Five years ago was the fall I walked through hell.
We were driving to dinner. September 1, 2013. I had my hand on my husband's knee and we were smiling and talking about nothing.
Suddenly past his shoulder: a black lab. Appearing so out of nowhere it's like magic. Running flat out toward us. Pink tongue streaming behind. Black leash streaming behind.
It looks totally happy. Happy and clueless.
No time to scream. No time to brake. No time to react.
A second later, the dog and car meet just past the driver's side front bumper.
And then we are screaming.
We pull over in the gravel, still screaming. It has to be dead. It has to be. Oh my god. It seems like we are a long ways away, blocks and blocks, but later I see it's not even half a block.
I get out. It's worse than I thought.
Not one dog, but two. Two dogs lying on their backs in the street, paws in the air.
I've never seen dogs lying like that. Cars are already stacking up. A young man kneels by one, a young woman by the other. Screaming, crying, begging. What will these people think of us? We killed their dogs.
As I get closer, I can see they are street kids. The girl with red-gold dreads and pants made of patches. The guy with red-gold hair and a black T-shirt. They carry their dogs to the side of the road. The guy is begging. "Aldo! Aldo!" The black lab is moving a little. And then it dies.
The little dog is still alive and whining.
I try to look up Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital, on my phone. I keep typing the wrong letters, and the harder I try the worse I get. The lady who answers says to bring the dogs in. I tell my husband to get our Subaru.
These two kids are wailing. Stumbling from one dog to the other, shaking, weeping so hard that snot runs down their faces.
The guy lifts the lab into the back - even though we all know it must be dead - and then climbs in beside it. The girl sits in the back with the little dog in her lap. I pick up their two huge packs (they were setting down their packs when they lost control of the dogs) and bag of groceries and somehow manage to shove them all in the car.
And then we drive. I keep telling my husband to be careful, that the guy is just loose back there.
Otherwise, the car is mostly quiet. The guy is curled over the dog, weeping soundlessly. The girl is trying to reassure the little black and white dog, named Karate Kid. Neither of these two are that much older than our daughter. But somehow they've gone from being someone's precious babies to two kids living on the street with their dogs.
At the vet hospital, a tech in blue scrubs comes out to the parking lot, puts her hand to the lab's neck and shakes her head. She's a tall girl, broad-shouldered, and she manages to carry his body in by herself. Three hours later, we are looking at X-rays of the smaller dog. (It turned out that another car actually hit him.) The ball on one hip joint has been turned into paste. Everything has been pushed to one side.
And after they say goodbye to both dogs, both kids stagger back out into the waiting room. Eyes nearly swollen shut with weeping. We were strangers thrown together, sharing a nightmare.
Becoming an orphan
Eleven days later, I drove down to my home town on a few hours sleep. I had gotten back from a business trip the night before. My mom had declared that September 12 was when she was going on hospice. She had congestive heart failure and interstitial lung disease and had been put on oxygen a few months before.
I think she had hoped that the magic of going on hospice would cause her to die right away. But then the hospice nurse said she might live for months. My mom and I exchanged horrified glances while the nurse prattled on, oblivious. It took her a long time to figure out that Mom wanted to die, and soon.
For years, my mom has been dying on the installment plan. She was ready to die. There was nothing unsettled, nothing unsaid. She thought it was funny when, after she had decided she would go on hospice, her fortune said, "You are soon going to change your present line of work." She firmly believed in God and and afterlife, although she had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
The nurse only took her off a couple of her meds. On her own, Mom decided to go off the others. She stopped her oxygen. Then she stopped eating. Then she - sort of - stopped drinking.
It was a very strange three weeks. Good conversations. Watching a lot of old movies and documentaries. Being bored. Wondering when/ hoping/being afraid she would die. Weeping in the laundry room and biting my hand so she wouldn't hear me. Being scared. Laughing. Telling her to stop apologizing for my being there. Trying to write a little. Eating my way through so much junk food.
I was getting an award October 5, and was going to cancel. Mom told me not to, that God told her it would be okay, and then died quietly October 1, a few hours after the hospice nurse said she would live for at least a week, maybe longer. Of course, I was flat out useless at the awards. I basically stood at the podium and wept. It got so bad that one of presenters gave me her already used Kleenex.
Doctors have a saying. "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras." In other words, it's probably a cold, not a rare fatal virus.
Or in my case, just before Christmas 2013 when my leg turned red and started swelling up, they thought it was probably cellulitis. And when it didn't respond to three different antibiotics, they decided it was MRSA cellulitis, and I ended up in the hospital for three days. In case I was contagious and might pose a danger to people who were already physically sick, they put me on the psych unit. Let's just say, that was interesting. Then I had a rare reaction to IV Vancomycin called hand-foot syndrome. First my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. Then eventually all the skin peeled off. Oh, and somewhere in there, the doctor thought I had a blood clot in my heart that was throwing off bits. It was another month or so of suck.
I did a LOT of lying on my back, staring at white acoustical ceilings, and crying. And wondering whether I would lose my leg or die. I actually came out okay (except a scar from a biopsy). It turns out that an errant kung fu shin clash probably led to something called traumatic panniculitis (dermatologist's theory) or a crush injury (orthopedic doc's theory).
Five years on, it's my mom's death that still resonates. I wish I could talk to her, hear her laugh, get her advice.