Before the A's, I had plenty of practice playing mother. I was the eldest of five, and a pretty popular babysitter for my large extended family. My most serious training began when, within a period of a year, I adopted three dogs. Each dog had their own sad tale of woe, which I wove into the tapestry of my heart, and then wrote new tales for them to remember.
They each had seats in the back of my cars, and knew the order in which they were to climb in. They love ice cream cones, particularly Simba, the husky/malamute mix. While Simba and Jesse would scarf down their treats, The Smoosh would slowly and methodically lick away, like a little kid, savoring the good stuff.
Simba and Jesse were, and always will be, partners in crime. Where there is one, the other is certainly near. They have their own dog beds; they just have to have theirs touching so that they can sleep.
The Smoosh sleeps with me or Big A, under the covers, curled up against us. She moves her nose up and down until a proper airhole is found, then she dozes off. This is her routine whether it's 32 or 102 degrees. She needs to be touching us, but I think that we also need her, which is why as I write this, my heart is breaking in a way that it never has. Each of these dogs is twelve years old, and the daily realization that they won't live forever is becoming almost too much to stand.
18 months ago, a vet told me that Smoosh had about 3 months to live, tops. She had removed another benign tumor from her liver, but said she was too old to go under again. She said that those type of tumors will grow back, and while benign, will eventually distrupt her liver functions to the point of failure. I sobbed so hard that day my eyes were literally swollen for the next two days.
Smoosh is still here, but this week, she's aged a year. The new lump on her liver protrudes like a softball. She is now completely deaf, so when I let her out in the back yard with the other two, I walk out to get her--she can't hear me call for her anymore. It must be so confusing for her to suddenly be unable to hear anything. Her eyes are old--cataracts have replaced the brightness, but I can still see the love in them. I hoist her up on the beds now, and help Simba with the stairs. Jesse appears to still be as healthy as a horse, and is the Queen Mother when I'm not around, sliding food dishes under Smoosh's nose and letting Simba lick her feet. Jessie went over to where the Smoosh was sleeping, and sniffed the tumor, and started whining. "Please stop" I thought. "Please stop, please stop" But she continued to do that for about a minute, and her and Smoosh stared at eachother, saying what needed to be said. Across the floor, Simba began whining. I sat on the couch and sobbed.
To convince myself that she was just feeling old and not beginning to die, I got Smoosh's favorite rubber duck and tossed it for her. She half-heartedly got up and retrieved it, but instead of giving it back to me, she took it to her bed and laid down on it. She looked at me and I at her for a full minute. She knows. She also knows that I know. And it's breaking her loyal little heart that she's going to be crushing mine very soon.
"You've given her such a good life, you should be proud," my mom tried to soothe me over the phone. That's how most would look at it: How I spoil those dogs, what I do for them, never taking into effect what they do for me. That everynight for the last twelve years, they had to sleep in the same room as me, or there would be soulful, heart wrenching whines until they could. That no matter what I look like or smell like, or if I'm feeling like a particularly ugly person that day, they still race to me, tails knocking over whatever lies in the path behind them. That they have loved me unconditionally, purely, without agenda for a dozen years now, and that the day that I have to face the world without one of them is not a day I can comprehend. They were my first children, I love them that much.
I've spent the last twelve years walking in the door and saying, "Hello, babies". Goodbye has never been a part of our vocabulary, but now it is busy searing itself into my heart, and each time I say "Hello" to my motley crew, I know that soon "goodbye" will move from the spot that it lives right now, pass my lips, and leave me undoubtedly sobbing over a small 30 pound being that has been one of the most loyal friends I've ever known.