Good Girl

The air was cold. Not cold like it should’ve been on the 9th of February, but cold. Sort of crisp, like fall. The whole winter had been pretty mild and the day I’d decided would be her last to suffer, was no different. I was grateful the bitter cold had held off as I stood in her stall, running my hands over her face and neck, fluffy with her winter coat. My horse stood with her head down, her nose pointed into a corner and I wasn’t sure if she even knew I was there. One week had morphed into what felt like a moment that would both never end and end too soon.

It started like colic. She didn’t eat her supper one night and began pawing and stomping. After walking her around for a bit she seemed to have interest in her hay again and started to eat. I was mistakenly relieved. By the next day, it was apparent that she was sick enough to call the vet. After treatment for colic and bloodwork, it was concluded that her liver was failing. Without sending her to the state hospital, two hours and several thousand dollars beyond my reach, there’d be no way to really know what was happening to her. And I had to take into account her age. She was going to be 25 in March. It might’ve been easier to accept if she’d been in poor health along with her advancing age, but up until the week she fell ill, she’d always had the energy and attitude of a much younger horse. I’d read that Appaloosas often lived to be 30. I felt like she was being ripped off. That I was too. But I was also glad it was happening quickly and she’d never have to face the physical breakdown of growing old.

Scribbles

Warm tears streaked over my chilled cheeks, chapping them. I rested my forehead against her neck, my arm draped over her spotted back. My heart ached listening to her grinding her teeth so hard it sent chills up my back—a sign her liver had given up, left her brain to swim in a sea of toxins and robbed her of her mind. Over the last few days, I watched her put her nose into the feed bucket, not to eat but only to go through the motions, and steadily lose weight. My heart began to tear as I tried to see that putting her down was the right thing to do. But, there was no amount of rationalization that was going to make it alright that my friend, my confidant, was losing her life. I’d cried so much that week that it felt like my natural state of being. I breathed in her scent and sobbed. Then, she moved. Her face came out of the corner and her neck bent around me pressing me against her with her ever-soft nose. And my heart broke wide open. Her hug could’ve been just another odd reflex but to me, it was everything. She did it again and was done. Somehow, even with her body failing, she found a way to give me some peace.

Scribbles under saddle
So many memories had battered me as I struggled for that week, and came to terms with the reality of my impending loss.

I remembered the first time I saw her at the boarding stable where I cleaned stalls, pulling the cross-ties tight, the whites of her eyes gleaming. She’d injured herself running through her owner’s fence and had nasty slices on her front and back legs. She was there while her owner repaired the fence. The weeks passed and instead of fearing her, like I probably should’ve, every time I cleaned her stall, I grabbed a soft bristled brush and carefully brushed her between the eyes. I offered her the ends of carrots from my other job in a restaurant kitchen and though it would be months before she would take them from my hand, I felt a connection to her.

Scribbles

I remember how she got her name when friend/co-poop-shoveler called her Scribbles, because “she looks like a kid drew her.”

I remembered the excitement I felt when that same friend offered a place to keep a horse so I could realize a life-long dream. Then, the giddiness when I offered to take Scribbles off her owner’s hands and she agreed.

I remembered the first time I sat on her back, after months of ground work and trust building.

I remembered when she took a carrot from my palm for the first time.

I remembered the way she’d be completely calm as I sat on the built-in feeder in her stall and scratched the place where her rump met her tail. How she’d often back herself gently toward me, suggesting that it was time for another scratch.

I remembered every fight, lie, and betrayal that she helped me through just by standing in her stall while I brushed her.

I remember the debilitating depression and how sometimes, the only thing I looked forward to was barn time.

I remembered how after every ride, she tossed her head excitedly in her stall, waiting for her apple.

I remembered the day she broke my arm, the day I learned the value of not skipping steps just to get to the fun part.

I remembered how nearly every time I came to the stable, America’s “Horse With No Name” would play on the barn radio and it became something of an inside joke with Husband and me.
Most of all, I thought about that soft nicker she gave when I came into the barn and how much of a hole its absence would leave in my heart.

Scribbles

That afternoon, as the sun was looming just over the horizon, I led her from her stall for the last time. She was very weak from not eating all week and we moved slowly through the grass. Her stablemate, Bo, was placed in a pasture near the place that had been chosen for her. They didn’t do well apart and there was hope that if he saw her fall, he would understand. As we approached the spot, she lifted her head high, her nostrils pulling in the chilled February air, and she called out to him as he grazed in the pasture they’d shared. For a few seconds, the light that her eyes always held came back and my breath caught in my throat. Then the burst of energy was gone and her head drooped again.

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It was suggested to me that I might not want to be there for the euthanasia, or that I might at least want to turn around. There was no doubt in my heart that I would hold onto her as long as I could. There was an inner conflict like I’d never experienced before, as I watched the vet put the needle of the catheter into her neck. My heart was screaming “STOP” but my mind held my tongue. I grudgingly handed over the lead rope when the vet said the first injection, a sedative, would cause her to collapse and he didn’t want me to get hurt. I stepped back.
He held her head by her halter as his wife and fellow veterinarian administered the first syringe. While the visual of Scribbles’ eyes rolling back in her head and her body going limp is an image that will likely stay with me forever, I couldn’t have left her. She went to her knees first and as she fell like a marionette whose strings were abruptly cut, the vet dug his boots into the soft ground and maneuvered her to the ground. Her eyes were open but there was no life behind them. I sank to my knees at her head and stroked her face, my tears falling into her hair. The vet administered the unbelievably large syringe of pink liquid and I continued to pet and murmur that I was there and she was a good girl. And then she was gone.

Scribbles headshot
But she was a good girl. She was flighty and clingy to her stablemates. She was too lame to ride sometimes, thanks to poor care from the owner that had her first. She was as sloppy as any pig when kept in her stall. But she was my friend. It wasn’t about her perfection or her usefulness. It was about love.
The vet removed his stethoscope from her ribs and stood to let me have my time with her. While I’m not religious at all, I am spiritual. I imagined her energy leaving her broken body, flowing through me and running through the nearby field.

Scribbles running

As if my feeling was reality, Bo, who had been grazing in the pasture a few feet away, seemingly ignoring us, suddenly jerked his head up. He let out a high-pitched whinny and took off across the pasture. He ran, screaming, from fence to fence. It was several minutes before he stopped, and even then, he was alert, snorting as he looked around.

He didn’t stop looking for her for months and neither did I. I never got used to her stall being empty. Eventually, I didn’t need to come to the barn to help out anymore. And a few months later, when I felt like I could handle it, I returned for her tack.

Scribbles tack

As I entered the barn, I heard the song. “Horse With No Name” was on the radio. It felt like she was letting me know that she was still there for me, even if it was just the result of a radio station with a limited playlist. A tear rolled down my cheek and I couldn’t help but smile.

Scribbles in the barn

~L~

The Princess Says, “Let Go!”

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Tonight I sat on my porch as storms rolled in and somehow I felt youthful. Maybe it was because I sat barefoot on my porch swing or more so that I was able to sit alone and undisturbed. The absence of little ones vying for my attention or a to-do list felt freeing, if just for a few minutes. It made me miss the days when I would drive to my favorite nature preserve and write in my journal. I was alone and free to use my time for more creative tasks. I would walk to a nice spot, sit with my journal and spend an hour spilling out my thoughts on paper. I miss everything about that sentence. I can’t walk without pain or write very long without discomfort. It’s rather sad for me to think about how much has changed in such a short period of time. It seems like a lifetime between now and then, but in reality it has only been a few short years. I wonder, why did my body decide to start attacking itself? I keep hoping it will stop and this pain can also become part of my past.

Tonight I told my husband that I might have been okay with my diagnoses if they would have come several years down the road and not when I have small children. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and I’m not thinking about what I will be asking the doctor. Instead, I am thinking about how hard it will be to lift my infant daughter in to and out of her car seat several times, shuffling all four kids between a sitter and home, walking a distance to my doctor’s office, and I wonder after all is done, will I have the strength to make it through the rest of the day. I don’t have the option of calling in sick as a mom, I have to keep going, even when my body doesn’t want to go. My husband recently asked me, “If you knew you would have all this pain before we had kids, would you have had four?”

I replied, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Isn’t it funny how difficulty often makes us think of hypothetical situations? “If I only knew…..” or “Hindsight is 20/20.” Sure it is but does it matter? Does it help for me to play out future events and allow myself to stress about events that haven’t even occurred? The only thing that can change is now and if I can’t change the past or circumstances that will happen in my future, what am I doing to myself? I must be assembling my own nightmare.

While writing this piece, my daughter called out from her bed, “Mommy! Mommy!” It was difficult to get out of bed and down the hall to her. The RA hurts my joints and the Fibromyalgia hurts the rest. I hobbled down the hall, my head fresh with thoughts of my days sitting in the park and the free feeling I experienced earlier today. She was sitting up in bed and waiting for me. Getting out of my bed was what she anticipated and she expects mommy to come when she calls so I can’t disappoint her just because my body hurts. I sat down on her bed and asked her if she had a bad dream which indeed she had. I kissed her head and started a new dream for her to have, one with a pretty pink princess that dashes away on a pony with a pink mane because pink is my daughter’s favorite color as well as mine. This princess was free of whatever may have caused the bad dream and ready for my daughter to lay down her head and take her on her next big adventure. I was all she needed to forget her nightmare. I underestimated what I can do as a mom and as she closed her eyes, I realized that I didn’t want to be the woman I once was. I too have set off on another adventure and I must redefine my next dream.

I am a mom, a wife, and I am still a writer. I am not famous but I have the privilege of being an author and character in the lives of my children. How lucky am I. Dwelling on the past and worrying about tomorrow robs me of being fully present to write my own future. Yes, it may physically hurt, but it will be beautiful.

~d~

September and the End of Life

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The red horizon was pressing up against the darkening blue sky. Wispy clouds floated along the cool air. Soon the grass would cool beneath bare feet. Now was the best time to experience the crisp air.

He would never experience another day like this. It was beautiful outside his hosptial window. It was September. My swollen eyes gazed drearily out his window and I imagined myself walking in the courtyard below, my bare feet making circles in the grass and my face toward the sky. The sun would warm my face and dry my tears. I would close my eyes and see the red of light and breathe in as I did many times on the hill outside his house.

I spent many summer days playing outside my grandparent’s house.  I would scuffle up and down the hill littered with stones along the edge of their house and down to the small pool my grandfather purchased for my grandmother. I would frequently put my hot feet into the cold water and my body would involuntarily pull back. I would dance my feet lightly on the water’s surface as I took in my surroundings. This was one of my favorite places to be. A creek ran through the back of the property,  while numerous trees, bushes and flowering plants, mostly Mother’s Day gifts to my grandma, lined the edge of a field. Well manicured grass extended in both directions and behind me stood their little house on the very top of a hill. They sold the house the year of my high school graduation and it has since gone into disrepair. Nevertheless, some of the best memories of childhood still reside there.

I couldn’t return there or escape to the space below so I stared across the sprawling garden and over to the stained glass windows of the chapel. I closed my eyes and wondered if I should enter and fall to my knees before the alter. I would kneel until my knees hurt and my back ached if God would just take this day away. How could something so terrible happen on a day a vision to the contrary? Could I get him away from his bed and out to the garden below? I wanted the sun to warm his face. I wanted him to feel the grass and experience more than the space between the hospital walls before he would no longer have the opportunity.  Maybe I could ask to move his bed next to the window. With multiple lines feeding his veins I knew it was impossible. His fingers were turning blue and his blood pressure was slowly dropping.

I had never before experienced the anticipation of death. It was awful and cruel. I told myself to be brave. I would stand at the window or wander down the hall in a futile attempt to collect myself and accept what was happening. I tried to fool myself into thinking I had been through plenty of hardship and could be an example of strength. My eyes would flit around the shocked faces surrounding his bed and I accepted the weakness we all shared. Every face was distraught and terrified. Many could hardly speak. I did not want to accept it but I pleaded for the day to end. My mind looped, “I can’t do this.” Then I would try to rationalize my thoughts so I could quickly return to his bedside. We had spent several hours watching him try desperately to acknowledge our presence despite his own agony. We knew the inevitable finish to this normally beautiful day was creeping closer with every tick of the clock. He stopped trying to speak and stopped opening his eyes. The clock grew louder and it became difficult to ignore amidst the deafening silence.

The awareness of death was strange knowledge. My grandmother paced the halls and nervously fidgeted. She could hardly stand to stay in the room and watch over sixty years of her life slip away. We prayed,  shared stories, and told him we would be okay. My mom tenderly cared for her father and only briefly left his side. She undoubtedly suppressed her own fear to make sure his hands were held, he was comfortable, and aware of her love. I wondered how someone who always took up such a large part of my life could be reduced to a small space aloft a hospital bed. We sat in a circle surrounding his bed, holding his hands, touching his feet, and crying until my mom raised her head from his chest and sad, “He’s gone.” It felt like we all exhaled simultaneously in disbelief and our breath lingered stale in the room. It was over and so was more than eighty years of a meaningful life. A part of me also died with my grandfather as happens with all those who share our lives. It was sad to think that his memories, experiences, and wisdom just died with him.

We stayed for an hour. My grandma started calling loved ones shortly after his passing. Her busy hands didn’t make a happy heart but it helped her deal with her new reality. I kissed his forehead and held his hand while he was still warm. His head was moist from fever. I told him that I loved him and hoped he would somehow hear me. This was one of the most defining losses in my life.

I have lost others I have loved. My uncle (my mom’s brother) died unexpectedly three years prior as did my paternal grandfather, but I was very close to he and my grandmother. I spent a great deal of time at their home and it became a place of refuge for me. That comfort was now broken and so was my grandma.

The day he died was gorgeous. I often try to imagine him rising above his bed and lingering in that courtyard outside his window. Maybe he went into the chapel and prayed for all of us still lingering beside his broken body. Maybe in our sadness he was freed and as joyful as he had ever been. Death is an awful truth none of us can avoid or understand until we are looking out to the broken faces surrounding our own deathbed. Maybe I too will be released from life in a hospital bed like my grandpa or at home like my uncle but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is who will surround us when it is time. I would be so blessed to pass like my grandpa. It was awful for those who joined him on his last day but he did not face it alone. The love of family gathered with him on that beautiful September day and remained to his earthly end. My grandma recently told me that she is starting to forget things about my grandpa. I told her it is more important to remember how he made her feel. It is hard to forget the warmth of a loved one.

This was the first time I had been at another’s passing. On the drive to the hospital I had no doubt what I would witness and I knew it would change me. I returned home that night eager to embrace my family. I had an earnest desire to enjoy those I love because my time with my grandpa wasn’t long enough. I wanted to keep everyone within my reach but it didn’t last. I also began to forget and a part of me has yet to accept. It will eventually sink in and I will inescapably be in the throes of grief. For now, I am reminding myself of how fast a life ended on that September day. Today I try to enjoy what time I have been given. I am sure the morning he walked into the hospital for surgery, he didn’t realize he would never leave. He had come in the doors and felt the last breeze on his face, slept his last night in his own bed, and took the last steps to a completion of life. He was a faithful man and I know there was more for him beyond his death but he didn’t want to die. Most people don’t. There is always more to do and another life to touch. There are more gorgeous days to see and grass begging to be tread upon. It is time for me to stop looking out the window and take in life.

*d*