August 16, 2016

Learning to fly

I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know when. Probably sooner rather than later. Maybe before the end of the year. Possibly before the end of the summer.

Before the end of the summer.

That was the nagging feeling I had that I could never voice to anyone or even really acknowledge myself. June has not been kind to my family over the last few years, and when she had a rough day early that month, deep down, I wondered if the curse would continue. But medication and diet changes helped almost immediately. Days later, she was a completely different dog. Maybe those nagging feelings about the summer were just my anxiety running wild.

But, as it turns out, Gabby would not survive the summer. Sometime on July 17th, between 10:30 am and 12:15 pm, she left this world. I'm writing this not to get into the details of our lives together — I've done that, will probably do it again, and if you know me at all you know we were inseparable. I really just wanted to document our last few days together and apart. My parents often make fun of me because I blog or write or post to social media all the time, but because I've been doing that for the last 12 years or so, I have so many memories, ideas, and pictures documented. I just need to add this one to my collection to give my brain a little break. It seems important to remember, but it's exhausting to relive.

I've been working a lot this summer. My dad has been sick and working a lot, my mom has been sick, Gabby has been sick, I've been sick. For a while there, I spent my days running errands, cleaning, and cooking for the dogs and my parents and my nights working until five, six, seven in the morning. I regret that now, but I'm trying not to go down that path of what I could have done better during her last month on earth, because it's not something I can change. That said, I can't help but be sad about the fact that after July 20th, I had plans to cut back on my workload. Some of those reasons were selfish, but one of them was to spend more time with Gabby during the day. The fact that I never got that opportunity will probably always nag at me a little.

Friday, the 15th, was a busy day. I had to take my mom to the doctor, came home for a bit, and left again to buy groceries. That night I worked until about 4:30 or 5:00 am, but the website I was using for work was down for maintenance, so I decided to call it a night. As soon as I got into bed, Gabby got up and began looking for a more comfortable spot in the bedroom floor. I watched an episode of I Love Lucy, sent a few emails, and finally got up and put her back in the bed with me, because I can't bear not to sleep with her. If she's not in bed with me, I wake up countless times through the night in a panic. I can't remember when that started. I'd like to say it was around the time of her train incident, but I know it was before then because the night before that incident she didn't sleep with me, and I couldn't sleep well. And because she didn't sleep with me, she ended up being hit by a train. Another little regret I'll always have.

Around 6:00 a.m, I set my alarm for noon on Saturday because I had so much to do. I currently sleep in two twin beds pushed together, and because of the headboards, there's a bit of a gap between them. Gabby and I always slept on one, and the other served as a catchall for clothing, laptops, medication, toiletries, books, and whatever else I brought to bed at night. When I put her on the bed that morning, she immediately went for the center of the head of the bed where I always slept and put her head on one of my pillows, just like she used to before we moved back in with my parents and everything went a little crazy. She hadn't done that in years.

There was nowhere else for me to go besides on top of that gaping hole between the beds, but I was so tired and so happy that she wanted to snuggle up that I didn't care. Before I could even figure out a comfortable position, Gabby wriggled herself next to me, her head in the crook of my arm, and she was sleeping more peacefully than she has in months. I didn't have the heart to move her, so I didn't. And despite the fact that I was probably in the most uncomfortable position I could come up with, neither of us moved for the next six hours. I had amazing dreams.  It was the best sleep I'd had in months.

At noon, I leaned over her to turn off the alarm, and she flipped over to face me, began pawing at me and acting silly, begging for attention. I petted and played with her for a while before we both got up. I tried to spend a little time in bed with her every morning. Some days she was goofy and wanted to play; some days she was tired and wanted to go back to sleep. Some days one of us was in a hurry to get somewhere, but that morning was good. It was fun. Our last morning together.

On Saturday, I had to run errands and then I had plans to work the rest of the day. I was trying my best to get everything caught up so I cold take some time off the next week. Something kept me from getting much work done, though. When I went to run errands, I knew my mom needed things at the store, and she and my dad were at the pool. Maddie (my parents' dog) and Sadie wanted to go with me to the pool, and I was trying to sneak out without Gabby (she was a pain to take outside when you had other things to do out there), but she caught me, and I took her, too. She ended up swimming for a while, one of her favorite things to do. She got in, got out, rolled in the grass, and repeated those steps. It was like she knew it was the last time she'd get to do it.

I went on to the store, came home and fixed the dogs their food. Chicken thighs and couscous for Gabby. I gave her a little extra that night because she seemed to be doing well. Then I decided to go swimming myself. I sat in the pool and read for a little while, and when I came home she greeted me, sitting at the door to the porch. She knew where I was...that dog always, somehow, knew where I was. Even when I was traveling to another state, she'd start misbehaving about a week before I even started packing because she knew I was leaving. Every single time. That night, when I got back from the pool, I felt a little guilty for not taking her, because I know she wanted to go. My mom said she sat pitifully at the door, scratching on it occasionally. That's another little regret I'll always have: missing our last potential swim together.

I made tacos that night. When she was little, I taught Gabby how to "give me five" in exchange for a treat. Being the stubborn genius that she was, she taught herself how "give me five" nonstop while I ate until she earned herself some table scraps. Most nights she won, though I'd stopped over the last few weeks because she was on such a detailed diet. I gave in that night and gave her some taco meat. That's one thing I definitely will not ever regret. Both of my dogs — even sweet little Sadie who rarely begs for food — love tacos as much as I do.

My mom's been begging me to watch this movie with her for years, so that night, instead of coming straight up to work, I watched it. Gabby rested her head on my foot during most of it. There was a point when Sadie walked by her, and Gabby got up and began kissing her. Gabby mostly ignored the other dogs in the house, but now I wonder if she was telling her little sister goodbye. Sadie ate up the attention as she did any time Gabby paid her any. At one point Gabby began begging for food again, so I gave her a leftover flour taco shell. Her teeth weren't that great anymore, but she sat and nibbled at it for a while. She didn't leave my side that night. I joked that she was annoying me. My mom joked that she seemed so much more like her old self than she had in the last month or so. I remember trimming some tangled hair off her chest that night — I'd been meaning to do it for a few weeks. I commented that I was going to bathe all three dogs the next week. Then she and the other dogs went outside. She kept up with them in the backyard, even running and barking into the darkness with them, despite being nearly blind and deaf. Sadie always stayed with her if they strayed too far from the house.

We came back, and I went into the kitchen to clean up dishes. At some point, Gabby went flying through the room. I ran after her, a habit since her accident four years ago, but she was not having any kind of medical issue. She'd gone into the pantry, opened a box of dog treats, and got one. She was just trying to sneak by without me seeing her. Typical Gabby behavior. I lovingly called her "big dummy," one of her many nicknames. My mom joked again about how lively she was that night, and then, just like any other night, I carried her up to the second floor where I currently reside. I complained about carrying her up every night when I knew darn good and well she could make it on her own, but the truth is I would have carried her everywhere for the rest of my life if I had to.

I put her on my bed and sat down at my desk to work. I decided I didn't want to be up late or leave her alone in the bed for long, so I was only going to do write two blog posts just to cut back my to-do list for the next day. Before I could finish the first one, she was restless. She moved over to the bed we don't usually sleep on and made herself a little nest on a pile of clothes. The corner of that bed practically touches my desk chair while I'm sitting at it, so I wondered if she was just trying to get near me. I petted her a little bit. She slept there for a hour or so while I completed those two blog posts. When I finished, I got up and went to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and she got up and followed.

When I was finished, I put her back up on the bed and petted her for a while, hoping to calm her down. This had been our routine for a while lately and one reason I've been sleep-deprived since sometime in May. I'd work half the night, finally get into bed just before the sun came up, and then she'd get restless. Sometimes she wasn't feeling well. Sometimes she need to go out. Sometimes she was hot or cold or just wanted me in the bed with her. Much of the time it took at least an hour to let her get it out of her system. So, that night, I assumed it would be like the others. I sat in bed and sent an email or two and started watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix, something I've been wanting to do. She slept pretty soundly in the floor during the show, so when the first episode ended, I got up and put her back in the bed.

A while later, she woke me up, flying out of the bed. She wanted to sleep by the bathroom door. I wanted to let her, but I couldn't, so I put her back in the bed. We continued this battle for a while. I finally gave up. When I say I am sleep-deprived, you have no idea how little I'm exaggerating. With all I've had on my plate lately, plus dealing with her insomnia, I was lucky to average two-three hours a night for the last few months, and those two-three hours were not necessarily uninterrupted. There was rarely time for a nap. I kind of trained my body to be okay for an entire day after dozing off in my desk chair for 15 minutes. I can't say it's been the healthiest summer. The lack of sleep finally caught up with me that morning. At first, I was angry about that, that I couldn't stay awake while my best friend was dying, but now I think it was a blessing of sorts.

Sometime, I think around 8 am that Sunday morning, I jolted awake and Gabby was standing by my bed, staring at me. There was something eerie about it. It was dark in the room, and she couldn't see well in full daylight, much less in a dark room. She appeared to be standing up straighter than she has been able to since the train incident. I guess I could have imagined that in my groggy state. Either way, I reached down and found the strength to pull her up on the bed with one arm. The minute she hit the mattress, she put her head on my pillow. I fell back asleep, and 20 minutes later she went flying out of the bed again. I think that's when I officially gave up. I decided we'd probably be making a trip to the vet, either the emergency vet that day or our regular vet on Monday, to see why she was not sleeping well. But at that moment, all I could think about was sleep. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I could not go another moment without sleep. The stressful summer had officially caught up with me. I now think that happened for a reason.

A couple of hours later I woke up. It was 10-something. I was still so exhausted that I couldn't think straight. The only actual thought I remember having was "Where is Gabby?" I surveyed the mostly dark room. She had made herself a little bed near my bedroom door out of a blanket she'd dug out of my dirty clothes pile.  She looked peaceful...sound asleep, breathing okay, relaxed, calm. I thought about getting up and putting her back in the bed, but I was so tired, it was like I could not physically move my arms and legs, and before I knew it I was back asleep. Again, I think that happened for a reason.

My alarm went off at noon. I'd been sleeping so well, and I remembered Gabby on the blanket in the floor. I hit the snooze button. Just 10 more minutes of sleep before I started another long day of going nonstop. When the second alarm went off, I sat up, and my first thought was that Gabby was dead. I kept trying to tell myself that it was just anxiety putting crazy thoughts into my head, but I knew. Even though I had no indication that it would be true, deep down, somehow, I knew. I didn't get up, but I glanced over to the blanket where she was sleeping. She wasn't there but close by. At some point in that short time since I'd last checked on her, she'd gotten up or rolled over on her side, her back against the wall between my bedroom and closet doors. It was a position she slept in when she was totally relaxed and comfortable. I couldn't see her face, because my floor fan was blocking it. I told myself she was just resting peacefully.

I pulled up my laptop, checked my email, checked social media. I remember reading about the officers who had been shot overnight in Louisiana. I read about a little dog at the shelter who needed funds to help with medical care and pledged a donation because it had Gabby's coloring. I debated going back to bed, but I knew I had things to do that day. So much to do. And somehow I knew I needed to go face one of the most horrible things that has ever happened to me. I still can't tell you how I knew.

Slowly, I pulled myself to the foot of the bed. I remember those few moments so vividly. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, even though I bet it took two minutes or less. When I got to the edge of the bed, I could finally see her face. I started to shake as I began to comprehend it all. I got up and went to her just to be sure, the room still fairly dark, but I knew what I would find. I'd known before I even woke up what I would find. I reached down to pet her and I remember saying, "Oh, sweet girl." I remember thinking she hadn't been gone long at all. She was still warm. And the strangest thing of all was the overwhelming sense of peace and calm that washed over me.

I'd always imagined myself having some kind of meltdown when the time finally came, but I felt so peaceful. I felt peaceful for her and for me. I spent every waking moment worrying about that dog from the day I got her, when she was six weeks old. She was sick when I got her and had medical issues like you wouldn't believe throughout her life. It got worse after the train incident. It became even worse over the last four or five months when her health began to decline, and her age really started to show. I constantly worried about whether I was making the right decisions. Given her medical history, I'd decided a couple of years ago that I was going to let her age as naturally as possible with as little medical intervention as possible (as long as she was comfortable and pain-free). That was a tough decision. That also required a lot of extra effort and care on my part, especially in these last few months, but it was worth it. Every last minute of it was worth it, and I'd do it all over again if I had to. If I could. Worrying about her became such a second nature to me that I didn't even realize how much I worried until that moment when I saw that she was no longer with me. It was like the world slowed down. The weight of the worry was gone. She was no longer sick or old. Life as I'd known it for the last 13 years changed at that moment.

After I found her that morning, I went to my bathroom and sat down to kind of catch my breath for a minute. I swore I heard my parents talking downstairs, and that was a relief because I didn't think I had the energy to go find and tell them. Of course, when I actually went out of the bedroom, I looked down from the balcony, and neither one of them were in the den. I yelled for my mom, who was in the kitchen. When I told her, she began to cry and said, "But she was doing so well last night."  I told her things had taken a turn when we came upstairs.

My dad was at the pool, and my mom went out on the porch to tell him. I remember seeing him rise up out of the water and hit the cement with his hand. The rest of that day is a bit of a blur. I remember calling the local animal cremation place but not being able to get in touch with anyone. I found another one, though, thanks to Facebook. My parents were kind of enough to offer to pay for it. I gave the guy the third degree on the phone, and I'm not sure he appreciated it. My mom called my aunt to see if she had a large box. My dad met with the man who came to get her body for cremation. I do remember being in a hurry. I looked high and low for the beach towel I accidentally stole from Tom Petty's house because Gabby was sleeping on it in the car when we last left there, and I didn't realize it until I was a couple of hours away. I decided it should be cremated with her, even though that was a really nice towel. She loved that place, and I know going there was one of her favorite things. I'd never seen that dog happier than when it was just me and her there, hanging out by the pool, the beach, or in the bedroom.

Thank God my dad handled most of the gruesome work that day. I know it was tough on him as they were close too. He was the only other person who could really take care of her with all of her special needs which is why I've had to limit my traveling in recent years. Not to go into too much detail, but I wanted her body out of there quickly so that I didn't have too many memories of it. One thing that made me sad was that I was not with her when she died, but after talking it out with my mom, I'm sort of glad I didn't witness it. I truly believe that is why I was so tired that morning and one reason why she wouldn't stay in the bed. Neither of us wanted me to witness it. I didn't want that to be my last memory.

I slept in my parents' living room for three weeks afterwards. Moved my office down there and everything. I finally moved back to my bedroom last week (tomorrow marks the one-month anniversary), but it's been hard. I put a bookcase over the spot where she died. My dad helped me clean up the bedroom and change some of the lighting around so it would feel a little different. As I cleaned, I realized just how much time I'd been dedicating to her in recent months and maybe even the last few years, because I completely neglected my own needs in a way. I'm currently working on getting used to that.

I still expect to see her at my door or wake up and find her snuggled up to me in bed. I still wake up in a panic sometimes, wondering where she is. When I hear about some special dog food, my first thought is I wonder if that would be okay for Gabby? Sadie sleeps with me now (she'd been sleeping with my parents since Gabby's train incident), and that helps. Having her and Maddie — my parents' dog — around helps a lot. I've gone broke spoiling them with toys and treats. It's like I can't get enough of them. 

When I first realized Gabby was most likely reaching the end of her life, I got depressed. I remember walking down the dog food aisle at Tractor Supply Co. and getting upset. I remember seeing countless social media posts about dogs in need of adoption or rescue and not wanting to see them anymore. I couldn't read or watch anything about dogs. And I've been such a dog person for most of my life that I feared I'd never be interested in them again when she was gone, but it's actually been the opposite. I really can't get enough. I feel so grateful that I had the experience I had with Gabby. She was with me my entire adult life so far, and she moved and traveled with me just about everywhere I went. She taught me so many lessons, and I feel like she made me a more selfless person, because she needed me. She liked to pretend like she didn't need another soul, but she needed me more than anyone ever has. Anyone else would have given up on her 100 accidents and diseases and allergies and pig-headed moves ago. But I needed her just as much, if not more. I miss that bond.

Poor little Sadie has taken a backseat to Gabby over the last couple of years. I thank God that she's so laid back and doesn't mind as much as another dog might. Don't get me wrong - when Gabby became paralyzed, Sadie became my hiking buddy. She got to hang out with me outside (Gabby was not an outside kind of girl), and she gets plenty of attention. But she also loved Gabby so much, and it's almost like we had an understanding. And she, too, was so depressed the day Gabby died. She still isn't quite herself, but we're spending a lot more time together. She's a little cat-like in that she doesn't like to be the center of attention all the time, and that's difficult to get used to when Gabby wanted to be my main focus (and usually was) but we'll each find our way. As a matter of fact, now that I have more time to start focusing on renovating my house, it may soon just be her and me — and the chickens. New beginnings and all that.

This is one of my favorite pictures — it sums up their relationship perfectly.

Gabby: November 2002 - July 2016.

Rest in peace, sweet girl.

March 29, 2012

Where no Sarah has ever gone before...

Yes, that's right. Today, I ventured into an AutoZone.

I sent a text to my little car-savvy cousin today to ask him if he would be a kind soul and change my oil when he got off work. I'd planned to take it somewhere this week, but I thought I'd save myself a little cash. He wrote back and said he would if I'd go and buy the necessary items. I said "sure" and asked him what those necessary items were, but he was at work and didn't respond right away.

I happened to be driving by an AutoZone right after this exchange took place, so I pulled in, determined to figure this out on my own. I grabbed my owner's manual and started to flip through it, but that book contains lots of words and diagrams, most of which I do not understand.

I then developed a second plan: go inside and head towards the oil aisle.

I've actually been in an AutoZone before, but I was there to interview the manager when I was playing journalism girl, and honestly, after looking around to see if any of the employees were hot, I didn't take in the rest of my surroundings.

Turns out, the whole place looks like "the oil aisle."

Some faceless individual from some other area of the store asked how I was, and I shouted back to them that I was fine, but they didn't offer any help. In an effort to look like I belonged, I took the owner's manual out of my purse and started flipping through it as I walked around. I swear to you every bottle in that store has the word "oil" on it. And it's all so orange. Like everything in the store is orange. And not a pretty pumpkin orange; it's more like a garish red-orange. 

Finally, a very charming, nice-looking young man approached me and said, "Is there anything I can help you with?"

In an effort to keep this PG-13, I'll spare you what I was really thinking. Instead I blurted out, "My cousin told me he'd change my oil if I bought all of the supplies. Could you possibly tell me what those supplies might be called?"

"Oh," he said, as if he was suddenly bored with me. "Hey, Jen. We've got an oil change out here!" he shouted.

Jen? There are other women in this store? Maybe I can ask her why everything is so orange, I thought. But then "Jen" appeared from behind some of those orange shelves and started typing on a computer. She didn't even look at me, and I'm not totally sure she was a she.

"Year," she grunted.

"Excuse me?"

"What year is your car?"

"Ohhhh!" I put on a big smile and told her the year in my best fake, singsong voice.

She typed it in and then she glanced up at me. I smiled again, waiting for her to ask me something else.

"Well?" she asked after an awkward bit of silence. 

"Well what?"

"Make and model?"

I wanted to bark at him/her that I was not a mind-reader, but instead I told her what kind of car I drive.

"EX, LX, DX, or SE?" she asked. 

"Come again?" 

"Is your car an EX, LX, DX or SE?"

"Um, uh, I..." I looked out at the parking lot, half hoping the car would send me some vibes because apparently, when it comes to car info, Jen don't play. I felt like I was back in school and some professor was asking me a question about some book that I hadn't even opened and didn't plan to because I could get a higher buy-back rate at the school bookstore. .

I looked around for the cute guy, but he had disappeared to help someone else. Finally, I pulled my owners manual back out of my purse. The answer wasn't on the cover, so I started to flip through it. I had no idea what I was looking for.

 Needless to say, Jen sighed extremely loudly. Again.

"Let's try it this way," she said. "Two-door or four?"

Oh, oh, I know this one!  "Four!" I practically shouted.

Jen continued to type, and I stared at her name-tag, wondering if Jen was short for, like I don't know, Jason or Jeffrey. Finally, she said, "Do you want the [something something something?] You get all that stuff up there for [some ridiculous price.]"  Seriously, I only caught every other word of whatever she was babbling on about.

I looked to where she was pointing. There were big cellophane-wrapped packages that looked like Easter baskets for mechanics. "How much is it again?" She repeated the crazy price that was more or less twice what I've ever paid to have my oil changed at a place that is not my cousin's house. "No, I just need to stick with the basics." 

"You don't want it?"


"Okay, do you want [some other special offer with some car-related words I didn't understand?]"

"How much is that?"

She pulled out a sales paper and pointed it all out to me, using pictures like I'd just rode in on a small yellow bus instead of my car.As I followed her fingers, I was thinking that it seemed like a lot of oil, but the price seemed okay after some very odd math I did in my head that included the sign at the gas station I'd just passed, divided by how much I generally pay to have my oil changed, times a little fact about oil that I remembered from a conversation that I'd had with my dad recently. Or something along those lines....

"Sure, I'll take that one."

"Really? You will?" Grumpy Jen suddenly transformed into relieved Jen. Either she was happy to be nearing the end of our transaction, or AutoZone pays one hell of a commission. Then she asked, "Do you know what weight you need?"

"What what?"


I was just about to explain to Jen that I'd cut back on my low-carb eating plan this week, but I did plan to get right back to it after my trip to the mountains, so she could just mind her own business, when she sighed again and said "never mind" and started tapping on the keyboard.

"I'll just go right back there and get it all for you. But before I do, let me just tell you that you get $2 off a [such and such piece of car equipment thingy.]"

"I don't think I need that. But thanks."

"Are you sure? I'll just get you one anyway, and you can decide when you check out.  It's the time of year when..."

"I said no, bitch!"  (Okay, I didn't really say that, but I did insist that I didn't need one.)  

As she was gathering up all of these things, my cousin finally responded to my text. "You just need oil and a filter." And that was exactly what I had finally convinced my old pal Jen that I needed, so I was pretty proud of myself.

Until Jen came back with enough oil in her arms to solve some kind of national crisis. Mr. President, you say you can't fix gas prices, but I'm betting Jen at AutoZone can.

"Do I need all that?" I asked her.

"That's what comes in the deal."

Fine, I thought. I've got several out-of-state trips planned over the next few months, so I'll just be able to change my oil multiple times. Never mind the fact that my standard rule of thumb is to change it every 15,000 miles or when my dad looks under my hood and starts screaming about when the last time I got my oil changed was - whichever comes first.

After another little struggle about whether or not I wanted that $2 off item, and some cockamamie story about how I really needed some, I want to say it was engine cleaner (um, yeah, the engine is on the inside; no one cares if it's clean, but I might pay you to come vacuum out the floorboards if you are that desperate...), Jen asks me one last stupid question.

"Do you have an AutoZone membership?"

Finally, I had had enough. I dropped my fake valley girl act and said as matter-of-factually as possible, "Jen, do you really think I have an AutoZone membership?" She started to explain to me what it was and why I needed one, but I cut her off. "Jen, I have never shopped in this store before, and if I play my cards right, I will never shop here again, so please, shut up about the damn membership, put my gazillion gallons of oil in a bag and let me go back to my car that is either an EX, LX, DX or SE." 

Jen did as she was told, but not without a few haughty comments about car maintenance that meant absolutely nothing to me.

So, that was my trip to AutoZone. I'm sure it's a lovely place if you're into that kind of thing, but I prefer to pay people to do things like touch parts of my car that are not the door handle or steering wheel. Looks like I'm going to have to step up my bird diseases articles output. Or find a husband before I run out of all the oil I bought today.