Friday was my birthday, but I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. Earlier in the week I’d had to put down my beloved dog Leroy. I felt like my heart had been ripped out, stomped on and then thrown back in my body.
Being so emotionally exhausted, I had totally forgotten that I had a brain scan scheduled. My Neurologist, a handsome Euro-Chic man who wears the most gorgeous Italian loafers, told me six months ago that if my aneurysm grew at all he would have to perform a procedure called “coiling” to keep it from bursting.
The funny thing is that when you already have a terminal illness and you’ve endured difficult treatments, finding out that you have a brain aneurysm really isn’t so bad. LOL. As long as the Neurologist didn’t have to open up my head during the procedure – and with coiling you don’t have to – then I was fine with it all.
But by Friday afternoon it all started feeling like it was just too much. Cancer + euthanizing my dog + brain aneurysm = bullsh*t! So to celebrate the fact that my life was completely ridiculous, I bought myself a giant chocolate cake. My partner does not eat sweets – how is that even possible?! – which meant more cake for me, yay! One of the wonderful things about my partner is that he allows me and encourages me to just be myself. He understood that I had to grieve the loss of Leroy and that I was in no mood for a typical birthday celebration. So he let me binge watch “Nurse Jackie,” while I pounded back white wine and stuffed my face, toddler-style, with cake.
Saturday morning I woke up with cake smeared on my nightgown and mascara on my face. I took all of Leroy’s stuff and threw it in our office/laundry room – the one room in the house which always looks like it has just been bombed. Then I started obsessively cleaning the couch, vacuuming up every last Leroy hair that I could find. I aired out the pillows on the deck, smashing the pillows against each other to rid them of Leroy’s beautiful brindle hair. Beating up on the pillows felt cathartic and the tears started flowing. I cried for the loss of Leroy, whom I had loved fiercely and who had been by my side every minute of my recovery. I cried because there was a very real chance that I would die before my parents and I couldn’t handle breaking their hearts. And I cried thinking about leaving my partner behind and how one day he would probably be with another woman.
Crying felt so damn good, why didn’t I do it more often? Why did I always try to control my emotional reactions? I cut myself another piece of cake and sat outside on the deck, in the cold, surrounded by couch pillows and Leroy’s remaining hairs. Crying + cake = just the kind of birthday celebration that I needed.
Leroy, my precious street-dog, is on the decline & my heart feels like it is breaking into tiny little bits, like a crumbling cookie. People always say, “oh how wonderful that you rescued that dog!” But really, it’s how wonderful that he rescued me. When I found him wandering on the streets of Los Feliz, I lassoed him with my H & M shrug and brought him home. Because what else could I do? He saved me from an unhappy marriage. He brought joy into my life and into the life of my beloved Corgi, little Quinny. The two of them were inseparable rascals, always up to some backyard shenanigans. When Quinny became very sick and I had to put her down, Leroy and I mourned her death. We were partners in sadness.
For the last year as I’ve been recovering from cancer treatment Leroy has been by my side, but now it seems his days as my canine personal support worker are numbered. We are up every night with his “doggy dementia,” and I am well aware that those who love me are worried about my health. I am not sleeping because of his cognitive dysfunction and that leaves me with a weakened immune system. Not ideal for a cancer patient. And yet, he still loves his walks. He enjoys the rush of finding a pizza crust in a bush. At the dog park he is reserved, careful not to get in the way of the younger more agile dogs, but he still thrives on it. The other day he met a dog as big as a pony and that thrilled him to no end. He still has a little sparkle left in him, but less & less. My heart is starting to prepare itself for when the sparkle runs dry.
“Do you have an extra ball at home?” he asked, his voice tinged with harshness. “Excuse me?” I answered, confused and annoyed. I’d been enjoying my daily shot of bliss – hanging out at the dog park – and I didn’t want to chat with a random peacoat wearing hipster boy with facial hair and faux broken-in chinos. I looked at him sideways, hoping that if I just ignored him he would disappear. But he crept towards me, one fake workboot at a time. “Your dog stole my dog’s ball. I recognize his sweater.” I stared at him and was about to start laughing when I realized he was dead serious. His eyes were full of well-seasoned anger, anger that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with balls.
A swoosh of fur went flying by, as a bossy Corgi herded a crew of six dogs, including mine. Surely I possessed enough feminine charms to get Random Hipster Boy to calm the fuck down. I smiled, flashing what I hoped was a Julia Roberts style warm grin. “That’s too bad about your dog’s ball, but Leroy didn’t take it, he’s not into balls and never has been.” I kept my tone light and airy, imagining pink spun sugar swirling out of my mouth. The spun sugar seemed to work against me, as Random Hipster Boy seethed with a newly enhanced level of anger. “I saw YOUR dog, in that red sweater, leave the dog park with my dog’s ball in his mouth.” My smile froze, pink spun sugar stuck to my lips. He was probably the type who would toss poisoned chunks of hot dog into his neighbor’s backyard, killing their pooch in retaliation for a perceived act of aggression, like their Maple Tree’s leaves falling on his deck. “Well, I’m not sure who stole your dog’s ball and again, I’m very sorry for your loss, but I assure you it wasn’t Leroy. But, you know, I have a 20% off coupon for PetLand and I’d be happy to buy a few new balls for the park.” As if on cue his dog ran up to him. Sweet Jesus it was ugly. It looked like a caramel dipped ferret. “Good boy Hashtag, good boy,” he said. “His name is Hashtag?!!” I cried. I couldn’t help myself, the words just flew past my lips, I tried grabbing them out of the air but it was too late. Random Hipster Boy eyeballed me hard, while Hashtag barfed up some kind of pebble-grass mix. “Next time you come to the park bring Hashtag’s ball with you!” He was fuming like a cartoon character from a 1940’s comic book drawn with its head exploding. He turned to leave. A ragtag pack of two Beagles, a Pitbull, three Chihuahuas and Leroy flew by, the same bossy Corgi herding them from behind. Sand and dirt filled the air and the Beagles howled.