By Allison Valiquette The heat wave has passed; on Friday it was climbing up well past ninety-eight, today it’s a subdued eighty-something. Even that slight drop felt more refreshing than a cold shower ever could. There was something about the wind that felt chilly like a fall morning, a welcome relief in the middle of a sweltering July.
On the back porch my family sat smoking cigarettes and passing around the Sunday paper. Doughnuts bought that morning littered the table, some half eaten, and others about to become a fine feast. Inside in the living room our family dog knocked into the end table next to the couch and a large glass of milk came crashing down, just as he did. His legs buckled beneath him and he found himself sprawled out, looking around confused about how he had got there. We all ran over to help him, and my brother collected some paper towels for the cleanup.
Scenes like this were becoming more frequent. Sam was thirteen, and even though he still looked like a puppy to me, my mother reminded us that thirteen was almost over a hundred in dog years. He was an old man now, and I don’t remember how that even happened.
The first scare came about a year ago, when the vet told us Sam had arthritis and that’s why his legs were suddenly giving way as he walked. Medicine helped, but I for one prepared myself for this dip in the pool to be his last. I found myself wishing that he could have one more winter to be able to jump into piles of snow, his favorite pastime.
And we got that wish. Sam lived a full year after that. He swam in the pool, jumped in piles of leaves, and buried his head in mounds of snow, albeit much more slowly than in previous years, but he did it. And during that time he was my energetic, full of life puppy again. I didn’t see his knees shake as he tried to stand up. I didn’t see the white hair begin to creep around more than just his eyes. My brother didn’t see that he was having trouble walking on his left leg because his leg “must have been asleep.” It wasn’t. It was his age and arthritis starting to show again. This time, I wasn’t sure if he would get another winter.
We tried to discuss our options that night after dinner. We would take Sam to the vet tomorrow, and figure out what to do depending on what she said. Somehow cremation was brought up during the discussion and my brother stormed off. We decided to just take him to the vet and we would see what she said, and make no decisions until that point.
So life returned to normal for the rest of the evening. My mother watched a movie on her laptop, my dad mowed the lawn, and my brother escaped the house to meet up with friends. I sat myself on the back deck after petting a sleeping Sam for a few minutes. The house was still; the world was in its usual place.
But we all knew that this was just the quiet before the storm. This was the peace before the trauma. Tomorrow we might be returning home without our beloved Sam, whom we have had for over half of my life. My Dad had suggested that if the vet thought we should put Sam down that we would take him home that night instead and wait for the morning. He wanted to give Sam one last night in his home, on his puppy bed. I couldn’t bear the thought of living through the night knowing the next day would be the day we had to say goodbye. I didn’t want to plan it that way.
So for now we wait in peace. We wait in the quiet, unsure of what will happen tomorrow. We pet Sam and hold him and kiss him and silently are saying goodbye in our minds with every stroke of the hand to his almost all-white fur. We don’t know if this is goodbye, but it feels like it. Sometimes inaction doesn’t bring the comfort of a happy ending. Sometimes it’s just the in-between before the great unrest. Sometimes it’s what we need to give ourselves to not think about all of the pain.