I was recently afraid to use my journal. I was coming to the last few pages. The year isn’t over. I didn’t just have a birthday. No way could I fit the last seven months of my son’s senior year into two pages-it’s only November! How could it just end like this?
I’m very sentimental when it comes to my books, especially those I write. Those containing my story-my prayers, my tears. I can’t stand a good journal ending at random. I hadn’t picked it up for days while I sorted out how or whether it would somehow be realistic to hoard the remaining blank lines. But this particular morning I carried it over to my spot on the sofa, just having set down my first cup of coffee, said a little prayer and looked over distracted by my darling baby girl. My hand-me down bull dog of 8 years, now nearly 10 years old, still got my attention with a simple breath. One change in position and I had to look at her. I had to call her by one of her goofy terms of endearments- which I effortlessly made up and used as my affection for her oozed out of my being. This girl. This needy, particular, stubborn, balding, goopy chunk of love just gets me every time. Interrupted by my “leave now” alarm I scolded myself for once again getting sidetracked. I quickly swiped my phone for my amazon app and ordered the Moleskin journal I treat myself to every time my pages run short. This time I would go with green. Done. At least I’ll have enough pages when I do have more to say and I will simply have to get over the anticlimactic timing. My earthy tan colored journal was about to be complete. The green journal would tell a new story of me and the same story of me; both interwoven and strengthening as I move into my destiny.
That night I had a little more energy than I expected and my new husband and I had been needing such an opportunity to bring the all the dogs to my (now our) home, so we could truly integrate our households. Married for months at this point, it was beyond overdue. The hold up was that my sweet little Bellers (Ellie Mae) hates dogs and we can barely manage her and my German Shepherd toddler aged puppy let alone adding my husband’s old-old-old and super sweet but no-nonsense Chocolate lab to the mix. But tonight, we would try it. I expected a constant rotation of dogs each taking turns from in-crate to out-of-crate, to over the baby gate and cut off from the living area. We could do this. We will do this.
And we did. And it was just as bad as we could have imagined. Two large excited dogs wanting all the love, one of whom needed extra attention to feel at home, and one bull-headed Ellie Mae, trying to fight them each time she found opportunity. It was obvious Ellie Mae couldn’t reconcile why I would bring yet another K-9 enemy into the home. Her initial resistance turned into full on panic and this turned into heavy breathing and uncontrollable upset. It was horrible. She couldn’t calm down and began yelping and then vomiting, making medication a non-option. At my insistence, we put all the dogs to bed and put her in the crate, with her pillows, blankets and the tarp down just how she likes it. I added a few treats and water and hoped that, with the lights off and as little stimulation as possible, she would calm down.
This was not my first-time experiencing Ellie Mae’s panic. It reared up it when we brought her home after adopting her when she was just two years old. And it’s been relentless since, nearly every time I’ve taken her out of the house-leaving her home-bound at nearly all times. Our little baby was a committed agoraphobic by age two and there was no talking her out of it. The exception was a short walk, which gave her intense excitement if only to have the leash attached to her collar to signal adventure was on the way. Which is to say that at any moment she might refuse to walk another step. Often, she only made it the 15 paces it took to get to the end of the driveway before she’d just stop. Suddenly 65 pounds of dead weight would not budge unless we turned around to head back to the front door. Adventure over. But recently Ellie Mae had a hop in her step that was getting lighter each day and she was plowing through the terrain of our country neighborhood. She was determined to use every opportunity to say hello to anyone who would allow eye contact. To Ellie Mae, the possibility of getting some extra love and appreciation combined with partaking in her favorite poop spots, were the meaning of adventure. And this, she mediated with absolute familiarity which was unapologetically the way she rolled. Meanwhile, her baldness was filling in and she was even jumping up to the sofa on her own. In fact, panic aside-she was aging rather well. Caring for her was a contradiction of pure joy and inconvenience; yet rewarding. Completely satisfied, I’d watch the love she’d just consumed be expended into a wagging nub of a tail, or a deep and sound sleep. I loved everything about her; from the way she would poop and kick at the air afterwards; to hearing her moan like she was completing an immense task as I helped her onto the sofa; to the way she tolerated me holding her like a child and rocking her back and forth; to her indescribably cute and unique noises she made when eating her breakfast. Watching her filled the heart.
I barely slept the night of that horrible panic attack. I hated having her down there in that crate alone and I hated that she wouldn’t quiet down when I needed sleep in order to work the next morning. I hated that there was nothing I could do to help her. Too stubborn to be soothed. Too scared to be soothed. About 2 am it got quiet. About 2 am I thought she had fallen asleep. Sometime after I slept very lightly and unsettled.
The next morning My husband got up first, collected the two big dogs and left for the farm as he does every day. I was awake but my mind and body were heavy with little sleep, too much adrenaline used the night before, a head ache and a generally low spirit. It was going to be gloomy Thursday. I stopped by my son’s room and said good morning. We talked about how he fared given all the noise over the night and I was relieved to hear he had slept through it. My thoughts turned to the mess I expected downstairs. I felt horrible but I was certain Ellie would have thrown up and maybe even wet herself or had diarrhea-each of which were the norm during her panic episodes, only in the past I cleaned it up, one accident at a time over and over until she’d fall asleep. This time I let her sleep in it, which was unthinkable. I felt guilty, tired and grossed out. Certainly not ready to accept my day would begin like this. But, about as soon as I turned to head down the stairs, I snapped out of it. I was anxious to greet Ellie Mae and clean her up and give her the love she deserved and needed. I pulled back the tarp and winced at the smell for a millisecond. But before I could take in any specifics, all my senses joined forces and recognized that there was no life in that crate. I recall no sight, no smell, no sound, nor taste. No touch. I just I knew. My whole body knew. My baby was gone. I had to be wrong. I wasn’t. She’s got to just be feeling sick and weak. It was worse. She can’t be cold. Frigid. She can’t be gone. Stiff, lifeless. She’ll move now I’m here. Nothing. I’m here Ellie. Nothing.
The agony that followed this was much more intense than I expected. I knew I would hate to lose Ellie Mae and I was keenly aware she was aging and wouldn’t be with me forever. But frankly she was making the whole marriage thing super complicated. I’d miss her but it will make everything easier once she passes. We do our best to prepare for emotional hardship, any hardship actually. But in my case, I was mostly fooling myself. And the evidence for it was feeling my gut wrench and my soul clench and body shrink as I sat next to what was left of her. And cried.
That day my loving husband insisted he would take care of everything and wanted her to have the chance to be laid to rest at his farm. He wanted to do it all but I couldn’t not be a part. He and I made a little box in which to bury Ellie Mae and chose a spot next to a few moss-covered rocks that face the creek on his farm. We wrapped her in a new soft blanket. My daughter carefully laid flowers next to her little face. My son watched, glass-eyed and fully present. My husband nailed the box shut. We each carried a corner of the wooden box and walked to her grave site. We set her down and took turns shoveling the dirt gently over her box until she was safely nestled in. My daughter placed one sole flower on the mound. We talked about all the things we loved and hated about her. We giggled and teared up. There was also silence.
I showered and went to work.
It’s been 11 days and I haven’t stopped thinking about her. I will forgive myself and I will let her go, eventually.
The horrific irony is that I ended that muted tan journal writing about the death of one of the most colorful figures in my world, Ellie Mae. Writing about how life will not be the same and feeling forced to close a chapter I never wanted to end. I would have traded a million times to end the journal with absolutely nothing noteworthy to say, given the option.