I had a counseling session on Friday after work, something I’ve revisited since moving to DC, and I arrived home around half past eight. Bob perked his head up from the couch, anticipating my slightest movement toward his leash, and once it was in my hand, the barking began in earnest, and we headed out the door. The sky was heavy with the threat of thunder and rain, and I hustled him through his walk. I put out his dinner and he wolfed it down while I thumbed through the mail. I was pleased to see a clean bowl for the first time in a week, a good sign after I'd worried over his sporadic appetite for days. I figured he was just being fussy.
Bob’s post-dinner routine is to clean his face on the side of the couch, running his mouth along the upholstery like it was his napkin. I went into the bedroom and started to make the bed when I heard him yelp. I ran to the living room and saw fear and confusion in his eyes as his hind legs splayed sideways at impossible angles.
I knelt at his side, hugging him hard, and told him he was going to be okay. He couldn’t seem to right himself and regain his equilibrium; he‘d try to balance on his front legs, but the rear ones dangled uselessly.
In a trembling voice, I left a message for the vet. The machine at the vet's office gave a number for an emergency room, which I took down, but hoped I wouldn't need. I made an appointment for the following morning. I rarely gave him aspirin, but the doc had told me a few weeks ago that it was okay on rare occasions, so I grabbed two tablets from the bathroom.
Bob wouldn’t swallow them, so I practically had to force them down his throat, feeling a dull cut on my finger from his fang. He was restless, constantly trying to move, stumbling like a drunk. He made his way over to the window and slipped behind the curtains, where he collapsed and threw up. I sat with him, hugging him and chanting in his ear that he was a good boy, that he would be okay. I called my friend, Joe, who said he'd be right over.
If I can only keep him moving, I thought. Please stay with me, Bob. Please. We made it over to the desk and he collapsed again, this time slumping over on his side. His mouth contorted, and his bowels emptied as he lay there, heaving and gasping for air. It was the first time in his life he'd ever gone indoors. He was embarrassed, I know, but I hugged him and begged him to just hold on. Joe was almost there. We would get him to the hospital. Hold on, Bob. Please!
As he lay there, his mouth stretched into a grimace usually reserved for nightmares, and his tongue hung out of the side of his mouth. “You’re a good boy,” I heard myself screaming, “you're a good boy!” Joe flew in the door, tried CPR, and picked up his limp body. We drove to the hospital in a daze, running red lights and racing against the impossible.
The doctors took him into the ER and we sat by and watched them try to resuscitate Bob for nearly an hour. Finally, the doctor came out, wearing that look, and I knew. I knew. He sadly explained that it had probably been a stroke, but there would be no way of knowing unless we did an autopsy. I shook my head violently. Billy had already been forced to suffer that indignity. Not again.
On the way home, lost in hysterics, I turned to Joe and cried, “Why does everything have to be a fucking surprise? I can’t take it anymore.” He nodded, knowing, and we drove back to my place. It felt empty.
Bob was thirteen. I knew he wouldn't live forever. All I'd hoped for, though, was for Bob to see his backyard in Venice again, where he'd lived for the thrill of chasing the cookies Billy and I threw from the back door. I wished I could see Bob’s smile again, back in Venice, in his backyard. Chasing cookies.
Since Billy passed away without so much as a tap on the shoulder, taking with him our lifetime of dreams, I've learned that wishing is never enough. All of those candles I’ve blown out on my birthday are nothing more than smoke over a cake, and that shooting star is just a spark in the sky. Dreams don’t come true; they just dance in my mind and mock me.