I was driving home and I was listening to a particularly sad episode of This American Life. Dan Savage was telling a tale of his experiences around the time the death of his Mom when I got the text. It was from my wife and it was incoherent.
Recently I'd noticed her text messages had become increasingly perplexing, like "What is the PIN", "What is that movie about the windshield wipers" and the ever popular "How would u rite an app for antitexting when driving when they pass a
law also how could you text if not drivind.". They were usually out of context and were the kind of thing that would make sense later, like Bible prophecy.
This one said:
"2 xray $$$$$ beathing 160 breath a min noramal 120. Temp 103 normal 101/102"
I just sort of stared at it.
At the red light I sent back
In retrospect, this was very insenstive but I had no idea what she was trying to communicate. She was off on that particular Wednesday and she had a 5:30 appointment at the Veterinarian that she had to cancel because she had been called into a meeting at work. It was 6 pm so I thought this was about the meeting at work.
She's a CAT scan and X-Ray tech and there had been recent drama at work. There was always drama at her work that's why the make TV dramas about working in hospitals. There's built in drama.
I was convinced the "2 xray $$$$$" part was about work. The rest made no sense what so ever. Maybe it was a misdirected text, meant for someone else?
She texted a more direct and clear message to follow up the prophecy.
"We have to put him down now"
I guessed the meeting at work was canceled and she was at the Vet after all.
I had never wanted a second dog. I wasn't sure had wanted a first either but She had said "I'm turning X and I'm getting a dog". There are worse mid life crises and so we picked out our first Schnauzer, Shadow, from a local breeder. We had her about 18 months when we were planning a vacation to Williamsburg for the July 4th extended weekend.
We needed someone to watch the dog and so we called the breeder again. She said she had no problem watching Shadow and somehow I must have missed the "and we have a litter of puppies" part.
The critical mistake I made was sending my Wife over alone to pick up Shadow from the breeder after vacation. She came back with not one, but two dogs and said "Don't worry, we're not keeping it and it's just for today". The kids, then 11 and 9, fell in love with the puppy as it played with Shadow in the back yard. After an hour they asked the inevitable "Can we keep him?".
When my wife said "Well, it's up to your father" - I knew I had been played.
The kids named him Apollo after the roller coaster Apollo's Chariot which was fresh in their minds from Busch Gardens. I'm sure there were politician-like enthusiastic promises of feeding and walking involved too.
I raced home to pickup Youngest son and after a series of logistical comedy of errors that can only happen in a situation like this, I had him in the car. You would have thought I would just phone him, find out where he was and then pick him up, but no I rushed home like a mad man only to find Shadow there alone. After leaving I decided to phone him and found he was on his way.... home. So I turned around.
I explained we were headed to the Vet and we had to put Apollo down. He was as shocked as I was. We knew he hadn't been eating and he slept the last few days away but put him down? It seemed like a bad dream.
We arrived at the Vet and were directed to an examination room where Apollo and my Wife were. They already had his collar and leash off and he was laying in my wife's arms breathing rapidly.
My wife insisted we take pictures with Apollo. It was very difficult to try and look happy for these pictures and after viewing them I can say without hesitation that outside of my security badge for work where I look like Tony Soprano, they are the worst pictures ever taken of me.
Then she showed me the X-Ray.
His lungs were nearly completely covered in tumors. The Vet was amazed that he could even stand. As an X-Ray tech, she knew all too well what the scan meant.
It was a death sentence and it was only a matter of time before he would simply starve himself.
The next thing I knew we were discussing what we wanted to do with his body. I think she wanted to bury it in the back yard and I told her I would do anything she wanted but .... is that safe? I was thinking through the steps required. Dig a deep hole etc. I would do it but what the hell did I know about burying a dog? They make it look so easy in the movies but they don't have the logistical concerns I have, like, where is the shovel? What happened to the good shovel, did anyone see the shovel? I can't keep anything nice around here, etc.
I knew it would end badly and by the look in my eye, she knew to choose cremation.
Did we want the ashes? She surprised me when she said no but Youngest son suggested we could bury those instead. She didn't want the ashes but wanted the body? I was confused.
We elected to get the ashes.
Apollo turned out to not be the smartest dog but made up for that with hockey goalie quickness. If I thew the two of them a snack, Shadow could snap it out of mid-air but Apollo watched as it bounced off his head and then chased it on the ground. Then he picked it up and ate it. If either one of them were coming back with a bird, it was Apollo. He was the squirrel chasing king. It was mean, but if you wanted them out of the house all you had to say was "where's the squirrel" and Apollo was gone through the doggie door like a shot.
Shadow let him know that this was her house and Apollo lived in Shadow's, well, shadow. She was in charge. If you started petting Apollo, Shadow would edge her way in there. The two of them would mock fight all the time when Apollo was younger. Apollo was Kato to Shadow's Clouseau and attack when she was least expecting it. Apollo would wait for her to squeeze her way through the doggie door and attack her when she was the most vulnerable.
On a walk Apollo would have his ears pinned back and the leash taunt as if racing through the walk while Shadow just enjoyed being out. Apollo enjoyed watching over the back yard from the deck like the sheepdog in the cartoons.
If you opened food of any kind in the kitchen, Shadow was directly under foot but you would have to call for Apollo to keep things fair.
They were a perfect pair.
The Vet asked us to pay the bill before going through with it. I guess that's easier. It was then that we figured out that getting the ashes cost us another $173.
What are you going to say at that point? No?
The Vet assistant gave her a sedative and I was perplexed that they used alcohol before the shot. Why? He fell asleep with his eyes open and tongue hanging out. They gave him the second shot while all three of us were still there. Again, it bothered me that they used alcohol.
The Dr came in to listen for a heartbeat and then just nodded silently.
We headed for the cars and left. Youngest son was with my wife in the van ahead of me and I followed them.
Half way home at a stop sign, I noticed that for the first time in 8 years the singularity of the magnetic sign on the back of the van was true. It says:
"I love my Schnauzer"