Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ode to a schnauzer -- ain't no love like a dog's love

I heard it as a hoarse whisper as I lay in my bed grappling with the snooze button: "MJ, come downstairs, please, come downstairs."  I sat up in bed pretty sure I'd heard him but since Alex is not the whispering-from-downstairs type, I was more confused than convinced.

I called out, "Alex?  You say something?" and then I heard him again, a loud whisper he was trying to control, "Please come downstairs, just please, now."

Alex is usually balls-out on the volume and doesn't much care who overhears. One of his greatest joys is startling the kids awake in the morning by doing loud things or jumping unexpectedly on their tiny bodies, so why was he worried about waking them now? At first groggy, I was suddenly clear. I bolted for the stairs when the realization hit and my heart sank -- "Shit. I know what this is."

Alex was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs and his face didn't look right. He said the words I was expecting, dreading --  "It's Oscar. He's dead."

our sweet guy Oscar

Alex and I have been agonizing over our 15-year-old schnauzer's ailing health for awhile.  Oscar's second seizure in as many months happened less than a week before he died.  Alex and I sat with him on the floor as he seized.  It lasted forever plus another forever. We cried and pet him and whispered, "Oscar, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

When the convulsing subsided, Al and I looked at each other and both said "it's time" in the same pinched voice. We could not make him suffer another seizure and by the looks of it, it was to become a regular occurrence. Our vet suspected a brain tumor.

The post-seizure state was a difficult one.  Oscar was disoriented and agitated.  He wanted to pace nonstop but his legs were too weak to hold him up.  He would try to take a step and instead crumple to the ground.  He was only calm when I held him and rocked him --

It was so sad to know we were at the end of the road
but I'm grateful I had this last time with him
because he hasn't wanted to be held in a long time

If you picked him up to cuddle in his old age,
he would look at you with a face that clearly said,
"Put me down, asshole"

Then he would commence with dramatic deep sighing

I made an appointment with the in-home euthanasia group recommended by our veterinarian. We were told he would be comfortable and surrounded by our family and would be put gently to sleep in his favorite place at home. It was scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

We thought we had a few more days to prepare ourselves for his loss.  The hubris of humans, right? Thinking that since we made a plan, that's the way it was going to go.  We went upstairs to bed that night not knowing Oscar's body had other plans, that it was our last night with him in the house.

If I had known, I would have sat up with him all night.  I would have felt his soft floppy ears a few hundred last times and kissed his cold wet nose and fed him grilled salmon.

Oscar puppy
first picture we took when we brought him home

As I sit here writing this on our back porch on a brilliantly hot and sunny day, I asked Alex, "What do you remember most vividly about O-dog?"  He laughed and immediately replied, "the incessant pawing."  It's true; you could pet that dog for hours but the second you stopped, he would sit straight up, stare at you intensely and paw at your leg, your nose, your eyeball, whatever, with impressive ferocity.  Schnauzer will not be ignored.

I remember him sleeping with us in our bed before we had kids.  He would nestle in and snuggle up next to one of us.  The one he'd chosen would always yell, "My God, he's so HOT" and try to scoot over but Oscar would just scoot over, too, and snuggle back in.

I also remember fondly the time Alex decided "all dogs can swim" so threw Oscar into Lake Crescent on a camping trip. Oscar sank like a stone so Alex jumped in after him.  Turns out nope, not all dogs can swim but thankfully some Alexes can.

One time we signed up for a dog charity 5K run.  Oscar didn't feel like walking that day let alone running.  He sprawled out long as his body could go and took a little nap on the blacktop warmed by the sun.  I looked like an idiot standing there with a napping dog on the end of a leash and a bib number pinned to the front of my jacket. Goddamit, Oscar.

We didn't spend as much time with him after the arrival of Lucien -- as the saying accurately predicts, "dogs become dogs again when kids arrive."  We still lovingly referred to him as "our first baby" but he got nowhere near the status of the actual baby.  He hated Lucien, snapped at him a dozen times by the time Lucien was two and bit him once for real on his hand.  I used to put Oscar in our bedroom for hours when Lucien was learning to walk, too afraid he was going to bite him as we celebrated Lucien's earliest milestones.

I really, really hate you, tiny human

I wrote about our journey with him through the years in a previous schnauzer lovefest post.  I just re-read that post and it cheered me a little because in it, I promise to give him a good last few years after getting him back post-Paris.  I think we did that.  I hope we did that, anyway.

Natani's arrival was not his happiest chapter
but sometimes, like above, he would take the bully stick right out of her mouth
and walk away like a boss

I think he really enjoyed doing that 

It's a horrible concoction of feelings, losing a pet at home unexpectedly.  You're in a bit of disbelief and overwhelmed by sadness and guilt.  But in the midst of the emotion storm, the practical side of yourself taps yourself on the shoulder and says, "So I hate to bring this up but holy hell, what are you gonna do with his body?"

Forgive me if that sounds harsh but the whole situation is harsh.  The pet you've loved all those years is gone. It brings you no comfort to touch the body, is in fact horrifying and wrenching because it only serves to remind you how gone he really is.  His body is cold and rigid and hollow of life yet you keep touching him anyway because you know it's the last few moments you ever can.  It's feeling torn between wanting the crushingly sad shell of him gone yet wanting to squeeze out every last second with his tiny body.

The rest of my family shuffled tear-stained out the door to surreal days at summer camp and work.  I sat with Oscar and made phone calls. I called Compassion 4 Paws, the in-home euthanasia service we were supposed to meet just a few days later, and asked them what to do next.  They told me to call a man named Dave to help with Oscar's body and cremation. I'm not sure why it struck me as funny that a guy named Dave was the guy to call for dead pets, but it did.  I started laughing in a semi-maniacal way when I hung up, "Call Dave!  For all your dead body needs, Dave's your guy!" Forgive me, I was not well.

Dave's actually no laughing matter and is solid as a rock.  Dave's business, Heartfelt Memories, is all about respectfully and kindly providing post-life care for pets who pass away at home.  Dave's voice on the phone was soothing like salve on a burn.  His compassion and kind words were exactly what I needed in the moment.  He said he was getting in his car right then and would be to me as soon as possible.

When Dave arrived, he hugged me at the door.  Then he and I sat with Oscar for awhile.  He brought in the fluffiest, softest white blanket, wrapped Oscar and his bed tenderly, and carried him to a large dog bed in his car.  He treated Oscar like a beloved member of our family, not just a dead animal, and for that I am so so grateful.

Dave told me to take my time saying goodbye before he drove him away.  I gave Oscar's soft floppy ears one last stroke, told him goodbye and thank you for being such a good friend to us.  And then the schnauzer was gone.

Circa 2005.  The happiest schnauzer that ever schnauzered

So much more I could say about him, that loving, affectionate, funny, stubborn, and, in his later years, cranky as hell, dog of ours.  There are so many more verses I could still write in the ballad, the love story between a dog and his people.  But I'm going to leave it here.

We love and miss you, O-dog, our pet, our friend, our furbaby.  We hope we gave you in life even half of what you gave us, because then you would have certainly known love in abundance.  We promise to grill much salmon in your honor, to bark with joy at blowing leaves, to take the time to inspect every tree we pass to discern who all's peed on it, and above all, to growl at Natani half a dozen times a day to remind her, always and forever, who was the real boss.

Bye, guy.  And thank you.  You were a very, very good boy.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Parks have Personalities -- Part Three

Do yourself a favor and don't start looking through boxes of old photos today.  It's a rabbit hole, one you'll be sucked into for hours and will emerge from clutching fistfuls of old Polaroids and feeling slightly unhinged. That old saying about the passage of time will never be more profound -- "nothing's changed but everything's different."

Our lives look nothing like they did back when we were first married but the changes happened so slowly, or at least so logically, that over time I didn't realize the seismic shifts taking place. How did those people, those friends we adored so much, fall out of our lives over the years?  When was Oscar ever that young and vital looking?  Why didn't anyone ever tell me my haircut was not flattering my face at all, in fact appeared to be openly mocking it?

Along those lines, it did cheer me to realize Alex and I look better today than we did fifteen years ago.  It's taken us this long to figure out our bodies and to develop personal styles that flatter instead of confuse.  Alex used to wear a lot of sweat pants back in the day, while I pieced together cringeworthy ensembles like turtlenecks with dowdy length skirts (dog print of course) and clogs.

Our faces look better now, too -- a few more lines and wrinkles, sure, but a lot more personality and wisdom than back when we looked unseasoned with vaguely vacant eyes and goofy grins.

Anyway, there's a point to all that rambling up there but I'm feeling stressed about finishing the Road Trip posts. Thankfully I wrote everything below before I went down the rabbit hole, a.k.a the boxes of pictures in my closet.  If I tried to write the post now it would sound more like, "I must cling to these memories of the Rocky Mountains with cramping fingers because very soon everything will be different and I'm going to miss these times with a desperate ache and a mournful longing."

But instead I'll continue with my parks-as-people metaphor, which, while certainly more cheerful, may also be ten times more annoying.  

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is mature and dignified.  It's stoic in its rockiness and wise in its cragginess.  It doesn't pay much attention to the riffraff, can be aloof, is a bit of a loner. Rocky Mountain National Park is like your favorite college professor.  He's super smart, respected by his peers and revered by his students.  He doesn't speak much outside of lectures, has salt and pepper hair and is known for always wearing cowboy boots to class.

We had a "first" on our drive to Rocky Mountain National Park.  For the very first time, the gas pump did not stop pumping once our tank was full, resulting in a gas waterfall (gasfall?) down the side of the Winnie B that ended in a shimmery gas lake underneath her body.  It was also a "first" in that Alex has never wandered away from the pump to go buy a coffee before.  That one will also be a "last."

The gas station attendant took a look under the RV and said, "ohhhhh, man, that's a really big one" which sounded pretty bad so I was confused when he next said,"OK, you guys can start the engine and drive away no problem." I was not excited about a teenager advising me on important explosion-related matters so I balked, I hesitated, I hemmed and hawwed and asked things like, "Are you super duper sure, young man?"

He said the gas was not pooling under the engine so there was no risk   He seemed confident but those were still some heart palpitating moments as I started the engine and rolled the Winnie B over the giant gas lake.

Estes Park, a cute little touristy town, is the entryway to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were headed there because my extended family was gathering in Estes Park for our first family reunion in over 15 years. My family is a bunch of jokesters and card players.  They're good conversationalists if you like sarcasm and puns.

Our first evening all together again, we sat outside on the resort lawn having a good catch-up chat when suddenly the sprinklers turned on.  We all ran in different directions yelling. My uncle stood on the front porch of his cabin and pointed and laughed at us with a beer in his hand. That sums up our get togethers pretty well.

Rocky Mountain National Park is crowded.  If the park is indeed a smart salt-n-pepper haired semi-cowboy professor, his class always has a waitlist and a bunch of coeds are hoping to seduce him during office hours. The way this popularity manifests in the park is all the parking lots are full so you have to park your car far away and ride a shuttle bus to the trailheads.

that's my cuz and I
feeling excited on a shuttle bus

Aww yeah, we really hikin' now

We did a few family hikes and they were everything you'd expect from the Rockies -- craggy peaks,  jaw-dropping vistas, mountain lakes, lots of marmots. We got to know one marmot pretty well when he tried to steal parts of our lunches.  He was a very bold little marmot.  We named him Sausage.

my uncle photographing Sausage

mysterious smart cowboy professor park

My uncle took to calling Coco "Li'l Goat" for the way she climbed and scrambled over rocks. She's a good climber and she apparently loves it which begs the question, "Why, L'il Goat, do you lie on the ground and whine about being bored whenever I take you to our nearby climbing wall in Seattle?"

One of our family's age old traditions is ye olde water balloon toss.  You pair up, stand face-to-face, and toss that balloon to your partner.  If you make the catch, you each take a big step backwards.  And so on and so forth until there is one team left standing without soaking wet shirts.

Alex and I won the first round but then, just to show off, we kept throwing and taking steps backwards long after all other teams were eliminated.  We did this until I nearly stepped backwards into the creek; we launched our balloon straight up into the sky and it always made its way down with a light plop, unbroken, in our partner's hands.  We were unstoppable. I was also, for the record, wearing tall wedge heels. I'm definitely just bragging now but it may be my most impressive life accomplishment thus far so please, indulge me.

This is me chucking a neon green water balloon to my dad.
I'm sorry, but my tossing form is dynamite.

I hated to leave these funny people
but the road trip beckoned
(and also they had all gotten on planes and gone home)

As the extended family disbanded, the four of us, very weary now from all the travel and hiking and water balloon fighting, drove to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

Tiny Winnie

Devils Tower is giving the world the middle finger.  It's rebellious and defiant with a touch of alien. Devils Tower is Iggy Pop.  Devils Tower is Kurt Vonnegut writing about Billy Pilgrim. Devils Tower isn't afraid to stand out which is good because it literally stands out from a very long distance.

We immediately went on a hike around the tower in the hot sun without any water.  We made it through the hike OK but all emphatically agreed afterwards it was a stupid move to forget the water -- but then immediately after that we went on another hike through the prairie dog area in the hot sun and forgot the water again.

It's possible that by this time in the road trip, we were quite tired and no longer thinking clearly, kind of how I'm currently feeling about writing this post.

Our final stop was ambitious, especially given our rapidly deteriorating mental states.  As we drove the many many hours towards Glacier National Park in Montana, I could feel Alex glaring at me with his little eyeballs.  It may have been too much, tacking one more park onto the end of the trip, especially one as remote as Glacier.  I cheerfully chatted away, mostly to myself, hoping to distract Alex from how long the drive was taking and how much he hated me in that moment.

Sucked to get there but Glacier was worth it.  Glacier is wild and a little weird, like a beautiful feral child who was raised by wolves but is learning to reintegrate into society.  It's like a Sigur Ros song: foreign and eerie and Icelandic.

The best part of enormous pretty Glacier National Park is driving Going-to-the-Sun Road.  RVs aren't allowed on Going-to-the-Sun Road because the people in the RV would die.  Instead we signed up for a tour on one of the original Glacier National Park open-topped buses, called jammers.

Riding in the Jammer was much more enjoyable than driving the Winnie B because 1) we made it up and back alive and 2) we got a history lesson and 3) the being alive part again.

Dang, Glacier

It got a little odd, maybe, but I do believe we've made it through yet another road trip multi-post series.

And just in time...
because those pictures in those boxes aren't going to cry over themselves,