriever: “Hunter had a seizure last night and this a.m. Taking him to emergency hosp.” I instantly thought of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s first seizure: brain tumor. Can’t be, I thought, he was in great shape when I left a week ago.
Tumor. Has to be. He’ll go fast, I thought. We won’t let him suffer. No, we’ll step in if we have to. Pressure built behind my eyes. My fingers turned white where I grasped the phone. The next three hours rolled by as I watched the sun blasted hills undulate along beside us as we headed south.
Judie met me at the front door, Hunter was lying on the cool tile in the entrance. Sitting on the couch she told me about the seizures and the vet when Hunter started to twitch with stiff legs and foaming mouth. Kneeling beside him, we stroked his soft fur as we spoke softly to him. Gradually the convulsion subsided. We took him straight back to the hospital where it was confirmed that he had a tumor in his brain. Stocked with Phenobarbital we took him home with us hoping we could keep him comfortable for a few weeks before we had to let him go.
Living with grinding intractable pain every minute of every day is nearly impossible to deal with. I have my little tricks to keep sane and one of them is being with Hunter. Every day around 6 a.m. I would have him jump onto the rear deck of my car for a short trip to one of the walking trails near our home. As we drew close to one of our regular trail heads Hunter would wimper and pace, smearing his nose across the windows. Once out of the car we entered the trail, an eight foot wide asphalt ribbon that ran along the canals or through the hills in back of the houses in neighborhoods close to the county’s open spaces. As we walked along, Hunter at my left hip I would talk to him in a steady patter of mindless thoughts that rattled around my head early in the morning. I would comment on the water in the canal, the burnt gold hills off to our right or about the misery of the pain in my body. Endless commentary. Streams of consciousness that I knew he understood. Maybe not the words, no even I couldn’t believe that, but he understood me, what I felt.
A couple of months before the tumor started to spread behind his dark, knowing eyes, he greeted Judie and me as we came home from the surgery center where I just had my knee repaired. Limping and in pain, I bent down and ruffled his furry head. I went into our bedroom and laid down on the bed and drifted on the remnants of the anesthesia. In that hypnotic state I felt him jump up on the bed and lie down beside me with his head resting on my right leg. Two hours later, my knee throbbing, I woke up and there he was in the same position. Hunter, absorbing my pain, stayed with me throughout the afternoon. Remarkable to me because when Judie was home he stayed under her desk in her office upstairs.
When he left me I dropped off to sleep again. I was lying on my left side with my face on the edge of the bed. Something brought me out of my narcotic haze. I could feel it, I wasn’t alone. I opened my eyes and there he was staring at me with his calm ebony eyes. Hunter was sitting next to the bed watching me, as if to make sure I was still among the quick. I smiled at him and he walked around to the other side of the bed and jumped up next to me laying his head on my hip. A four-legged slightly malodorous bag of constantly shedding fur, his warmth spread through me and wrapped around my wounded knee; my gaurdian angel. My pal.
After three weeks stubbornly fighting against the tide of the cancer rising through his brain, two nights ago after midnight, at the foot of our bed, he twitched, frothed and clenched his teeth against his last harrowing seizure.
All three of us spent the next morning saying goodbye to Hunter. Good bye to what he meant to each of us.
With Judie and I holding him in our arms, Hunter quietly slipped into the shadows at 3:30 yesterday afternoon.
Today we woke up to a larger home. But colder.