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Friday, March 3, 2017


     Having lived for upwards of four decades, I should stop myself before obnoxious and declarative intentions. It isn’t news that when I muck with the status quo, my tectonic plates shift until what once was never looks the same again. As I quake in the once-upon-a-time-was-a-glacier-water of Lake Superior, I blame hypothermia rather than insanity for my ridiculous demand to the Universe. Stumbling up the path to the rental property, I torture myself warm.
      Bring it on? What was I thinking? Oh that’s right I don’t think before something insane pops from my mouth. Maybe I should run away from home so the Universe can’t find me.
     The air feels frighteningly turbulent, causing my breath to come in sips and my teeth to chatter.
     What the hell has been done or undone?
     The Universe has no trouble locating me and delivers in the form of a monolithic eruption shortly after our family gets home from Madeline Island.
     Walking into our house I find a one perfectly consistent thing amiss. Our family’s almost sixteen-year old dog Bonni Blue isn’t at the door with a rambunctious and emotional hello. A tribe member since she was a puppy, this dog means much more to me.
     As a survivor of a traumatic upbringing, I arrived at adulthood without a relationship manual. Intimacy isn’t a byproduct of dysfunction. It has taken me years of counseling to remain married, have children and stay somewhat connected. My natural inclination is to be alone. Bonni managed to wriggle through my layers of scar tissue and over the years our relationship has helped me learn how to let people inch a little closer.
     Very early on she and I discovered a way to communicate by human-to-dog shortwave radio. I will think sentences and somehow Bonni receives them. If I think her name, she shows up or if I’m hurt or sad she sends words to make me feel better. It’s difficult to describe, but her responses come in the form of action and sentences. But not today.
     Where are you?
     Trotting through the house my alertness turns from wary concern to flat out panic as I pass through room after room, searching for Bonni. I come upon her lying on a couch, head nestled between front paws. The vibration of my feet hitting the floor having finally registered, she shoots onto the floor bleary-eyed and agitated. Whispering even though her hearing is nearly gone, I speak aloud more for me than her.
     “Hi girl. It’s me. We’re home.”
     Her tail laying limply close to the ground begins to wag minimally. Until she had a viral illness at eleven, it curled magnificently behind her, a proud plume that waved as she pranced past less opulent dogs. Remembering the way she used to toss me a dog grin as though to say “Ha! Look at me!” my heart spontaneously aches, as though a blow torch has begun dissecting it from deep inside. Sixteen is a long time in dog years and for a forty-pound dog it’s even longer. Having her live beyond the norm should bring me comfort but it doesn’t. I have vehemently resisted what has been happening, but today I suddenly realize that we’re entering Bonni’s leave-taking.
     Don’t go, you are my only friend.
     Over the next few days my repeated pleas seem to hasten her progression as her body mass shrinks quickly, the color of her coat dims, and she begins avoiding all contact. Dr. Bob, a home-visit vet calmly lists options. 
     “A planned euthanasia will give you all a measure of control. Waiting for her to go, leaves the possibility that she dies alone if everyone happens to be away.”
     Unable to decide the time of Bonni’s death, the vet is quickly ushered to the door. I want her to live a miracle dog’s life, dying with me simultaneously, decades in the future.    
     Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. Booooonnnnnni.
     Her answer is not one I want to hear.
     “It is time.”
     But I’m scared. Please don’t leave me.
     Over the next few days when Bonni will allow it, we spoon on the floor while playing a picture game, a slide show created in my mind’s eye of her running in the yard after sticks. Then late one night, the picture in my mind inexplicably changes. In it Bonni maneuvers to the bottom of a hill in our backyard, pausing for a moment to look back at me, then continuing into the woods until no she is longer in sight. The next morning on our walk, escaping me she stumbles to the hill, half falling, making her way to the base. Turning toward me, she clearly wants what I don’t want to give.
     I know. I’m sorry. I can’t.
     After carrying her back inside, her physical distress becomes increasingly pronounced. When Dr. Bob arrives he reminds my husband Bill and I to be responsible. 
     “If her heart won’t let go and she’s physically unable to die without help, you need to step in out of love. The connection between all of you is strong. She may have difficulty knowing when to let go.” 
     While he speaks, Bonni presses into my leg.
     “Let me go.”
     What she wants has to be more important than what I want. This furry person has brought me from the dark-wherever place that I grew up in to where I am now. Hoping that I’ll know how to handle it when we get there, I sigh.
     Okay, but part of you will stay with me.
     I have chosen to believe that she will lose her body, then hang around as a ghost dog. I’d heard about people whose pets stay connected with them after they die. This love between us surely has to be strong enough to defy her not being physically present.
     I can’t do this without you.
     Stubbornly I grip onto our energetic love for each other, a feeling of warm caramel beneath my breast bone when she lays at the back of my knees as we nap on Sunday mornings.
     The vet starts the IV. As the minutes pass, Bonni grows agitated and instead of dying peacefully, Dr. Bob finds it necessary to put a lethal injection into her heart. A ripping sound shatters in my head as she wrenches herself away from here to whatever is next.    
     It feels as though a sharp knife has severed a power line.
     Swiping uncontrollably at painful tears, I see that Bonni’s body, side-lying on the floor is without life, yet this fabulous, amazing dog manages a leave-taking gift. Her tail softly curls back up to its rightful spot. 
     Beautiful, beautiful girl.
     Itty bitty stars slowly cascade away from her body, floating toward the ceiling, fading, fading, until nothing.
     Our house echoes in silence. This one heartbeat filled our home with warmth. Death has now made it appear as though she never existed. Along with the rhythm of energy, her distinctive smell evaporates. Feeling naked and raw I lurch up. My daughter and I race through the house, both collapsing on a couch Bonni favored, burying our faces in the cushions frantically trying to find her scent. Sucking in great swaths of old furniture air, we find a distant memory of what may have been.       
     Never have I experienced a more profound and complete end to anything. Pictures in my head go dark, making it difficult to remember how she felt or acted, as though a great sinkhole has swallowed her existence, leaving inky black silence behind.
     Great seismic change does not occur all by itself. Molten lava swirls beneath a hardened crust until the power generated cannot be contained. Gigantic mountains shift, long hidden crevices suddenly reach daylight.
     To survive, a life must adapt to the new terrain.

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