Today We Mourn the Passing of a Terrible Bitch.
September 20, 2008
At about 8 p.m., my mom called me to tell me that this afternoon, she and my dad had to put my childhood dog, Keai, to sleep.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to believe with all of me that dogs went to heaven. We had two dogs, Meili, who belonged to my brother, and Keai, who was mine. I loved our dogs enough to wish that they had souls. Mom told me, “If you need your dogs in heaven, they’ll be there.” I convinced myself that they would be.
This past week has been the hardest week I’ve experienced since moving to California. D and I have had some intense discussions; work has been overwhelming; I’ve made a decision that I want to pursue writing as a career, but I have anxiety attacks every time I try to write; I’m homesick; finances continue to be a roller coaster; and lately I feel this tremendous isolation from everyone and everything. This aspect of my current state of being spurred many of those tough discussions with D.
Now, Keai is dead. It seems a fititng end to my week of the most intense adulthood moments I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps the last chunk of my childhood died too. Forgive the typos. I’m having trouble keeping my eyes dry tonight.
I was 12 the night Keai came home with me for the first time. I’d been anticipating the moment for years. We went to a farm where they raised Shar-Pei puppies, and I chose her out of several puppies from two different litters. Her ears curled up on the tips, and she had green eyes. She was about as big as a hiking boot. She had a wrinkle right in the middle of her forehead that looked sort of like a Mohawk, and my brother and I found the distinguishing wrinkles on our dogs’ heads quite fascinating to the imagination. Meili had a wrinkle on her head that was shaped sort of like a square bowl, with a shallow cavern in the middle. He once told me quite solemnly, while pointing at the cavern, “This is where the mommy dog kissed her.” Keai very quickly gained the reputation of being reptillian. She would bite at anything that came near her face, so when Alan and I were fighting, we’d pick her up, and thrust her at one another. Whenever she got close to one of us, she’d bite at us. We called her an alligator. She also had the longest tongue I’ve ever seen. Sometimes we’d taunt her, holding her back and holding something tantalizing in front of her face to see how far her tongue would reach. We called her Frog Dog.
Tonight D tried to comfort me by telling me, “It sounds like Keai was a really great dog.” I started crying really hard and said, “No, she was a terrible dog, a really, really terrible dog.” I told him how she was impossible to potty train, how she never listened, how she ruined the carpet in our old house, chewed things up, tried to dig holes in the bottoms of all the doors by scratching and banging like a maniac, dug a hole in every piece of furniture we owned, and once she even tried to chew her way through a chain-link fence. She broke all her teeth and had to have stitches in her gums. She fought with Meili, to the degree that we had to keep them separated for most of their lives. Keai was a real bitch.
She paced and whined in the middle of the night, had severe separation anxiety, and toward the end of her life, she lost control of her bladder and peed. A lot. In my parents’ bed.
When we left the house to go anywhere, we had to secure the building for departure. My dad had to put up a gate with a lock on it in front of the door to his auto repair shop (my family lives in an apartment above the shop), because Keai learned how to open the door and would carrouse in the back with the cars. We were afraid she’d OD on anti-freeze. We had to strategically open certain doors, and strategically close others, and stack kitchen, chairs, books, etc. on top of all padded seating areas so Keai wouldn’t dig holes.
Why did we go to such trouble? People who do not love dogs will not understand. Like my dog, I am a terrible, terrible person who has a tendency to love things I shouldn’t and put my hope in things that are irreversably flawed. We knew she would never listen, never learn, never grow up. Meili was such a good, obedient, sweet dog. Keai was a monster, absorbed in her own head and her own doggie world. It was like she was even completely unaware of pain. When she broke the living room window with her head, cutting a gaping, bloody gash in her forehead, she didn’t even notice. If allowed to continue chewing through that chain-link fence, she likely would have worn her face off and not even realized it until she tried to eat.
But I loved her. I loved her so much because I was a shy, quiet girl with severe self-esteem issues. At a time when I was afraid to be who I was with other people, I could be myself with her. We were both in our own little worlds, were both irreversably flawed. I was allowed to be silly and funny with her. I dressed her up and cuddled with her and kissed her and hugged her as much as I wanted. Some days when I felt so isolated from other people, so frustrated with my own timidity and the blockades it built in my quest to make friends and find acceptance, she was just there, waiting for me. I loved her mostly because she was mine. It was my job to love her.
She was a tangibility of how much my parents provided for me, how much they wanted to give my dreams a little kiosk in reality’s mall. They promised her to me when I was young. When I was 12, they let me choose her. I still remember the guilt I felt when they handed over $300 for her, a lot of money to a 12-year-old.
When I left for college, my parents took responsibility for both Meili and Keai, and when Meili died two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be home and with my parents when we had to make the decision to alleviate her pain and lose her. Mom, Dad, and I cried together and we touched her and spoke to her after Dad lifted her and set her on that sterile table. She couldn’t hear us — she’d lost her hearing years before that — but we spoke to her anyway, more for our own benefit than hers. Dr. Warling gave her that final shot — just like he’d given her her first shots fifteen years before, when she was only six weeks old — the first shots to preserve her life, and the last one to end it. I felt the life melt from her body. She slid down on the table, her breathing slowed, and then there was a body there. I was the one who pushed her eye lids closed when her eyes no longer held her. I usually can’t handle being in the same room with dead things, but I kissed her head where the mommy dog kissed her and pressed my face into her fur. I have only seen my dad cry a few times in my life: when his brother died, when my mother’s father died, when i left for college, and on that day, when Meili left us.
Mom told me on the phone tonight that they were both crying when Keai had to go, and that they just wished someone at the vet clinic would tell them they were doing the right thing. As much as it kills me that I couldn’t be there to hold her while she passed, she knew we loved her. I loved her because she was mine, and my parents loved her because I am theirs.