Pax is getting old too quickly. Most days I can shove that truth aside and go on, but sometimes it catches up with us.
Lately, she can’t climb into the Jeep on her own. I must lift her, which isn’t difficult because in the past year or so she’s slimmed down to a mere 30 pounds, which is frighteningly thin for a border collie. I have battled the vet on the subject time and time again. They want me to buy some insane $65 dog food that Pax refuses to eat. “What’s the point,” I find myself arguing, “if she won’t actually eat it?”
She wants the cheap stuff from the farm store, and she prefers that I supplement with canned pumpkin, various homemade bone broths, and slow cooked pork or beef. Spoiled? Sure, but why not? These are small costs.
The other day she went in for an annual teeth cleaning. They found several old rotten teeth (she’ll be thirteen next month) that needed to be pulled, and then sent us home with two prescriptions to help her manage pain and infection. She hates the pills. She’s too smart with them. She stores them in the corner of her mouth and waits until I turn my back to spit them out. I must trick her, which isn’t easy. Her big tongue can sense them out of hot dogs and cheese and bits of bread. When nothing works, I force them down her throat and massage her neck until the swallows, which I did the evening of the cleaning.
The next day, she threw up for six hours. “It’s the antibiotics,” the vet said.
Great. So those are done.
She’s been tender and fragile and I have to constantly remind myself to be more careful with her. Perhaps no more long car rides, which is a shame because she loves them.
The other day, I left her home instead of bringing her to “guard the car” during my usual errands run. Of course, the first major spring storm of the year reared up out of Tulsa and blew its way across the state. Jon called to warn me. I was 30 minutes from home. The storm would arrive in 20 minutes, according to radar. Hail, tornado threats, flash floods, everything.
I sped home, 85 miles an hour, shaking. Pax hates storms. And I hated to put her through the first one of the year alone and while she was feeling so sick. I weaved through traffic, kept to the left lane. The storm was ahead, a big bruised mass. Mean looking.
By the time I hit our exit, it had begun to hail. Hard.
I was home in 5 more minutes. Hail coated the ground. The noise on our tin roof… tremendous. Pax had curled up in her dog bed and wet herself.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! I cried, ushering her into my arms. Tail tucked between her legs, she came to me.
Years ago, when she was young (and me, too!), I would have been annoyed. The bed now needs to be cleaned, and Pax, too, of course. But I found myself thinking of a phrase from Donald Hall’s Without: “Why were they not / contented, four months ago . . .? / A year hence, would he question / why he was not contented / now?” and I pulled her close and held her.
It’s the kind of tenderness, this love for my dog, that makes Jon shake his head. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t feel moved by animals the way I do. He enjoys them, plays with them, cares for them, but doesn’t hang emotions on them. They are objects, decor, frills. Pax amuses him and he pets her and talks to her and laughs at her antics, but he would never speed home in a hail storm to comfort her. That’s my job.
On Friday, Jon and I drove up to Hiawatha, Kansas to pick up a new sprayer.
The ride was long and boring. It’s such flat country up there, hard to be entertained. We’ve been talking about getting a Maine Coon to fill the void of Gray Cat, and we spent some time on my phone browsing available kittens. Females are calmer, apparently, and males more clownish. I know Jon, and I know he’d prefer a clownish cat, but the nearest available kitten to us is a beautiful silver female.
“Ask the breeder what she’s like,” he said as I wrote an inquiry email.
“The description says she’s sweet,” I said.
He shrugged. “I guess if she’s not, we can just get a male and breed them. Get more.”
I didn’t say anything.
“You have to be careful, though,” he went on. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how cool a cat is–their kittens are just ruined. That cool cat of mine growing up, CC? She had kittens and they were shit. I mean terrible! Finally, Mom told me to just go out in the barn and shoot them. And they were so hard to kill! Running all over the place. I had to stand in the door and blast them over and over again…!”
I folded my hands over my ears and begged him to stop talking. I couldn’t hear this. Didn’t want to hear this. Didn’t want to know he’d done this, this vicious little chapter in his childhood. Wanted nothing to do with it. Wanted to separate it completely from my understanding of him.
That cold ability to differentiate in a snap the difference between pets and beasts, humanity and heartlessness, is a characteristic of farm life and farm people that I still can’t quite reconcile.
We say we want unconditional love but then we are shown the true conditions of someone, and it’s ugly and hard to digest. We don’t want to digest.
“Do you really need to tell me this?” I cried.
He looked at me, wide-eyed. “Yes.”
No regret. No shame. Something else, some cold resignation: these are the facts. Of life. Of me.
I love him still.
That’s the greatest surprise of all whenever those ugly little moments arise, I think.
I love him still.