This has taken a long, long time to commit to words. For me, writing has a way of making things real, and I’m not certain I’m ready to make this real yet.
I wrote those last two sentences over a month ago. I haven’t been able to even look at it since. Let’s try again tonight.
That night, after we went to his spots, the places in our neighborhood he invariably insisted on checking, even if only to make sure they were still there, and that no one had paved or dug up or peed on or built over them, we rolled back home. Dexter was as happy as I’d seen him in weeks, sprawled out in his wagon, smiling, smelling the air, looking at his world pass by. In the hallway, I helped him out of the wagon, and he smiled as he walked from the elevator through our door on his own … no collar, no leash, just him, coming home. He took a good drink of the Gatorade that replaced his water these days, and waddled over to the couch, waiting for me to help him up. It was time for a Canine Concert. [NB: trademark pending, so there!]
As a recovering musician for the last ten years or so, I have been afforded the opportunity to find my core audience, which apparently consists almost exclusively of dogs … usually, but not entirely, of dogs that I happen to own … you know, the ones that rely on me for things like food, shelter, and affection. Dogs in this situation tend to be a very attentive audience, particularly when there happens to be a little pile of liver treats nearby. Dexter and Sophie are no exceptions.
Dexter didn’t particularly care for TSOL’s Walk Away or my versions of Rocket Man or Purple Rain, but he liked Raglan Road, Chelsea Hotel #2, My Last Two Weeks, and Sunshine on Leith. More than anything, though, he would lift his head and smile when he heard The Broad Majestic Shannon and Gliding Like a Whale. We broke out the keyboard and guitar, and for the next couple hours, went through some tear-stained versions of his favorites. He found Dexterado, my version of Desperado, as humorous as always.
By the end of the set, M and Dex were dozing, and Sophie had long since abandoned the living room. She never cared for Dexterado. I put the instruments away, and M woke up and asked if I could take her place with Dex. I stretched out and he put his paw over my shoulder. I knew it was probably the last time he’d be able to do that. All those positive signs we saw earlier were fading. He fell asleep curled up on my chest.
A couple hours later, the bloating was building back up in his belly, and the pressure on his bladder made Dexter pee as he slept. I gently rolled him head over tail … thanks, jiu-jitsu … and put us on the other, much more dry, end of the couch, softly explaining to a still sleeping dog that it was OK, and that everything would be just fine, and that we’d take care of that tomorrow.
The next morning I woke up early, made coffee, and carried Dexter into the bedroom to lay next to M. He plopped his head onto her pillow and melted into the mattress. When they woke up, Dexter crawled to the edge of the bed, and I carried him to the balcony, where he squinted his eyes and bathed in the sunshine.
What are we doing today?
Taking Dexter to the lake, and then the vet, I want to check his weight, and maybe check his blood, too.
We walked Sophie, got his wagon ready, and rolled out the door, into the car, and off to the lake. Sophie would have to hold down the fort at home.
It was quiet, and parking was a breeze, like there was a spot waiting there just for us. We unloaded the wagon, helped Dex in, and rolled over to the beach at 31st Street. He was silent, mostly, just smelling the air, soaking in the sun, and listening to the birds, barely noticing M and I whisper back and forth, desperate not to disturb him with our sensational hopes of everything just getting better and back to normal. We rolled out to the end of the pier, stopped, and sat down on the concrete. This was his place. This was where he needed to be.
I can’t tell you how long we were there, but I can say that I wish we still were.
We eventually rolled back along the lakefront, close enough so the mist from the waves splashed him in the face. He approved. In his stronger days, he liked to dodge the water that would splash up as the waves crashed into the rocks on the shore. We rolled up a grassy hill and I helped him out of the wagon and onto the grass. The waves were gently falling, the wind was blowing, the sun was shining, and here was Dexter, stretched out on the grass, eyes shut, breathing it all in.
What should we do now?
We should go to the vet and check his weight., maybe do his blood.
I don’t know if I can do that to him any more.
Let’s take him in and check his weight, and talk to Dr. Katz about what to do next.
As I loaded him back into the wagon, his look told me what I didn’t want to hear:
Daddy, I’m tired.
I knew what was next, it started a few months ago with Daddy, I’m sick, and then in the hospital with Daddy, I want to come home, right before he chewed his catheter out. When we got to the car, I put him in the back seat, and he finished it:
Daddy, I need help.
Why he chose that term, I’ll never know. I’m not a father, and by most people’s standards, should never be one. But that’s what he said, because he was my boy, I guess. Painfully, I knew what help he needed. I pulled up some fresh grass from the hill and put it in the mesh baggie we left with him whenever he was in the hospital. Off we went, purposefully taking the longest and most traffic heavy route.
We arrived, too soon. He walked in on his own. We checked his weight. Everyone at Gold Coast started to tear up. Some had to leave. God bless them all. He walked into the treatment room on his own. No leash. No help from me, other than to steady his hips as he raised his head up as best he could and marched through the door. Dignity, even then. We put his pillow down, covered with his “Arnold’s” hoodie and the shirt he slept with, and he plopped down onto it and closed his eyes to rest. We spread the grass from the hill around his head, his favorite smell by far. He took a deep breath.
We sang to him. The Broad Majestic Shannon and Gliding Like a Whale … his favorites. I don’t even know how many times. Doctor Katz came in, as teary eyed as the rest of us. It was time to help him.
On Bastille Day, July 14th, 2011, Dexter Lama, a three time cancer survivor, gained peace after 15 years of making the world a better place. He passed in the arms of his family and surrounded by his friends. He is survived by his constant and faithful companion, the brave Sophie Two Toes, who has known nothing in her life but him, and M and G, who were blessed to have him, and whose lives he saved more than once. We will never be the same.