As a child I couldn't wait to grow up. I remember a time when I was counting the years until I would be a teenager. If only I were 13 I'd finally be grown up. Then it was 16, then 18, then 21. Each milestone appeared to me as an indicator of when I would finally have it all together. I wanted to make my own rules, have my own money, decide when I wanted to go to bed. (Take that curfew).
I always felt like I was somehow older than I really was. When my parents got us a barbie dream house instead of playing with the dolls I would rearrange the furniture and fold their tiny clothes. At Sunday school (and let's be honest in any kind of classroom setting) I would often parent the other children and act as the leader of the pack. In the fourth grade I had a small feud with a girl in my class and would pay boys in Jolly Ranchers to keep her off my side of the playground. Even at 10 I didn't have time for that nonsense.
To me being an adult meant excitement, adventure, freedom. My parents were on the stricter side for most of my life, and so the thought of being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted was beyond appealing. Movies and TV shows made it look so glamorous. Everyone has a great apartment, works 15 hours a week in their dream job, and somehow always has the time and money to hang out with their friends.
None of this includes the actual pressures of not only being able to land a job, but being able to keep a job and hopefully evolve it into a career and not just where you spend the majority of your time. None of this shows you the shock of getting your paycheck and seeing what's left of it after you've paid all of your bills. Even with things around the house. It doesn't occur to you until you move in somewhere empty that condiments don't just appear in the fridge, nor toilet paper under the shelf.
By the time I left for college I thought I was grown up and ready to take on the world. Rather than dorm my parents had purchased a condo for me to live in. My name was on the deed and so I had the perks of homeownership and excellent credit with none of the financial responsibility. It was a false sense of accomplishment, but one that I ran with. Money that I had saved from graduation went to painting, furniture, and decor. I was going to build a home, and be that independent woman I had always thought I could be. While in reality I was simply playing house.
One of the aspects of growing up that I was not prepared for was how incredibly lonely it can be. As a child our house was always full of people and pets, and so you rarely had time to yourself. It was a pretty major shock to me. I was in a new home, a new city, and while the condo allowed me to have a sense of independence it was also incredibly isolating. My boyfriend and all of my friends were in the dorms, had roommates, and were at all times surrounded by other people their age. I would come home from class to silence.
Within a few weeks I decided that the only realistic solution to my loneliness was to get a pet. We had always had dogs, and I became relentless in my pleas with my parents to let me get a dog of my own. Through many tears, arguments, and trips to the humane society my dad caved and went with me to pick up my very first pet, Addie.
She shook in my lap the entire way home. She had been abandoned and was extremely shy and clearly scared to be leaving the only home she had really known. When we got to the condo my dad and I brought her to the little back yard and sat down so that she could have some room to explore and relax. It wasn't two minutes before her tail was wagging and she was running in circles around the yard.
Puppies are adorable, but holy shit can they also be annoying. It wasn't long until she had earned herself a series of nicknames, and none of them were endearing. We tried to crate train her, but she cried so incessantly that my roommate (hi Mike) wanted to murder us both. I learned to sleep like a mummy because if she saw exposed skin or movement she would pounce. She woke up at 4am (hyper beyond belief) every morning for almost a full year and wouldn't rest until she had gone outside, been fed, and had done some laps around the house. She chewed absolutely everything. And I don't mean nibbled, she destroyed things like:
And so so much more...
What had I gotten myself into. We had had puppies when I was younger but I didn't realize until I was on my own just how much my parents did to train them and monitor them. I was in over my head, and had no idea what I was going to do. This was too much responsibility, I wasn't the grown up I thought I was.
A few months in I was having a bad day, a terrible, awful, no good, really bad day. What was making it worse was knowing that when I got home all I would want to do was lay in bed and cry, but instead I had to brace myself for whatever disaster Addie had left for me. This pet that was supposed cure my loneliness had somehow added to my grief. I walked in prepared for the worst, but there was no disaster to be found. Addie was sleeping and at least from what I could see had not destroyed anything. I sat down next to her and broke down, the tears wouldn't stop and the next thing I knew she had crawled into my lap and was snuggling against me. I held her and cried, and she let me. No fighting, no biting, just unconditional love.
The years past and against all odds she grew into the most amazing dog. She had a personality like no other, and everyone who knew her loved her. She was fiercely loyal to me, and somehow always seemed to know whether I needed to laugh or be comforted. College was not an easy time for me, and I truly don't know if I would have made it through if I hadn't had her as my constant companion.
One night during my senior year I came home and something was off. She wasn't acting like herself, she was twitching her head, she wouldn't let me touch her. I couldn't find anything that she had eaten or gotten into but this was not my dog. I could see in her face that something was wrong. We always think we can communicate with our pets, we know their body language and noises. It's not until they are in trouble that you realize that you can't communicate at all. I rushed her to the hospital and carried her inside and they began doing tests. I was terrified and alone.
It turns out she had been bitten by some kind of spider/bug and was having a neurotoxin response. It wasn't deadly, but they gave her fluids and steroids and promised a full recovery. Up until that point it had never really crossed my mind that Addie could die. In my mind she was still a puppy, she was still just a baby, and things like that just don't happen, right?
The Christmas of 2015 my family came out to visit me in New York. Everyone was staying in my 800 square foot apartment and so tensions were already high to begin with. It was the first time that they had all come to see me and experience my life in New York. I was in a cab with my parents and they were both acting cryptic and I realized that they were texting each other. Anxiety set in, they were keeping something from me and I wanted to know what it was. I asked them what was going on and they both got very quiet, now I was scared.
"Honey we don't want to scare you, we weren't going to say anything until we found out more but we found a lump on Addie's back leg. Bonnie is with her right now at the vet and they are going to do a biopsy. We didn't want to make you worry since it's probably nothing..."
My heart was pounding, I could feel in my bones that something was wrong. As positive as my parents were trying to be I know they felt it too. Over the next few weeks we discussed it nonchalantly, all having pretended to convince ourselves that this was nothing more than a random bump and soon we'd get the call that all was well, and Addie would go on being her spazzy self. As many of you know what was not the case.
Addie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that is rarely found in dogs her size or her breed. This kind of cancer is mostly found in giant breeds, and once it metastasizes it is impossible to cure. When they called me with the results my heart stopped. This couldn't possibly be real. There were a few options to be discussed but as her mom it was only right that I be the one to make the decisions, so I got on the first flight I could find.
God bless the veterinarian who took her case because that poor man spent hours with me discussing every possible situation from amputations to chemotherapy to Chinese medicines to the power of prayer. I left no stone unturned. There was no way I was going to lose her if there was even the smallest chance of her recovering. His patience knew no bounds, but eventually I finally succumbed the the reality that 0% chance meant 0% chance. I could have cut off her leg, put her through chemotherapy, and fitted her for a prosthetic. However none of that pain and torment would stop the cancer that was already moving through her body.
So we waited. We all knew the signs to look for to let us know that it was time for her. I went back to New York knowing that the next time I saw her would be the last time.
My parents would send me daily pictures and updates. She was still herself but the bump on her leg was growing. It was only two months before I got the call to tell me it was time to come home.
No one tells you that adulthood means being the one responsible to end somethings life. No one warns you of the fucking agony of going back and forth between what you selfishly want for yourself and what you know is better for the life in question. No one prepares you that the thrills of adopting a puppy will at some point be followed by the devastation of saying goodbye. This was not the dream of what adulthood had promised...
My parents are interesting in that in some ways they are incredibly similar and like minded, but in other ways they could not be more different. My mother is a realist, prepare the worst and hope for the best, rip the bandaid if you will. My father is a dreamer, there is always a chance, there can always be a miracle. I like to think I'm a healthy dose of both. So the debate over when it was the right time to let Addie go was a heated one to say the least.
My mother was the one to call me, Addie wasn't herself, and both of us wanted to make sure that we could spare her as much pain as possible. I booked a flight, and we scheduled for a company to come to our house so that we could be with her through the whole process. My dad picked me up from the airport, we didn't even say hello, we just cried. In his heart of hope he still believed she had time, still believed that there was a chance that things could turn around and that my mother was being too negative. Given that I was already in Arizona, this was not helpful, no matter how beautiful it is to hope.
When I opened the door Addie saw me and sprinted towards me and leapt up with excitement (we called this the 'Elaine'). "She looks fine..." the words fell out of my mouth as the rest of me fell to the floor. "See Mel I told you, it's too soon, she's fine!" my dad bellowed. I was paralyzed. Was I making a huge mistake? Was it too soon? Am I just killing her? I called my moms best friend (and my second mom) Bonnie, and in between sobs I told her my conflict. By this point Addie had laid down on the floor next to me, the mass on her leg was the size of a softball, and her eyes looked gray and tired. "Mel, you can't listen to anyone right now. I love your parents, but ignore them. Listen to Addie, you know her better than anyone, she'll tell you what she needs." We hung up and I just laid there with her, and I knew. She was ready.
I spent the better part of 48 hours on that floor with her. When the company came they were gentle and patient. They didn't rush me. She stayed in my arms through the whole process, she just let me hold her and cry just like that day when she was a puppy. Even in her final moments, she gave me what I needed, unconditional love.
They drove away with her, and I couldn't get off of the floor. A part of me had died with her. I've experienced an inordinate amount of death for a person my age, but nothing like this. There is nothing that can prepare you for the gravity of what it feels like to end somethings life. She had been my responsibility, my child, my favorite thing in the world. And it felt like because of me she was no longer breathing.
It's been over a year now, and I can still barely talk about her without crying. People suggested I should get another pet, but I felt like somehow she would think I was replacing her and I couldn't be the cause of any more pain.
The weight of that decision (amongst other things) has led to a fairly unhealthy fear of commitment. Commitment of any kind means vulnerability, responsibility, accountability, all of the ibilities... and most of the time that just feels like too much. I'm scared to lay roots down, because commitment means you can't run away when things get tough. I see friends getting married, buying homes, having children, and it absolutely terrifies me. When you lay claim to something you then run the risk of losing it, and if losing a dog was that devastating what if you lose a child or a spouse... While isolation and independence at 18 were my nightmare, at 25 they have become my closest companions.
After 3 years in New York, a ton of over thinking, and one massive order on Amazon I finally decided that I needed to start facing that fear of committing and bought a cat. I have hyperventilated and decided this was a huge mistake probably 50 times since I brought him home on Sunday. What if I really need to go to Cuba for two weeks tomorrow and have no one to watch him? What if I have the opportunity to go to space and the only hold up is that you can't have any pets to qualify? The 'what if' game is one of the many joys of my anxiety condition, and it can be extremely convincing at times.
At the end of the day I know that there is no one on this earth that could have loved Addie the way that I did. I know I did everything I could for her, and that by ending her life when I did I prevented her from experiencing pain. God blessed me by letting me have her for the years that he did.
With my new little fur baby (Captain Spaghetti) I hope I can learn to open my heart again and not be so afraid of losing that I don't love in the first place. So hug your pets a little tighter today. We don't get to have them for our whole lives, but they get to have us for theirs.