carry that weight

I don’t want to have to tell this, but I’ll start as plainly as I can and we’ll go from there: Logan died on the sixth of July. It was sudden. He was about a year and a half old. The vet thought it was his heart.

The morning of the day that Logan died, I read a whole new Gaiman book, Ocean At The End Of The Lane, with my dog curled around me as I sat cross-legged in bed. Logan did what he always did: wedged his strong head between my elbow and thigh, demanding and getting affection. There was a line in the book, which I can’t remember precisely – something about having pet cats, I think, and how they never live long enough. I thought of Logan, then brushed it aside. He was young and strong and beautiful. He’d be appropriately dressed for my over the hill party.

The afternoon of the day that Logan died, I had a nap. Logan came in to wake me up, the way he did: writhing around like an otter or a seal pup, his whole being focused on his inquiring snoot, licking up my nose and into my ears. I laughed and cuddled him. I probably told him that he was a rotten brat for waking me like that.

The evening of the day that Logan died, he played with my mother, endlessly fetching the toys she’d toss across the living room for him. I wanted to go out there and tell them to cut it out, because it was about a half an hour to midnight and I felt sleepy, but I knew how much my mother enjoyed playing with Logan, so I didn’t.

I went out to refill my water about midnight, maybe a little earlier. They’d stopped. I saw Logan lying in his favorite spot on the kitchen floor. I spoke to him, and he didn’t react.

My phone says the first call I made was just after midnight.

Logan had collapsed, I assume. He’d probably made it some distance, because he’d voided himself further down the hall, a bit away from where he was. He was breathing heavily and barely responsive. He kept heaving as though he needed to retch, but nothing came up. His tongue hung out the side of his head, reminding me of Riley, reminding me of her death. I checked his heartbeat, which was still strong, I checked his gums, pressing them to see how quickly the blood came back. I hauled him about a foot forward, into better light.

I got the idea in my head that I needed someone to tell me how to do CPR on a dog, so I called two friends to ask them to look it up for me before I came to my senses and called the emergency vet. They said to bring Logan in right away. I told them that it’s a good twenty minutes if I get all the green lights, and he was in a bad way now, and asked what I could do. They had me go over his symptoms, check his gums again, and I decided to take him up. I remember looking for the femoral artery. I remember putting my fingers deep down his throat to check for obstructions. I remember thinking, afterwards, that if I could do that things were pretty fucking dire.

I put real clothes on, tied my shoes, and backed the car out of the carport. I left the lights on and doors open, so that I could carry Logan in and be gone as quickly as possible.

He was gone first. I think. It’s hard to remember details. He might have been barely there. He might only have been warm. I’m not sure.

According to my phone, it was about twenty after twelve that I called the e-vet back, asking how to do CPR on a dog. They told me, and I hung up and did it. I remembered thinking that I sounded like a movie — “goddamnit, Logan, stay with me, goddamnit, breathe, stay here Logan, stay here” — but nothing I did could help, none of my first-aid checking and gauging, because he’d started to slip away, and then the spark of him was gone.

I’ve had a lot of dogs; I’ve seen a lot of dog death. All of it, though, was planned. Induced. It always happened in a clean veterinary office, with technicians and doctors who know this ending ritual backwards and forwards. I’d never had to deal with it on my own. At home. At night.

Death is heavy, it’s obscene, and like Whedon says, it is always sudden.

I remember folding down onto the floor, leaning back on the refrigerator, and calling the e-vet again: My dog is gone. He died. He died right here, he’s right here. What do I do now? The woman who got stuck with answering that call was a champion; she told me to let it out and cry and she’d stick with me as long as I needed her to. She said I sounded shocky and she was probably right; we went over what I needed to do several times. Wrap my dog’s body in a garbage bag. (She didn’t say why — fluids — and I didn’t need her to tell me. Some of them were on the floor. Others were on my jeans.) Get my dog’s body into my car. Ensure I am calm and safe enough to drive. Bring him to the hospital. Then they would talk to me about what happened next. Baby steps, a little checklist, one thing at a time. It was just what I needed.

I stayed with Logan for a while on the floor, petting his thick glossy fur, his gorgeous black fur, the two or three different types of hair all roughed in together. Some of them were long and straight and thick, like paintbrush bristles. Some were thinner and softer and kinked down the center, the curly undercoat of him. Some, from his face and paws, were short.

He was so still. So still. He’d begun to stiffen already, just a little, in the legs. His mouth hung open and his tongue was greyish, like a dead fish. He was gone, but the physicality of him was still in my house, and I had to deal with that.

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll have cause to say it again: everyone needs to go to the hardware store and get those hugely thick contractor-type garbage bags. They’re very useful.

I worked Logan into the bag carefully, back end first. When I lifted his hips, urine dribbled out of him and into the toe of my shoe. I didn’t have socks on, and it soaked to my skin immediately. It was warm still, though he was cooling from the floor. I noticed that in a detached way: oh, my shoe has piss in it. I didn’t care. It took a while to work him into that bag, and I got more fluids on me, on my knees and pant legs and all over my arms. There had been a lot of saliva, or maybe vomit, I don’t know. When I had him fully inside the bag I left him there on the floor. I washed my hands, took off my damp shoes, left on my soiled jeans, took one of my precious benzos (and though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill) and laid on my bed for a while.

I needed to get my dog out of there and to the hospital, even though he was dead, because when a dog is unwell you take them to the vet, and dead is as unwell as a dog can be. I needed sleep, I was so tired, but I knew I would not be able to sleep with my dog lying dead on my floor. I needed a shower. I needed to stop feeling like I was going to throw up. I needed Logan to come cuddle me and make me okay, but he couldn’t, because he was dead in the kitchen and I’d just put him in a bag.

A long while later, I was as ready to go as I’d ever be. Remembering Riley: I’ll never be ready for this but now is as good as ever. I put my damp shoes (now as cold as my dog) back on and brought my things to the car, which was still waiting for me with the doors open. I went to get Logan.

People talk about dead weight, but I’d never experienced it in a real way. Logan’s dead weight was enormous. I’d hoisted him into the tub a few days previous for a bath. Remembering that, and remembering how often I’d taken Riley outside towards the end of her life, I assumed I could scoop Logan’s body — in the bag — in my arms like a baby, and carry him to the car.

Yeah, that was a nice bit of fantasy. I got him maybe ten feet, into the next room, and rested him on the top of his crate. I was panting and swearing. He was too big, and too stiff, and too heavy. Dead weight is so heavy. I wound up grabbing hold of the ends of the garbage bag and slinging it over my shoulder like some grim Santa Claus, my dead dog’s weight braced against the width of my back. My mother offered to help carry him, but I told her I could manage it. I did, though I’m not sure how.

I swung my dead dog’s body-bag into the back seat of the car, earning myself a whack on the shoulder which later blossomed into a fantastic bruise that lasted a good three weeks. I scooted him in carefully, to make sure the door wouldn’t hit him when I shut it, because even though he was dead and he was gone, this huge heavy stinking stiff thing was all I had left of him, and I could never hurt him, ever, even if he wouldn’t feel it or anything else.

Then I got into the driver’s seat and the damn car battery was as dead as my dog, because I’d left the stupid thing open with the headlights on and the “hey dumbass, your headlights are on” noise blaring away into the darkness the whole time death was happening inside my house.

So I came back in and we called the roadside assistance, and I waited some more. When the guy came I went back to the car, signed the papers, found I only needed a jump, and asked if driving all the way to the e-vet’s area would be enough to top the battery up.

“Left your lights on, huh?” the guy asked. He might not have been so jovial if it wasn’t dark, if he could clearly see my face and the enormous black bag in the back seat. I wondered why he couldn’t smell the reality of Logan’s death. I couldn’t smell anything else. I smelled it strong enough to taste it, and it was horrible.

“You going to work?” the guy asked.

“You really want to know?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

“My dog just died. He’s here in the car. I need to take him to the vet.” My dog, my beautiful crazy traumatized dog, my playful snuggly clingy dog, my sweet loveable charming dog, was dead. And I needed to take him somewhere because I didn’t know what to do with him.

The guy said something apologetic and soothing and sorry, but I don’t remember it. I signed papers and I was good to go.

I put Graceland on for comfort before backing out – remembering Riley again, and how I’d played that same album the morning I took her to the same vet for surgery, feeling a symmetry somehow – and Paul Simon sang as I turned corners and changed lanes. “These are the days of miracle and wonder and don’t cry, baby, don’t cry don’t cry.” I tried not to. I tried not to think of anything. I mostly succeeded. But there were no miracles or wonders for me. There was only death, and I drove with the windows rolled down because the smell was strong enough to taste.

I got all the green lights halfway there, and at some point I yelled at one of them: you’re not doing me a fucking bit of good now, you know. After that I got red ones. I used the time to take mints from my bag, so I could smell and taste them instead of Logan’s body.

When I got to the vet, I called my mother to let her know I’d made it, and then went inside and told the woman at the desk that my dog had just died, I’d called earlier, was told to bring him in, his body was in the car, and we’d need the… stretcher? Gurney? Whatever it was. The thing they used to bring Riley in, back then. I asked if I could use the bathroom, too.

Fun fact: it was ten months to the day after Riley’s death that this happened.

I went out to help the woman wrestle Logan’s body onto the cart, because I’m weird about being helpful in situations like that. “You don’t have to do anything,” she said. “You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t have to experience him like this.” Bit late for that, I thought: I’d already wrestled him into a bag, with his urine cold in my sneakers, and hauled him to the car, feeling the warm-cooling weight against my back, and bruised the everloving fuck out of my skin getting him in there. I’d driven fifteen miles smelling and tasting what his body had become.

“It’s okay,” I remember saying, my hands on the bag that held the body. “It’s okay. It’s, this, it’s still him. But it’s not.”

It was still him, or what I had left with the him of him gone; and while all of these things were horrible, or disgusting, or frightening, they were also necessary. I’d promised him I would always take care of him. That doesn’t stop because his life does.

“We’ll get him out of this bag and cleaned up,” the woman said, “and then you can spend some time with him. So you don’t have to remember him like this.” Too late; I can’t forget holding the ends of that bag over my shoulder, the hot-damp-cooling-humid feel of his broad stiffening body against a back that hurts me plenty but is strong when it has to be. The feel of his cold dying nose, when I made a seal around it, when I forced his limp tongue into his mouth and held that closed, to breathe for him. The sound of the air I gave him whooshing back out, like a bellows, like a storm gust: like the bone and muscle and meat of his sides were too heavy to let the air stay inside him. The sound of defeat. Whsssssh. I tried. I tried everything I knew how to do. But it didn’t save him. And I’ll never forget that.

It occurred to me, when the vet spoke with me about possibilities of this and that, when he asked me if Logan had come into contact with toads or antifreeze (no and no), that I much preferred the old kindly vets of an age to be my father or grandfather, to this new breed who are my age or younger, fit and handsome and endlessly capable, who make me feel like an ugly little nothing talking to them. That guy there, who looks like Helo from BSG and who is talking about toads, makes dogs live. While I, the ugly crying blotchy sweating fat thing that I was, I’d just had a dog die. It’s a hell of a time to have an insecurity complex, when there’s a hot vet talking to you about your dead dog.

But I felt like it must be obvious, like it’d be a mark on me, like they’d all see: I’d lost Riley and now Logan, I was somehow a Killer of Dogs, I thought they’d call animal control or the police or — I don’t know. I thought it was obvious that I was at fault, and I was baffled when they kept saying I wasn’t. Maybe I wanted it to be, maybe I wanted someone to blame, and in the absence of anything else I assigned it to myself as I always do. Logan was dead. Something had to be done. If it had to be done to me, that was fine, because I couldn’t save him.

“It’s obvious you took good care of him,” the vet told me, and I could barely understand what he was saying because it was not what I expected. “He seems – seemed – in good health. There’s nothing wrong with him that I could see when I examined him.” Apart from being dead, but he didn’t say that. “And if he had been sick or gotten into something, you would have noticed symptoms – he wouldn’t have gone so quickly.” He went on to explain about neurological things and cardiac things, ending with the theory that it was most likely cardiac failure — in human terms, probably a heart attack. It happens sometimes, he told me; dogs are born with bad hearts, and they last for a while but then it takes them suddenly. We see them about once a week, the woman on the phone had said; she, too, thought it was the heart.

Logan’s heart was such a contradiction. He’d been through so much: three homes in eleven months, and the neuter tattoo on the inside of his leg suggested he may have been through the shelters twice. Escaped or abandoned, running stray until he was found, afraid of everything. So afraid. But so willing to try, to trust me, to let me show him that the world could be a good thing. So willing to believe that I, when I took him home, would only show him kindness. So willing to love, despite all his fear. So willing to learn that the world was okay.

That’s what I wanted to give him. It’s a long process for a fearful dog like that, and I thought we had years. We didn’t. But he knew love, and he knew a full belly, and warmth at night, and cleanliness, and flea preventatives, and dog parks, and walks, and toys to shred, and at the end of things he knew I was trying to save his life because I loved him and I did not want him to go.

I have to believe he knew that.

At some point during the veterinary discussion of postmorterms — I wanted to know why it had happened — I sort of wavered, or did something, or maybe said “Um,” and after that they all cooled it, apologizing for talking about my dog like that in front of me. I asked if I could see him.

They brought me to a low-lit room, with chairs and a box of tissues: the viewing room, I suppose. Logan’s body was there on the gurney, with a towel under him and a plaid fleece blanket over him. He could have been asleep, or coming out of anaesthetic, but he was dead. I stayed with him for a long time, begging for his forgiveness, telling him the same things I’d told Riley in another part of that building ten months ago. I’m sorry. I love you. Come back to me someday. I’m so sorry. I love you. I love you. And a few new ones, for him: Stop being dead. Please, undo this somehow. We were going to do so many things. We were just getting started.

I remember sending a message out to Twitter: he’s cold and gone and I can’t leave him. He was cold, so cold. No dog should ever be that cold. I stayed there with Logan’s body for a very long time. Nobody rushed me, and when I was ready to go — never ready, but I can do it right now — they asked if I was all right to go home.

I got pawprints, in clay and in ink, and paperwork, and I left that place as the sun was coming up. I stopped at a drugstore on the way home, to get something to put up my nose so my sinuses would clear after all my crying, and an obscene amount of sugary junk food.

“Don’t look at me like that, buying this stuff,” I told the guy at the register. “It’s been a hell of a night.”

“Oh, what happened?”

“My dog died. I had to take him to the emergency vet up on Busch, after.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“God, I’m such a downer. Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay. How old was he?”

“Year and a half. It. They think it was his heart.”

Everybody told me it wasn’t my fault, that these things happen, as horrible as they are. I have to believe that this time, because they are experts and they knew what they were on about, and I certainly asked enough times if anything I did — or didn’t do — made my dog die.

A few days afterwards, I started to feel — not better, but less angry. Because these things do happen. Like the woman on the phone said, like the nurse and the vet said, it happens to puppies, it happens to dogs, it happens to people. Sometimes there’s damage deep inside that you can’t see. And with a dog like Logan, so young and alive — he was so alive when he was alive, and I know that makes no sense — the way the woman put it, “Animals hide these things. And with a life like he had before he found you, he probably hid it even more than a normal dog would.” He would have learned to hide weakness. That’s how you survive. Until you don’t. But there was no way for me to know, and nothing I could have done that I didn’t do: they were impressed with the useless things I did, there on the kitchen floor, when I told them.

The heart in Logan’s body was bad, and it failed him. The heart in his soul, or his mind, was so very good. He was beautiful, and trusting, and so full of love. He was learning not to be afraid. That’s what I wanted to give him. I wanted him to stop being afraid.

I hope, wherever and whatever he is now, he is not afraid anymore.

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