Monday, August 29, 2011
The Brightest Star in the Heavens
The morning was bright, as bright as any morning ever was. The growing Los Angeles sun blasted through the large windows of the resounding airport rotunda as the turning of wheels and whispers filled the air and whisked any hope of a stolen nap far far away. The weekend with friends, carefree and filled with the feelings long since last felt should have been a worthy omen that things would take a different turn and soon. But as the universe so often dictates, surprises are more interesting, more affecting, more human than the mundane monotony of eventlessness.
Though my cellphone was on vibrate, it shook with disturbing fervor not once, twice but three times that morning during my trek through security lines and check-in protocols, and as per usual, I ignored it, subconsciously avoiding any responsibility over bad news, lectures and misplaced anguish. But as the third ring began to fade into futility, I picked up, more hopeful to stop the disturbance than to pay any mind as to the purpose of the call.
“I’m here at the vet’s Don,” Dad apprehensively declared, his voice sullen, surrendered and tired. “Baxter won’t be coming home anymore.” And I stopped listening and went back a few moments… back to the beginning…
* * *
As we passed through the threshold, the sickly rotting smell of cavelike moisture washed over us, reminding us full well of the inhabitants of the place: desperate and jailed canine and feline inmates seeking families to take them home and give them new lives filled with warmth, laughter, compassion, far away from this cold dead place. The floor beneath my feet, blanketed with an unkown residue, kept my walk labored as I struggled to remain unstuck, and from a quick scan of the place, too many animals had filled it clearly beyond maximum capacity at times, and in others reduced to an empty, quiet vacancy. The sad feeling of responsibility of selection creeped over me knowing full well that I would take only one and leave the rest behind and only possibly, but I couldn’t help but volunteer my rescue, as that was the purpose to this surprise visit to the SPCA. Our surroundings didn’t help Mom’s uneasy acceptance that we may come home with a new member to the family, much to her dismay and with the help of friend Joyce Labor, who stood close to her side, seemingly to catch her in her disappointment if I was ‘lucky’ enough to find … someone to take home.
My fingers leafed the bars that lined the far wall as I walked past, some with cold wet noses pressed maniacally against them, others held beyond them pacing animals, jaded by the failed premise of rescue, possibly already aware of their inevitable demise. My hopes were fading, as I neared the end of line of kennels, my fingers already slowing to a stop at the last few sets of bars. The barking was now resounding, back behind me tufts of fur pressed desparately against the bars hoping I would return and reconsider but something called me to the quiet, peaceful other end of the cages. Past the blur of noise, past the pacing desperation and the clawing clamor was a kennel that held within a ball of pale gold fur, two beady eyes poking through, almost completely covered in the shadow of these large, triangular floppy ears. I peered in, and he peered right back at me, quiet, reserved, curious. He didn’t seem disturbed by the din of the place, but rather slinked back into his world, his golden quiet world, in exhaustive and quiet waiting. And as I beckoned for him to come to me, my heart began to break; I wanted to scoop him up just then and there, but he wouldn’t come, quite possibly exhausted by the countless potentials who’ve come and gone to peer into those beady brown eyes that haven’t been open for very long on this earth (11 weeks that day the little paper said, neatly fastened to the bars). And as I pressed my fingers against the bars of his cell one more time in begging hope that he would come to me, I let go, and began to retreat, resolved that I didn’t want to take a dog home that didn’t want me to.
Only a few steps back I took, before he quietly came upon the bars, and quietly stuck his little beagle nose out to finally meet me. I returned to him, and held my face so close to his as his little beagle nose did its thing again and I could see the drying tears in his beautiful brown eyes. And he pawed the bars, finally, hopefully, desperately, longingly with furry paws that were still much too big for his body. The little gold beagle-lab puppy with the white blaze on his forehead began to communicate.
I immediately nodded to the careless attendant who was clearly annoyed of our undeclared visit that took him away from his afternoon duties of cleaning up the frightful room out back. He opened the cage and scooped up the little guy, carefully placing him in the pen with the others as we watched and held a discussion that I barely heard as my attention and focus and heart were dedicated to him on the cold wet floor, struggling to play in the crowded little playpen. Mom said many things then, “no” was one, “why” was another, all declaring clear indications that she had no intention to pay more mind to the pup, and as her decision became more and more clear, I did the only thing I could do in my desperation and I picked him up and put him in her arms. His huge ears masked his face and his paws struggled to gain footing in her uneasy hold, but as he felt her warmth, a warmth he hadn’t known in so long, he quickly ceased his struggle and nested against her, welcoming the rest of sound sleep he’s probably never experienced. As he fell into deep slumber in her arms pressed against the steady heartbeat akin to that of his absent mother, I watched her heart sink by her expression. Important moments went by and I felt it in the air that this little guy was going to go home with us. With stolen hearts, $25.00 and restless determination, we rescued the little pup who indeed came home with us that fateful day and filled the next 11 years with undeniably indescribable joy.
* * *
He had always been the strongest of all of us. On his unsuspectedly final night, according to mom's testimony, instead of submitting to the pain of rest his body wouldn't relieve him of, baxter stood vigilantly on guard in his corner of my parent's bedroom as on any other night, almost to honor his self-imposed duty of watching them fall asleep. He spent his last night willing away the dull cold hours of moonlight, as if to bid farewell to his station as he knew his time was short. I’d like to think he grew deeply worried, not about his own fate but that of his family: he was almost done on this earth and in his stead, who will take care of them?
I came back to the phone-call. It was Mom now, recovering from a bout of manic crying, repeating her desperate pleas for reaffirmation of their uneasy decision to not take him home, like the beckoning of mad men recounting regrets of possible mistaken decisions. my only regret is that he couldn't in his final hour fall asleep once again in mom's arms as he did the day we all fell in love with him, so to properly give closure the only way i would have known how to give it. I don't think his or my mom's, or anyone's good heart for that matter, can take that kind of breaking. To feel his life slowly slip away in such a tight unyielding embrace. And with a strong sense of resolve, he allowed mom and dad to throw their arms around him one more time and give him a sweet kiss of all kisses before they lay him down. He took his final labored breaths that cold morning as they finally found the strength to leave him in his long-deserved peace.
Death is the kind of loss that suffers a complete detachment from reality … we harbor an all-consuming curiosity about whats’ beyond and whats left behind. We sit in empty rooms and walk empty halls attempting the unsolvable equation of someone being there one day and absent the next and asking ourselves important questions about the next thing and the fate of things. But nestled in these big questions are the smaller, more important realities. I lost my best friend, the only being in the universe who has listened to me and all of my secrets and fears without judgement or disdain. The only one who has never hurt me, completely trusted me and was always happy to see me happy. I feel alone in the world again…
Dear Baxter, You stole my heart and I'm afraid you'll never give it back you silly beagle poopy puppyface.
Earth-Shattering Revelation #30: Sometimes, theres just no closure.