“…confirmed that what we were looking at last night is a series of bone lesions,” Dr. Abbott says Tuesday morning, and time doubles back on itself.
Two summers ago, a routine dental exam revealed a tumor in our greyhound’s mouth. The kind of tumor that’s usually malignant. We sat up all night, talking about cancer and greyhounds and how she was ten and how treatment options for dogs are often more brutal than the disease that’s killing them and how buying her an extra month in hell would be the most selfish decision we could make. That was then.
I’m still hearing the conversation from two years ago, the one where she’s fine, she’s okay, there is, mysteriously, nothing wrong. So it’s fifteen minutes later that I realize I’m actually still talking to the vet, right now, agreeing that yes, the lesions are high in the hip, no, amputation isn’t an option for her, no, her other back leg isn’t strong either, yes, pain management, yes, observation. Yes, cancer, but neither of us says the word.
That was then too. This is right now.
“She’ll tell you when it’s time,” we hear, again and again. I don’t disagree but I privately wonder, worry. Every living thing has an impulse drive, hurtling it toward survival. How can a dog choose a time to die in the face of that instinct? We’ll have to make the decision, and we’ll have to always wonder if there was one more good day, one more trip to the park, one more cheeseburger that she could be having, right now.
Right now I’m feeling grief from the future, hearing words from the past, living in the suspended no-time of deathwatch. I walk past the mirror and I see the look that was on my grandfather’s face when I held my grandmother’s hand, kissed her cheek, felt the emptiness behind her rasping breaths. I don’t know when she died; I don’t know when I am. Is it eight years ago, are we walking by the waterfall, trying to feed our too-thin foster dog treats she won’t take? Is it – my mind tries to insist on more time – two months/weeks/days/hours from now, are we driving to the vet’s office with her in my lap? I can’t process this in dog time, in people time.
By Friday night we’ve called everyone, told Facebook which somehow makes it real/notreal; her special friends have come by. She’s had liver, and a milkshake, and her own order of tikka masala, mild, because she begs and if she begs right now she can have whatever she wants.
Saturday she insists, still, on going down the porch steps alone, awkward painful back legs and all. Even if she can’t get back up without help. Insists, still, on sleeping upstairs on her bed, even though the couch is more comfortable, so we carry her, hearing her heart say right now she is alive, alive.
Right now I’m hanging up, numb. Right now she’s asleep on the couch, waiting. Right now her front legs won’t hold her up either. Right now I don’t have to wonder if a dog can tell you when it’s time. Right now the time will be 4:40.
Right now, there’s still time to take it back.
Right now, it’s already too late.