I have a number of mantras, many of which I picked up when I needed a few words to guide me through shark infested waters. Let me share some with you.
Like “take responsibility for your own happiness,” told to a 20 year old miserable me, waiting to be saved. And realizing only I can save myself. When I am miserable (because misery happens), I know that I am the one who has to pick myself up off the floor and save myself each time. And I am the best person to save myself. And do. I recently did so when I suspected I had postpartum depression–no one told me I had it, no one held me and said they were worried about me. I woke up one day and realized I couldn’t take it anymore and I wouldn’t be alive for another month. So I picked up the phone and started calling my doctors. I kept calling until I got a return call.
Or “find lessons,” told to me when I was recovering from stroke. Without lessons, stupid things like having a stroke at the age of thirty-three are just…stupid and meaningless. I searched for lessons and learned them. I learned about myself. I learned that my husband is an amazing partner. I learned who my friends were. I learned how to come back from adversity. I learned what was really important to me in life. My writing. My marriage.
Or “have no regrets,” told to me when I was suffering heartbreak and wondering where to go from there. I was twenty-four. I was reeling from a engagement that had been called off. I was without a compass. And then a good friend told me, “Whatever you do, have no regrets.” And it was an amazing mantra that dictated my behavior through very tough times. And it still does. It helps me keep my head high and helps me be healthy and make good choices. No regrets.
Or “fuck it,” when I need to let go of all rules and go for it. (I realize that “fuck it” could be in direct conflict with “have no regrets”–but really, it is a subset of “have no regrets”). This one? This one helps me have a little fun. It helps me explore. It helps me get unstuck.
Or “if there are two people in a situation, it’s best if both can be happy. but if only one can be happy, let the happy one be you.” My mother-in-law told me this, many times. She knew I had a habit of prioritizing others over myself. This one gives me permission to choose myself.
And now, “being happy *anyway* is the biggest middle finger to adversity.” When the shit hits the fan, and all seems lost, hold onto your happiness. Even if you don’t even have an ounce of happiness, if you just have a fraction. Hold onto it. And grow it. Ride some slides at a playground. Swing on the swings. Eat your favorite food. Breathe the air. Maybe it’s only 30 seconds, but that’s 30 seconds that adversity did not take away from you. Be happy. As much as you can, in the face of adversity. Adversity wants you to crumble and die–it wants you to suffer and die slowly. It cannot win.
I went on a tour of a daycare preschool for my 10 month old this morning. I saw a lot of happy kids, and I saw one kid on her first day, crying. And then I saw teachers comforting her. They were unsuccessful, but they kept trying to reassure her in a calm and persistent manner. I was touched by their caring.
And then I had a flashback to my first day of preschool. It was 1977 in New York City. I dressed up in my favorite red dress and black patent shoes. My hair was in ponytails. My parents saw me off to the bus. I held the hand of the bus driver and they took pictures. In those pictures, I look like I’m holding my breath. I probably was.
When the bus took off, I started crying hysterically. The bus driver had to pull over and strap me in, because I pummeled the windows, hoping I could get him to stop and drive me back home. But we continued on to school.
I spoke no English. I was born in the States, but my parents didn’t want me to speak with an accent; they’d experienced endless pain in their early years in the United States because they spoke accented English, and did not want me to live through the same. They took me to the preschool administrator and asked what they could do. “I’ll teach her English,” she said. “Don’t teach her a word.”
So I showed up at preschool with only the words, “Where is the bathroom?” burned in my memory.
The bathroom is where I would spend the first three days of preschool.
I was scared. I spoke no English. I had not ever been separated from my family for this long. And I cried. I cried with hysterics. I was frustrated. I kept trying to speak Korean, and screamed it, thinking that the louder I spoke, the better chances I’d be heard.
The teachers grew frustrated with me. And dragged me to the bathroom. And locked me in a bathroom stall. They put a chair against the stall. And I could understand that they were saying, “Stay there until you stop crying.”
I cried. I kicked the metal walls. They came in and I understood they were telling me to stop doing so. I did not. I kept kicking and screaming.
I spent the entire day in the bathroom stall.
I spent the second day of preschool in the bathroom stall, too.
And the third.
I don’t remember being let out. I don’t remember what happened to end it all. But I remember being locked in there. I’ll never forget being locked in there and being ignored with all the pain I had as a four year old. And that is how I feel with my pain to this day–locked in a stall, without the key, hidden, and alone. And only allowed to come out once I stop crying.
In other news, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression a month and a half ago. I’m okay now. It’s like waking up from a living nightmare. One in which I lost half my hair. In which I realized I’d neglected my life and half of my life had fallen apart. It was hell. And now there’s light. And I’m back.
There are scars we carry from childhood. And they can be incredible sources of strength once we examine them and extract lessons. On my body, like so many people, are multiple physical scars, ranging from knee scabs to surgical incisions.
The ones I want to share today are cuts on me that can be seen only when you look for them–like palm readers and certain doctors do, or the occasional eagle eyed observer. They are raised, like mountains following the veins on my wrists. They are different in texture, shiny like rivers. They are a different color than the rest of my skin, pale even in Summer. And there are also other cuts, perpendicular to the veins, like white bridges.
“What are these?” they ask, pointing at the scars on my wrists. I pull my hands away. “Nothing,” I used to say, “they’re from long ago.” And now I say, “I used to be a cutter.” They are not nothing even if from long ago.
The scars remind me of the horrible way I processed pain. I grew up in a household in which vulnerability was not allowed. This guideline was made with the best of intentions–my parents are survivors of war, and anyone sitting on the side of the road crying or feeling sad during war or the even worse post-war period likely died. Like all parents, they projected their fears onto their children; they wanted us to first and foremost always always always survive.
When we cried, we were screamed at until we turned angry. When we said we were hurt, we were ridiculed until we turned indignant. Until we learned to channel our sadness and pain and hurt into anger.
Angry people apparently survive wars.
There is a point at which the anger is too great. It spills over. It turns inward. And because the anger at oneself is too much to bear–in my case, it turned into a great numbness.
I could no longer feel pain. I alternated between numbness and anger. Mostly, rage at myself. So I cut. I cut to feel pain, because there was no other way to create the space for pain. No one had taught me how to accommodate psychic pain–so I created a physical manifestation. I sliced and sliced with a surgical scalpel that I hid in my medicine cabinet, and the oddest thing is that I didn’t feel the physical pain. I saw the blood ooze from my wrists, and wondered whose wrists those were.
People saw the scars in high school, and did nothing. In those days, there was no discussion around cutting as there is today (and there is barely that, still).
The cutting escalated.
There are other scars on my body, too–but the cutting scars–they remind me that I ought to always make room for pain in my life. To let it run through me. To not fight it. Pain is necessary, and creating a space for the pain is crucial to health. And pain is a necessary part of building strength. I didn’t make space for processing psychic pain, and still, I craved it.
So the scars from my childhood, one of many, have taught me to make room for pain. To ride it. To be with it. To allow myself hurt and sadness. To be vulnerable. Because it’s human.
And here’s the odd thing: I can survive war, even with pain. True survival is keeping your humanity intact through war. To love and say you are not okay and you are in pain. To keep your heart open. That is real survival. That is strength. To recognize and embrace your pain.
Unless you’re a child. And you are all, “Sacred space? Huh? No. All space is shared space with me!”
And that’s what happened with Busy Mockingbird. Her daughter took over her sketchbook:
No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look. “OOOH! Is that a NEW sketchbook? Can I draw in that too, mama?” I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them. I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist. In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”
Oh no she didn’t! Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me! Impressed, I agreed to comply. “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said. “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen. I had resigned myself to let that one go. To let her have the page, and then let it go. I would just draw on my own later, I decided. I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do! But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.
Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew. I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created. Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished. She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled. It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers. And she LOVED being a part of it. She never hesitated in her intent. She wasn’t tentative. She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done. …And the thing is, she DID.
The result of the spontaneous collaboration is ASTOUNDING. Busy Mockingbird draws the human heads, and her daughter draws the bodies. This means dinosaur bodies. And slug bodies. And lobster bodies. And human bodies, too. But different. Together, they are amazing. Seriously, go take a look.
I was mesmerized. Mostly, I was hopeful.
You see, I’ve been, for the most part, miserable these days. I love my kid, but my life has been turned upside down. Inside out. Gutted. Meaningful fiction writing has been impossible. Sleep has only just recently been attained (and nowhere near pre-baby levels). I know, it’s only been 7.5 months. But still. My writing life is in shreds. I want to get back to my novel. How do other mom-writers do it? Is everyone lying?
I made a crack that said Busy Mockingbird’s post made me fantasize about my daughter finishing my novel.
Busy Mockingbird has some of the collaboration prints up for sale. I bought a print to remind me of the potential of collaboration with my daughter, if not literally, figuratively. And to tell myself that motherhood doesn’t equal loss. And to continue to give in and let go. There may be unexpected gains in doing so. This is new space. New sacred space. Scary as hell, and expansive as not-hell. There’s gotta be good stuff here. I’ll keep the faith.
I struggled against the tides and tried to write, tried to resume the life I had, while juggling the mothering of a newborn. I hired a nanny. The nanny didn’t work out. I fired the nanny. I was left by myself, which was kind of better than having a nanny-that-wasn’t-working-out.
I was trying to write. Trying to compartmentalize the fact that I was now a mother. Ignoring it, in order to write, and resume my former identity. Struggling to make elaborate meals (never happened), when slapping some cream cheese on a bagel (un-toasted) was the best I could do. Maybe this is what people mean when they say “trying to have it all.”
It was like swimming upstream. And in the end, I hadn’t made much progress. I didn’t get any further upstream. I think I ended up downstream anyway. Didn’t get any writing done. Didn’t get any reading done. For all the sacrifice–for all my exertion and for all the time I didn’t spend connecting with my daughter, I was left unfulfilled and exhausted. So I decided to go with the flow. Follow the water. Let my life lead me.
Frankly speaking, I was too exhausted to do otherwise. I was beaten into submission. I looked at my daughter and whispered, “P, you got me beat. We’re just going to do it your way.”
This resulted in many many days in which I sat in bed with my kid, napping when she did, alternating between feeding, diapering, burping, pumping, and then napping with her when I could. Some days, that is pretty much what I did all damn day. All day. All night. Just that. Maybe get up and load the dishwasher full of bottles or do a load of laundry. Watch a TV show. But pretty much, just that. Especially when my husband was out of town on business trips.
(And why am I writing this in past tense? Because this is what I’m doing everyday, even now). My biggest thing last week was ordering a rice cooker online, because I was so desperate for hot food and I couldn’t track a stove with a baby. And deal with being chastised for clogging up the holes in the burners with boiled-over-rice-paste-water. I was So Excited about this rice cooker. I tracked its progression on UPS, salivating as it neared. I tweeted about The New Rice Cooker. One of my best friends emailed me, worried about what he perceived was increasing desperation. No, I told him, I’m okay. Just Really Excited about a Rice Cooker, because you see–my life has condensed down to a rice cooker. I’m not unhappy! I told him. Just! A little! Crazy! About a rice! Cooker! Hot! Food! Ohdear, I told him. I may be a little crazy.
I did worry about my writing. About returning to my novel revision. I dreamt about making a meal from scratch. And I fretted about who I’d become–just some clichéd stay-at-home-mom with unwashed hair, making no contributions to society, obsessing about breast milk. But that’s kind of like letting the river carry you and straining your neck to look at the river bank from which you originated. So I forced myself to just be, again. I stared at my baby. I smiled at her. I had conversations comprised of back and forth cooing (what was I saying? I had no idea, but my baby seemed pleased). I gave in. I forgot what day of the week it was.
I haven’t given up. I’ve given in. I acknowledge the different journey, the new journey, under my body. I acknowledge that I have no map for this new place. And I basically say, “Fuck it.” I am going to give up control and just explore without agenda and without an end.
Good things happen when I say, “Fuck it.” Excellent things happen, actually. But I’ve never done it simultaneously with giving in.
Giving in made things a lot more peaceful; to just be with my kid, make my mind a blank slate, and see what would happen. In short, go with the ease. Nothing kind of happened. Everything kind of happened. My life became little milestones comprised of minutiae–feedings, diapers, burps, naps. Picking out her outfits. Shopping online. Looking out the windows. Putting the baby in the sling and getting the mail. Maybe walking up and down my block. And yet these little things are kind of huge.
And–little surprises from the outside world are coming to me. An email from a former student, thanking me for inspiring her. (Which of course in turn, inspired me). And my writing community came to me, threw me opportunities. My friends sending me galleys of their new books (holding a book in my hands makes me feel human again). The world had not forgotten me. I should not forget me. I was able to sequester a little bit of energy. I started to read in snippets. I wrote this blog post while the baby napped (and she woke up right as I finished writing this post, as if this post were meant to be).
It’s my time in a chrysalis. As a writer. As a human being.
Making the most of my time in the chrysalis. By giving into it.
(the ceiling at Strala Yoga; one of my favorite views)
It took me thirteen years to get pregnant. I don’t talk a lot about my infertility, because somewhere during those thirteen years, I decided to not let it define me or my life. I didn’t want to sit around at home pining for a child while allowing other opportunities to slip away. And I certainly didn’t want to be seen that way by the world; I didn’t want to be known for what I did not have–I wanted to be known for what I could do and what I’d done.
I mean, there were plenty of days in there where I would draw the curtains in my bedroom, crawl into my bed, and cry for hours on end, grieving a life I didn’t have. I would be very happy for my pregnant friends, but found baby showers unbearable, so I stopped going. And I’d be very happy for my pregnant friends, but simultaneously found their round pregnant bellies torturous. But for the most part, I kept my grief very private, for better and for worse, to the point where some people were very surprised to learn I wanted children.
We bought our home in Berkeley with the intention of having children, many children. Over the years, the extra bedrooms became guest rooms and and an office. Still, the aura of empty bedrooms never escaped me.
In some fit of optimism, I decided early on that the first child I’d hold in my arms was going to be my own, so for many many years I politely declined holding people’s babies. Eventually, I wondered if I should go ahead and hold a baby, because maybe I’d never get to hold my own. But by then, very few people offered up their babies to me. And the significance of the act had become quite large–whose baby? And what would that act signify? Would that mean I’d totally given up? And uh, yah. Awkward.
Yah, it got complicated.
At one point, I picked up my head and made a concerted effort to “do what people with kids cannot do.” That meant that when we were asked to move to New York City, we immediately (okay not immediately, but twenty-four hours later) said yes, we would. (Plus hello? New York!) We picked up and moved within two months, wending our way across the country (through a blizzard in Arizona!) in a MINI Cooper with two geriatric wiener dogs in the back. We lived a bicoastal life. We flew back and forth. These were things that people with kids could not do.
And then–we got pregnant.
I wrote a little essay late in my pregnancy on my infertility and its intersection with yoga for my friend and yoga instructor, Tara Stiles. I met her completely by chance at her yoga studio Strala Yoga. Yoga with Tara changed my life. Tara read this essay at a conference on infertility (Fertility Planit) at which she was a keynote speaker.
I have no idea what’ll happen in 2013. I wish I knew. But at this point, given that 2012 has now turned into past tense, I do know I’m going to give birth in 2013. And then–? Who knows? It’s like the time I adopted my wiener dogs, and thought to myself, “I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in 10 years, but I’ll have these wiener dogs.”
I make yearly “to do” lists. In fact, I prefer making yearly “to do” lists to resolutions, because “to do” lists are actionable and they aren’t dependent on other people’s actions (i.e., things like “win a fellowship”) or overwhelming (like “finish writing novel” or “lose ten pounds”).
Resolutions are, in the end, comprised of many “to do” items, anyway–so why not break them down into more reachable increments? A resolution to run a marathon involves training milestones and “to-do’s” just like a resolution to “relax more,” involves defining what it is that helps you relax, and then doing those very relaxing things.
2012 was an amazing year, and even though I stopped tracking my 2012 To Do List mid year last year, I found I did pretty well at achieving most of the items. And yet–so many other brilliant things happened that had nothing to do with the list, and yet had so much to do with the list, because I think positive actions, no matter how little, beget positive outcomes.
Interesting to note that I keep failing at the whole ferry riding to-do (I didn’t do it in 2011 or 2012). You’ll see it again on my 2013 To Do List, here.
Get out for dessert/dinner with just my husband at least once in the first 3 months of parenthood. Omg, we are doing this tonight! At Annisa in NYC.
Celebrate our 14th marriage anniversary in May and our 14th wedding anniversary in October!
Buy nice postpartum clothes and wear them. I then went and bought nice non-pregnancy-related clothing and have vowed to wear THEM (instead of pajama or yoga pants).
Take a ferry around the SF Bay.
Visit Manhattan. We are *here*!!!!!
After 2 years away in NYC, revive our Berkeley vegetable garden.
Use my new bundt pan. To make coffee cake. Good stuff. I took an afternoon off just to bake this for my sanity. I asked my husband to watch the baby and leave me an hour to make coffee cake. Yes, making coffee cake is my relaxation activity.
Learn to make a really good Bloody Mary. (I am not good at making cocktails).
Okay, just looking forward to having one cocktail. Whether it is a Dark ‘n Stormy, or a mimosa, or a bloody mary, or some Lillet Blanc, or a bit of American Honey.
I’m supposed to be on a panel at AWP, but I’m not sure when my kid’ll decide she wants to start breathing air or how high maintenance my kid (or I) will be, so let’s just say I want to be at AWP and will try to be at AWP, and if I do that, wonderful. If not, I hope I don’t get too bummed out. Alas yes–I opened my eyes and there was reality telling me that I just could not go to AWP with a 7 week old; too many germs, too exhausting, etc. And I was already exhausted to begin with (I fell asleep during my first postpartum haircut yesterday). So I bowed out. However, Jennifer Derilo, my peer at Kartika where she is the Creative Nonfiction Editor, will be stepping in and taking my place on our AWP panel. Meanwhile, I put together a panel proposal for AWP 2014 in Seattle and…it has been accepted. Hubby’s promised to watch the baby in February, and I’ll be in Seattle!
Allow myself 6 months off from my novel revision.
Delve back into novel revision by September 2013. i.e., establish a writing routine.
Look up feedback from past writing mentors and reread them/frame them.
Start major revision of novel by end of year.
Write a four page long, grammatically correct sentence. I’ve long-admired Roberto Bolaño’s 2666–which includes a four page long, grammatically correct sentence.
Write an essay I’m proud to have written.
Get back to yoga: pop in a Tara Stiles yoga DVD by 3 months postpartum. I did pop in a yoga DVD, more than once, and I totally did the yoga. But not regularly. I walked 7 miles/day and did yoga until 8 months pregnant…now that it’s 8 months postpartum, time to get myself back into a regular yoga routine.
If I visit NYC (*fingers crossed*), drop by Strala Yoga to do some yoga. I did this, and it made me feel human again. It was good to drop by my “yoga home.”
Get back in shape so I can hold crow for at least 5 seconds. (Update as of January 31, 2013 (21 days postpartum, I can hold crow for 3 seconds! Onward!) Update as of May 1, 2013: I totally did it! Like, 8 seconds, even.
When I’m ready, get back up to my 5 miles/day minimum.
Do a juice cleanse.
Birth my kid. It was an amazing experience. It was the best part of the first week of parenthood–which just tells you that the first week is really grueling or birthing was very fantastic.
Send out baby announcements.
Ask for/accept help with postpartum meals at least once. Ohlawd, thank you C and O and N! For awhile, I was so sleep deprived and exhausted that I’d just STARE at the contents of my fridge–including the pre-made freezer stuff and think to myself, “OMG. I don’t think I have the energy to THAW any of this,” and then shut the fridge/freezer door and walk away nearly in tears. As a result, I lost over 5 pounds the first week. So grateful for the food. I should have added, “make it through the first week” and “make it through the first month” on this To-Do List.
Ask for/accept help with babysitting at least once in the first 6 months.
Make it through the first 3 months. (vague, I know)
Make it through the first year. (vague, I know again)
Make baby food from scratch.
What a difference a year makes, for the record. Last year on New Year’s Eve, we went to a New Year’s Eve dinner at a friend’s place in Tribeca, before heading out to Times Square, where we got about a block away from the ball dropping. We were in the shadow of celebrations, but it was close enough to be a part of the energy that is so very much NYC. Confetti fell as everyone counted down–it was thrilling to be part of such collective anticipation.
This year, we spent it watching the ball drop from our couch in Berkeley, while I bounced on an exercise ball, and also hopped up and down (trying very hard not to wet my pants, because seriously, wetting your pants while hopping up and down at nearly 40 weeks pregnant is a realistic concern even though hopping up and down in hopes that it’ll get labor started is not very realistic at all), thinking, “When am I going to be done being pregnant?”
Now time to eat some tteok guk. Hope you have an amazing 2013. And if 2012 was awful for you (I understand Awful Horrific Years all too well), I hope 2013 is waaaay better than 2012.
(Above: 9 weeks on the left…33 weeks on the right)
So I’ve accepted the reality that I won’t be revising my novel to the extent I’d like. That my novel-writing will eventually return in earnest (hopefully sometime next Summer/Fall), and that my novel will benefit from this break. I believe this, because every break I take from my novel benefits the novel, and because this particular break is a rich and life-enhancing break in which I am still creating something–a person, really.
Which takes me to the topic of “breaks”–not brokenness mind you and not vacations either, but breaks. Ones that result in greater strength and conviction.
A break in my tailbone. A bone that heals stronger.
A break from a relationship. A relationship that reunites later with more conviction and clarity.
A break in my psyche. A renewed set of life priorities.
I’m looking forward to what the next year will bring me. I’m hoping I’ll be surrounded by support, because it won’t be an easy year, but I hope it will be fantastic nonetheless. I’m excited about meeting my kid. And I’m interested in the writer I will become.
I picked up her cremated remains today, with the expectation that I’d be sad, but not devastated. In fact, the plan was that I pick her up, because I was holding it together way better than my husband was holding it together over her death.
She was my dog, and I was her human. I wrote a post about my wiener dogs once; she was so steadfast. In the end, she got so old I was doing things to keep her alive/sanitary/healthy that pretty much only other people with pets-over-the-age-of-20-years-old could fathom. I was doing all of this while four months pregnant, six months pregnant, and then eight months pregnant. In the end, I couldn’t do it anymore, and I had to make a terrible choice. I killed my dog.
When people tell me, “She’s no longer in pain anymore,” a gigantic cloud of guilt looms over me. She wasn’t in pain. She was happy. She was ollllld. I don’t know how many more months she’d make it. She was arthritic. Her teeth were falling out. The first time a tooth fell out, I called her Mike Tyson, because well, she’d bitten a chunk out of Ziggy the Wiener Dog’s ear a year earlier, and we’d called him Evander Holyfield. The second time a tooth fell out, it was not so funny.
Some mornings, it took her nearly half an hour to fully wake up and pull herself out of her crate. And because I was impatient, I usually lifted her out of her crate myself and pet her to facilitate awakening.
And in all frankness, towards the end, every morning before I lifted her out, I had to double check her crate to make sure she hadn’t soiled herself in the night. She soiled herself a lot in the last few months. She lost bowel control. There are no dog diapers for fecal incontinence. But I loved her. She loved me. She was so loyal to me, how could I not clean up after her willingly? (And on a regular basis, also “express” her)?
If she were human, I know she’d do the same for me. She was tenacious and so fiercely loyal. She was neurotic as hell. When I first rescued her in 1999, I almost returned her, because she was so crazy. But my husband said I couldn’t return her. So I didn’t.
Over the next thirteen years, she became my best animal friend. She would wait for me at the door for my return. She would lick my toes while I wrote my novel. She would lick my friends’ toes when they visited me.
She loved to do things like dig and hunt. I once allowed her to hunt the gopher in my vegetable garden. That was when I learned that dogs (or at least Scarlet didn’t) don’t close their eyes when they dig underground. Her eyes were so bloodshot when I pulled her out, gopher-less.
She was very bossy. She was the alpha dog. Which meant she did things like sit ON Ziggy the Wiener Dog to get a better view of things, when she found it necessary.
In her younger days, she liked her toys, even though in her last few years, she lost complete interest in any of her stuffed animals. Which means we have a closet full of dog toys, because Ziggy never cares for anything that isn’t food or my husband.
In the end, on the very last day, we did all her favorite things, to the extent that her 20 year old body would allow. She had potato chips for breakfast. She had a few bites of Big Mac for lunch. On your last day, you can have whatever you want to eat. She took in a five minute walk at the Berkeley Marina, where she used to roam in her younger days. She had some beef jerky. She went on a car ride, fresh air smacking her in the face.
I let her have as much toilet paper as she wanted. Because some of you know that for some reason, she loves eating toilet paper. I’ve spent 10% of my life keeping the toilet paper away from this dog. It’s weird, but she was a weird dog.
She took a long nap when we got back home in the afternoon. She napped and napped, as usual, only waking up in hunger. And then she’d nap again. Then the mobile vet came late in the evening. We prodded her gently awake. I put a used towel on my lap and took her in my arms. And there she rested, in complete trust. The vet gave her a handful of liver snacks.
The first shot went in. It stung, but then she relaxed. The vet gave her more liver snacks, and all was forgiven. She relaxed further. This is a dog who is always a little tensed up, who when I lift her, tenses her whole body up as if she is saying, “Mama, I am helping you by lifting myself up off the ground!”
She was in a deep sleep within seconds. “She’s asleep,” I said.
My husband was next to me, watching, and I could see the grief on his face. I don’t know whose perspective was more difficult–mine or his. Participant, or spectator. In that deep sleep, her body felt as light as I’d ever felt her to be.
And then there was a second shot. The “kill shot,” is what I call it. And then–then I could feel her go. Her breathing became jagged. Deep and uneven. “That’s normal,” said the vet. I knew. I’d done my research. She wasn’t in pain. She was just–going. And then her breathing became shallow. And then–she became so very still and so very very light. Her weight felt like it had been halved. She was gone. And I said so.
My husband had by this time lost it more than I–and so I handed Scarlet to him. She was still warm. I tried to close her eyes so she’d look a lot more like she was asleep rather than dead. I tried to squish her tongue back in, but that didn’t bother me so much; in her old age, she’d started sleeping with her tongue sticking out. Come to think of it, she sometimes slept with her eyes cracked open and rolled back. As if she were preparing us for this moment, as if her body were inching closer to this moment on its own.
We spent a few more minutes. And yes, there was poop. I am forever grateful to a good friend of mine who’d recently let his cat go. He said, “There will be poop.” So we were prepared. The vet wrapped her up, picked up the checks I’d pre-prepared and set out on the coffee table. I’m grateful to this vet for helping facilitate this last moment in Scarlet’s life.
And today–I picked up her remains. I’d been joking about having to get a coffee can to hold the remains. I sometimes make inappropriate jokes to deal with death. They brought her out in a small cedar box with a clasp. It was the size of my hand. I could not believe how something so huge could be so very tiny. I was surprised and relieved that she already had a little house. I could smell the cedar.
I made it to the car, and almost out of the parking lot, before I had to park and just cry my eyes out. I parked under a sign that said I wasn’t allowed to park there. I didn’t care. I cried and cried and cried, because one of my best friends, and one of my biggest fans in life, was now in a box in my hand.
And if you are now too too sad–here is a video of her in her much much younger and livelier days. I hope it will cheer you up, because it cheers me up.