"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Twenty-two Hours

Earlier this morning I sat on a fleecy blanket spread on the floor of our vet's exam room, caressing our Lola's silky black, still-warm head.

The Chap looked down at us and said in a choked voice, "This time yesterday morning, she jumped over Wolf Mountain." A few minutes later, kneeling beside us, he added, "It came so quickly, I just wasn't ready for this."

But Lola was.

Yesterday morning, a short time after she'd vaulted over Wolf Mountain and the Chap had departed for his office, I hared off to the State House complex for my final official duties before the legislative Winter Break. Our committee held a public hearing on search and rescue funding. Very public--a tv reporter and cameramen were there, along with Fish & Game Commissioners and several interested North Country legislators. Interest in the subject is especially high. Over the past two weekends, several parties of hikers have been lost in the mountains. Two were brought out in a dangerous airlift 8 days ago--only one survived. Somebody else had to be rescued after that. Two more somebodies were being looked for while the hearing was ongoing (and though we didn't know it at the time, were probably being air-flighted to their waiting families.

The hearing ended at 10:45. We adjourned, a subcommittee (to which I was appointed) briefly convened to discuss an amendment with the F&G department representatives. We voted and adjourned.

I headed for home.

On arrival, I noticed a troubling change in the dog who'd leaped Wolf Mountain a few short hours earlier. Lola was unsteady in her movements. Her legs were shaking from the effort of standing upright. She couldn't fully lift her head and could only turn it in on direction. Her neck and shoulders quivered with palsy. She panted heavily and constantly.

I tried to make her comfortable on her downstairs bed and settled on the sofa with my laptop and the younger dogs. I watched and worried. I rang the Chap to update him. I sighed and wept, knowing what we had to do. I was ready to do it. Not ready. I rang the Chap again around lunchtime, to let him know I was contacting our vet.

When I reported the new symptoms to her, we agreed that Lola no longer fit into that best-case scenario prognosis described to me 8 days previously. She offered to come to our house in the evening with her little black bag. "Not tonight. We need another night."

The Chap had a board meeting after work and I knew he wouldn't be home till at least 9 p.m. Certain that he needed to see Lola again and she needed to see him, I made an early morning appointment.

When he joined our vigil and I watched him lie on the floor beside her, stroking her, I knew my decision had been the best one. He fed her ice cream with his fingers. Her breathing was laboured, her sleeping was like a coma. I sometimes wondered if she'd survive the overnight hours.

We made this as normal a morning as possible--apart from my snipping bits of fur from the neck ruff and her amazing, floor-sweeping tail. Then we headed for the vet in separate cars. This day is almost identical to the one on which I brought Lola to live with us--it was this very week, in fact, in February. Cold air, blue sky, a white landscape.

Today, driving with her, I couldn't help remembering our first journey together. On that long ago day I was so besotted, I kept turning my head to look at her. I couldn't believe she was real. The most beautiful dog in the world nervously paced the back seat like a caged young wolf, not knowing that I was delivering her to the most caring home imaginable, two canine companions, and the man who would be her great love.

The husky I transported today was an aged replica of that same one. Except that she wasn't nervous at all. She embodied a mature dignity as she sat so calmly and quietly. I tried to model my demeanor on hers.

Everything that followed was as we wished for her. And us.

In all the years of marriage, the Chap and I have never been without a husky. Or a large-sized dog. We reminded ourselves of this, weeping and holding each other in the vet's car park before going our separate ways.

Her possessions--bowls, leashes, beds--are scattered throughout the Lodge and will remain there for a little while. On my way into the house, hunting my key, the leather collar I held in my other hand jiggled. That familiar chime of dog tags--unique to Lola--rang once more, faintly.

My heart is sore with missing her. My tears won't stop. I rejoice that she can be wholly at peace. I am relieved that we need no longer worry about what lies ahead. I look forward to someday placing her box of ashes in the ground beside Shadow's. They made a great team--same age, same size.

My current great team is sleeping at my feet. What they think and know is a mystery to me.

Nothing comforts me more than the certainty that after her remarkably healthy, happy fifteen years, our Lola's decline lasted a mere twenty-two hours. Difficult hours, yes, but now they are behind us.

Every happy, funny, crazy minute that preceded those last ones is her great legacy to us. We shall forever be grateful.

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