No Free Lunch
When did this happen? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I did my duty waaaaay back when. I was there when we jumped in the car to chase down the horses after they had scaled the wall and made a run for it. We stayed home always, never going anywhere because we had dogs. I remember picking up the accumulated over winter droppings during the spring thaw. I remember stepping in their messes in the house and cleaning up afterward…sometimes.
I swore when I left at 18 years of age, I was free to do whatever I wanted to do, go wherever I wanted to go. So, Mother, please tell me, how did I get to a place where I not only had three dogs occupying my life, they also ravaged my bank account, became the priority through which everything else was scheduled, i.e. morning walk, morning interactive game, noon peepee walk and treats, long afternoon walk, post-dinner snack, and night peepee walk. My wife was in charge of meals, snacks, medicines, brushing, and teeth cleaning. And now, my first, my Abby, the one who suffered through our on-the-job-training when she first arrived, has passed and left me a broken old man with weepy eyes, blank stare, and vacant soul.
It was April 27, 2014 when she was dropped off at our house by her foster mom. It was clear from the first moment she was less than impressed with us, in fact, she wanted absolutely nothing to do with us. She knew we were posers, amateurs. Those first few months were a painful experience on the level of first year of middle school. Just trying to fit in and being called out by Abby for being lame. A scene from the Top 10 movie of all-time, The Bad News Bears, comes to mind. I was Buttermaker trying to teach a lesson to the team star, Kelly Leak, aka Abby.
“Just gimme the bat! Coach!”, says Kelly, like Abby, dismissing my words of wisdom, and going about in her own way, hitting a home run.
I was at a loss of what to do back then. And now, days after her passing, I’m
in the same situation.
Though the time that existed between her arrival and departure was an absolute masterpiece.
I don’t know how she did it. She obviously didn’t need us. She exhibited that to us on numerous occasions. I wrote earlier she arrived on April 27, 2014. She shook us off on April 28th, the next day. This thought help me recall a story I hadn’t thought of recently, and am certainly not proud to be associated with it. One year on Abby’s birthday we went to the local outdoor café to celebrate. We were regulars there as the owner loved dogs and gave treats to them. I figured it was a place she would love to visit. And she did, she got her treats with her patented quick draw handshake, bringing laughter from all present. This was followed by a happy birthday sing-along, and some jabbering among all afterward.
Suddenly I realized I hadn’t seen Abby for a while. She was among everyone after the song, but now I didn’t see her anywhere. I started screaming, “Abby! Abby!” Nothing. I leapt off the patio, looking left and right along the riverside path for the wiggle of a shiba with an ample bottom. Nothing. Hyperventilating, I tried calling while trying to run both left and right as the same time.
Finally, I headed to the area I wanted to avoid. A rather busy road with a bridge. As I approached apprehensively, I looked left, and found my wiggle! Casually crossing the bridge and heading home was my Abby. She had grown weary of the humans blah-blah-blahing, and decided she’d call it a day. She didn’t need fanfare. She wanted stability and mature leadership, and didn’t see any at her party.
It’s quite embarrassing, and, at the same time, enlightening, to have a dog more capable of handling herself than the help of a middle-aged manboy. I swear-to-God this is a true story, Actually, it happened a few times. My wife and I would occasionally get into a shouting match. Lydia, our 2nd younger dog, already a sensitive soul, would stand back, shivering, paralyzed. Abby, at a certain point, would step forward right in front of us, choosing neither side, and start barking and howling, whatever was needed to stop that embarrassing behavior. I can almost hear her saying, “You two want
me to follow your lead? You’re supposed to be my leaders? Knock it off! You’re scaring Lydia!!
And it worked every time.
That’s what I can’t comprehend. How did I get to a point where I yearned for not only her affection, but also her approval?
That’s what inspired me while you were alive. Getting your approval. And I got it, most of the time. My ambition was directly linked with how would my mother perceive this and would she be proud of it.
One reason for getting a dog in the first place, I think, in my subconscious, was to show you I was able to take care of something other than me, to get a proverbial pat on the back, approval of my growth as an adult. That drove me. To put the selfishness and self-conceit aside and spend energy on others.
But when you passed, I felt directionless, in the middle of an intersection looking for an arrow to point me in the right direction. Why should I attempt something if you weren’t going to be there to let me know I was doing right by you? But now, looking back I was provided a guide. I just didn’t recognize it.
I wasn’t aware of it maybe because it had four legs. Pushing me to walk at 6am, pushing me for treats at 10am. Nagging me for lunch snacks, her prompt 4pm walk, which she started stretching for at 3;55pm, and at the end of every evening, at 8;30pm, sitting in front of me letting me know it was time just us two were to go upstairs for bed.
Why did follow that daily script? I wanted her approval that I was worthy. So, while I wasn’t receiving my mother’s thumbs up, I was getting it from a girl whose eyes, ears, and tail all told me each day, more and more, how proud she was of me.
Now, I’m back in the same place. Staring at a blank life. As you know, we still have Lydia and Matilda, but it’s not the same. Abby was the instigator,
the agitator, the mover, the shaker. She was an election voter’s dream. She got things done during her active politicking years.
I’m hoping this comparison of dogs and the other two not measuring up can stop soon. Honestly, until this past week Matilda had shot to the top of the popularity charts in the neighborhood. Since last August, Abby had become, for the first time in her healthy life, burdensome. Vertigo problems started then. She had her back legs giving out, diapers became a necessity, plus the endless circling all night long and standing with her face in corners and dark places. It was 18 hours/day of sleep as a relatively healthy elderly dog, but after this period it went down to about six hours/day, with the rest of the day spent in continuous laps. Weight decreased, along with diminished hearing and eyesight. And, often the look in her eyes that she wasn’t really sure who she was anymore.
This past week I really started to try to determine when she was on the Quality of Life Scale. And then, an emergency visit to the vet where we were alerted to her limited time. But, the next day, her last, she rebounded. Ate everything in sight, went pee outside, had a look in her eyes of cognition. I took her for a buggy ride in the late afternoon when for the first time ever I saw her lift her nose perpendicular to the ground for the whole trip, as if trying to soak up everything all around her. I told her she was in such good condition that tomorrow we would make a trip to the Tuna House for her all-she-can-eat buffet of boiled tuna.
She was gone two hours later. Suddenly. A blink of an eye. The last six months of living moment to moment, especially my wife who slept with her on the main floor and spent 24 hours/ day with Abby, the stress of not being able to plan more than a few minutes ahead, the uncertainty of what we would witness today, was over.
And now, I’m back in neutral. A 25 pound short-legged pointy eared bundle of hair, heaps and heaps of hair (mostly on my clothes) with the tenacity of a drill sergeant and mental acuity of a slick bank robber had held me in the middle of her paw for the past nine years.
It’s done. It’s over with. I haven’t felt this way since you passed in 2017. I hate to tell you, Mom, but this is just as rough, and maybe rougher. This was the first living being I where I was entrusted with their life. Responsible for another’s life. Based on my actions, this being would have a good life, terrible life, long life, short life. Now she’s gone. And no matter what kind of life she lived, her death preceded mine. I never imagined I would feel guilt, but I do. I think about our fun and wonder if too many walks, too many jumps, too many treats…did my actions precipitate her downfall. For all my effort to get her affection, maybe it was the worst thing for her.
Also, getting love from you was easy. As long as I didn’t give the middle finger to my teacher, or didn’t leave the car running with the car door shut, (sorry about that one time. I can’t understand what I was thinking), you would tell me I was the best, so you said.
With Abby, she tested me and tested me. She wasn’t giving it out for free. It was like striving to get to a new level on a video game to earn bonus points from her. And once I reached that da-DEE status level from all that effort, she paid out like a loose slot machine.
Even after her passing, in a weird way I think I’m looking for approval from her, proving to her she was loved by many. The thing is, ironically, she wouldn’t care one bit. She wasn’t out to gain approval from the masses. That wasn’t her personality and it never changed. No compromise. She opened herself up solely to those who had proved themselves to her. And when I think about it, that’s pretty much how I am.
The experience from this past week brought back a memory from circa 1988 that I find myself repeating from time to time in my life. It was an Economics class with Professor Park. To no fault of Professor Park, I can’t remotely recall anything except there were graphs, lots of graphs. But the one thing I distinctly remember him writing on the board was NO FREE LUNCH.
As a 20-year-old, I wrote it in my notebook because I thought it might show up on a test. It never showed up on a paper test, but it has shown up
consistently in my adult life.
And here it is again. NO FREE LUNCH. Your payment will come due someday.
It never stopped you, Mom. You went back for more every time Fred, Gigi, Sammy, Katy, Chopper, Miss Kitty, Tratter Motor, Snuffy left us behind.
We’ve lost our home run slugger, leaving the rest of us weak singles hitters to figure out how to score runs. Paying for our reliance on and love of our Abby with pains of angst. She gave me eight years of being a precocious strong-willed five year old child. And one stressful year of a rapidly declining 90-year old. That’s a ratio I would without question be willing to pay for again.
I don’t know how you did passed this on to me, Mother. Maybe those Flintstones vitamins were a dormant pill that kicked in 30 years later and made me a puppet to these three wet-nosed squatters.
All those years spent practicing my autograph for when I would become a major leaguer, remembering who to thank for my Oscar speech for when I’d accept the Best Male Supporting Actor award, or trying to look executive like in the mirror for when I’m a corporate CEO looks like a major waste of time.
Those moments aren’t a part of my destiny. But it’s ok. My destiny has already been made clear by the kids in the neighborhood. They refer to me as The Old Foreign Man Who Walks Dogs. And that’s not too bad. Not bad at all.