My second semester my sophomore year, my second writing course in the most competative writing program in the nation, I had a professor who passed out a list on the first day of class. On that list was a set of rules, things that in the course of her class we could not write about. Things that she cautioned us never to write about in the course of our lives, either. They were all things that illicit an emotional response in people that you, as a writer, haven’t actually earned through your writing. The list looks something like this:
1. Don’t ever write about terminal illnesses
2. Don’t ever kill a puppy in your writing
3. That goes for kittens too, and small horses and dolphins or whales. Actually, avoid killing any animals in your stories
4. No guns, unless it is a war story, and then, no graphic violence
5. No character over the age of six is to scream or cry in your story
6. Don’t write about adolescent girls crying in bathtubs
7. Don’t write about God. Religious characters are okay, but don’t invoke God.
8. No character is to think “deep” thoughts on mountaintops, in front of the ocean or near a lakeside
9. Avoid “profound” symbols at all costs
10. Do NOT write about terminal illnesses
Of course, this list was about fiction writing, but it’s always stuck with me. Sorry, Professor, I’m about to break (and have already broken) several of your rules…
To My Little Angel:
The sun was shining the day you died. And it’s been shining ever since. It seems like the first time in months that I’ve seen the sun. I think God was welcoming you into His Kingdom. I’m glad you’re home.
The day that you died was the hardest day of my life. You were so sick. You couldn’t eat, you little monster, and I started crying when you just sat in your Bailey chair and looked at your food. By the time Daddy left for work, you couldn’t breathe. Half hour later, when Mommy tried to walk you, you couldn’t stand up, so you tried to crawl to the door, but you wet yourself on the way. I wasn’t mad pumpkin, just wanted you to know.
I wrapped you in your pink blanket and carried you on our walk instead. You were shivering so bad, but it wasn’t all that cold out, not for you, with your warm puppy coat. The vet couldn’t see us sooner baby, I’m sorry.
But you kept shivering, so Mommy took you to the Emergency Vet, and they rushed you in. They said you were “in distress”, and I could barely make out the words through my tears to explain what was happening, “I think she has aspiration pneumonia. She was diagnosed with a severe case of megaesophagus three days ago. Here are her radiographs from the specialist. She’s only been breathing like this for maybe 15 minutes, before she was just really lethargic.”
The nice vet that you and Smokey like so much came in right away. She took one look at you and shook her head at her vet tech. Mommy didn’t look at her, just held you close. I’m sorry if I hurt you Dusty, I just didn’t want to let you go. I still don’t.
“I don’t even need to examine her to see that she has a severe case of aspiration pneumonia. Look at the mucus coming out of her nose.”
“Examine her anyway!” Mommy shouted, and you twitched in my arms. I know, you didn’t understand why I was being so mean to the lady who gave you so many kisses.
The nice vet picked you up and wiped your nose and listened to your lungs and listened to your heart and listened to what Mommy had to say.
“Even if we rushed her to the specialty hospital right now and gave her intervenal antibiotics and got her a feeding tube, it is very unlikely she will sruvive the night.”
“Is she suffering?” I knew you were, but I wanted so badly to hear that you weren’t, and that it was okay for us to be selfish and keep fighting, even if you couldn’t.
The vet nodded, “She isn’t feeling too great, that’s for sure.”
“I need to call Joe.”
So Mommy left you with the nice vet and her silly vet tech who gave you even more kisses than the vet, because she had just lost her horse the week before and needed your fluffy comfort. You were always such a good cuddler, which Mommy loved, because your brother is not.
Daddy said to Mommy, “We have to do it babe.” And Mommy said, “I know.” But I didn’t really believe it. In some ways, I still don’t believe it.
So Daddy left work and Mommy told the vet the news, and the vet sighed and nodded and told Mommy it was really the only right choice to make, and Mommy held you closer and walked you around and bounced you up and down gently and rocked you until Daddy showed up, which didn’t take very long, but seemed like an eternity to me.
Daddy was driving like a crazy man again, and he slammed the door and ran up to the building. When Mommy saw that he had driven all the way home to get your pink fuzzy puppy, she started crying all over again. She was glad he remembered it.
We took Daddy into the back room where the vet had let us set up base camp, and you tried to get to him, but you were just too weak, too weak to even wag your tail or pick up your head for a kiss. Daddy picked you up and gave you your puppy and started crying and cuddling you and telling Mommy how much worse you looked and how sick you were and how we had to do it, we just had to.
You curled up on your blanket and put your head on your pink puppy, and Daddy squeaked it and you perked up just a little bit, Mommy saw your ears twitch and your head raise slightly. You always loved your puppy so. That was the first toy we bought you, when you were still in your canine mommy’s belly, before we even knew how much we were going to love you.
The silly vet tech came in and explained to Daddy what the doctor had said, and then she took you away to put a catheter in your leg. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for that. I could hear your tiny voice while you tried to cry, but you couldn’t do that either. I put my head on Daddy’s knee and cried, “We don’t need to do this. We don’t have to. Let’s get her the antibiotics and give it a shot. Let’s go to the specialty hospital.”
Daddy pet Mommy’s hair, “We can’t babe, you know we can’t. What are we going to do? Take her to the specialty hospital and let them hook her up to all kinds of tubes and then probably put her in a crate all night and let her die like that? Alone and scared and probably crying and trying to get out? And then what, if she makes it, we will be right back here again, in a couple weeks, or worse yet, she will die alone at home while we are at work because she just can’t eat.”
Mommy cried and cried like she was sure the world was ending, but no matter how hard she cried, there was nothing she could do to save you. Not the Bailey chair, not the vertical feedings, not the pills or the supplements, not the expensive dog food or the goats milk, not the pricey Ivy League vets, not exercise and not sleeping in the bed. Not all the love in the world could save you Dusty. If it could, I would still be able to hold you every night.
When they brought you back, Mommy let Daddy hold you for a little and we told you that we loved you forever, that we were sorry. We meant every word Dusty. We are so sorry this happened to you. We are so so sorry that you didn’t get to wear the Halloween costume Mommy was making for you, or get to have table scraps at Thanksgiving. We are so sorry you didn’t get to have a Christmas, or a first birthday or go to an Omorrow Reunion. We are so sorry we couldn’t save you. We wanted to, more than anything. I hope you know that.
The vet came in and pet you and gave you lots of kisses and hugged Mommy while Daddy told you to be a good girl. He told you that you should go up to Heaven and find Chelsea, Daddy’s first dog, and tell Chelsea that he loved her still. Then he told you to go find Mika, and Mommy’s Bear Bear and hang out with them, that they would make sure you had someone to play with all the time. And he told you that you could eat all the kibble you wanted up there and get nice and fat and never be sick.
The nice vet started crying, and her hands shook for a little, so she had to put the needle down, “I am so sorry you guys. I don’t normally cry.”
Mommy handed the vet a tissue and said, “Don’t worry about it, everybody else is doing it.” And Daddy said, “I’m sure you didn’t become a vet to kill puppies.”
The vet smiled and wiped her tears away and gave you another kiss, careful, so she didn’t disturb you. You had fallen asleep with your head on your pink puppy, and the vet had come down to the floor, so she didn’t have to move you away from your blanket and your comfort while you dozed, “I don’t have to put puppies down very often.”
Mommy and Daddy kissed you and pet you while the vet did the thing she didn’t like to have to do, and it was quiet. It was so very quiet. It didn’t take you long to stop breathing, that’s how we knew we were doing the right thing. You didn’t have any fight left in you.
We stayed with you a long time before we put you in your coffin. We couldn’t move, and Mommy kept saying in her head, “Come back Dusty, come back. I’m just kidding, I can’t do this, this can’t be real. Come back, and we will try again, and you will be healthy this time.” But that wasn’t meant to be, it just wasn’t in your stars my love.
Daddy took you out to the car, and Mommy stayed inside to pay the bill, but as she walked into the waiting room, “Dust in the Wind” came on. That was the song we named you after – did you know that? And she couldn’t take it. Daddy started to walk back in, but Mommy tackled him and pushed him back out the door. Daddy started laughing when Mommy told him, and he said, “That’s her sweetie. That’s her.”
But Mommy didn’t want to hear it, because you were still alive in her mind. She fully expected to go home and open that box and have a healthy puppy jump out.
It didn’t happen. And it’s hard to live with everyday, coming home and not getting you out of the bathroom. The first few days I actually walked upstairs and felt mad at Daddy for not letting you out, since he was home already. Halfway up the stairs, I would stop and sit down and start crying, and Daddy would walk up the steps and lead me back down and tell me it was okay. But it’s not okay Dusty. I miss you so much it hurts all the time, and it’s hard to focus and get work done and do what I need to do.
Smokey misses you too. He hasn’t been the same. He just walks around the house and cries and paces and looks for you everywhere. He smells your poo in the yard and starts to run away, excited, wagging his tail and dragging Mommy around the yard, looking, always looking. He lays in your spot on the bed and whines. Sometimes, I think he misses you more than we do, if that’s even possible.
There’s so much more I want to say to you Dusty, about how it was, about how it is, living every day without you. And I will, in time, I will. But now, I am just too tired.
I just want you to know, Dusty, that I love you forever. You are my forever puppy.