24, July 2022
I will confess what you already know. We humans are fickle. When Summer comes we wish for Winter. When Winter arrives we long for Summer again.
A client asks me “how much longer will this last?” Their dog is barely a year, goofy-grinned with a taste for pillows and hands. Amok and adorable, she reminds me of you at her age, Stella, boundless and more sure-footed than her gangly body would suggest. I answer my client who is far into a future he’s created, one that may never come. I think of you and wish I could say to him: Look at this beautiful being in front of you, running, leaping, healthy, the promise incarnate of more years ahead than the months behind. I wonder why he wants to speed up time. I wonder if he will know what he’s missed once this season has passed. The dog bumbles into me and sniffs my ear and then takes it in her mouth. I think of you, Stella, how you used to bobble and dance, awkward jester. I remember how you used to leap with abandon into the water and dive for sinking toys. I remember our hikes up the Arizona red rocks, not all that long ago, just two years. So much has changed, so many seasons.
And then I remember, I am just like my client. Look at this beautiful being in front of you, I think as I walk to my car. You are still here now, Stella. Why am I stuck, melancholy over what you no longer are? You are deep into the Winter of your life. Why am I longing for Summer when this Season of Now is so beautiful even as it is sometimes brutal. I think these things and head for home because I can’t wait to see you again.
Dear Stella, you are old and you are sick. I will share this letter with our friends and clients. We humans find it easy to share with each other all that is ordered and optimistic (not to mention properly filtered). But the lotus flower grows from mud. It is beautiful and oderly because it is made from mud and water and sunlight. Our life now, Stella, is no less beautiful because this season has grown harsh, because the flower has become frayed and faded. You were born of the earth and water. Your very name means starlight.
Now. All that has come before, Stella, has led us to Now. You and me here, now. I carry you to the door. You walk the short distance to the grass to pee. You fall. I lie beside you because it’s shady and there is a breeze. We have never done this before, lie in the grass together. You are tired. I am tired. We rest. It’s beautiful. As I carry you inside I catch our reflection in the glass door. You are heavy. You are relaxed, confident in my arms. You trust me. All that has come before, all that trust we built together, here it is now. I do not cry. My heart is heavy but it lifts a little because this moment is also beautiful.
The seizures are hard on you. The illness in your brain seems to confuse you at times. The medicine is hard on you, too. We will try one more additional medication to ease this journey a bit. Now is when the self-doubt wells up. You crane your head over to the ball not far from you. You roll it toward me. We roll it back and forth. This was one of our first conversations and I’m grateful to revisit it now. Thank you, Stella.
I can’t sleep now. It is 1:47 a.m. You are panting and crying. I don’t know why. I crawl out of bed and sit with you. It helps. I give you a pill so you can sleep. It does not help. Two hours pass. I take you out to pee. That was it. We sleep the rest of the night. I’m sorry. I know better, now.
You are ready to eat. Always. I prepare your food and set it down. I help you to the bowl. I won’t feed you lying down; it feels too much like surrender. You used to guard your food from me. You were so young, a puppy. I remember how ridiculous you looked baring your tiny little teeth. This is the same bowl. We’ve had it all these years. Now I see you begin to teeter. I right your body and set your feet in place all while you continue to eat. It is so hard seeing you like this. And yet, I love that we can do this because we need to. I love who we became together. Your legs slip out from under you and I lift you to your bowl again. This is how it is now.
Now I am my client again. How much longer will this last, I wonder. People say you will tell me when it’s time. I say that’s bullshit. It’s not your responsibility. It’s mine. So, now I wonder about the new medication. Can we keep going, Stella? Can we lift and stand and walk and float on the pond, Lotus born of mud and water and sunlight. Dear Stella, can we hold on a bit longer? I will stay strong as long as you can. That’s what I’m thinking about now.
You are panting and I am breathing you in. Now I remember the truth of the Lotus. We are all the water and the mud and the sunlight. We are all the pond. I am you and you are me. I am lying on the wood floor with you. It is cool. Now, I feel why you like it here. You are still breathing now; your heart is still beating; this body is still yours to use. But even now we know the season will change. We talk to our clients a lot about change. It’s not a bad thing. It’s natural. It may not happen now. But, it will happen.
I close my eyes now, Stella, and press my face into your thick fur. You will become fire and lift into the air. You will become earth and catch the wind over the Arizona red rocks. The clouds will take you in. You will become a monsoon. You you will become the cactus blossom and the intoxicating scent of the creosote bush after the desert rain. I will breathe you in. All the that we have shared together will lead us to that moment. The fire did not die when it became the air. The clouds did not die when they became a monsoon. They merely changed. And you, Stella, will not die when you become everything.
Michael Baugh is a dog behavior consultant in Houston TX. He lives with Stella 13 as of this writing and Stewie 15 and his husband, Tim.