it was a meeting like most meetings I've attended: long, dull, and nothing to do with me. I was there in my capacity as intern to observe church process and administration and it was a typical church board meeting. until things were running late and some attempts to quicken the pace led to extra work being pressed on a congregant volunteer whose suggestions that the board get acquainted with new social media before determining a social media policy had been met with barely concealed contempt both for that media and people who participate in it. the visitor stomped out in a huff, someone chided the chair, "that was very rude and humiliating," and the meeting, rather than wrapping up in 5 minutes, went on another half hour.
I don't regret the meeting. I left tired and just wanting to be home and in bed with my family. I called my wife a couple times on the drive--one of our dogs, the one with picophilia aggravated by allergies, had been eating carpet fiber again and had a belly full of it and she had driven him to the animal emergency clinic in oakdale for surgery. he was an older dog, 13, and hadn't come out of surgery well, but over the hours had been progressing to the point he was resting more comfortably. she called back after checking in with the vets again: he had spiked at 100+ temperature but was cooling down and, while groggy, was responding to them and wagging his tail. it looked like he'd sleep the night and recover in the morning.
I'd nearly reached the wisconsin border 5 minutes later when she called back. "the clinic just called. merlin's in arrest, his temperture has gone up to 109, and they're doing cpr. can you get there?"
I said of course I could. my wife was crying, sniffing and bawling. we knew he was dying and she wanted someone with him. she couldn't make it. I turned around at the bridge and headed back on 94 at 85, keeping the line open so she and I could be together while I drove. I don't remember half the things either of us said, I just remember saying, "I'm at manning now;" "I'm on the ramp now;" "I'm on 10;" "I see the sign."
the clinic called on the house phone to say he wasn't responding to cpr and asking if she wanted them to discontinue. she said, "he's almost there." I rounded the corners and pulled into the lot, told her, "I'm here, I'll call you in a minute," and rushed inside. a girl met me at the door to let me in and take me in back.
his little white body was on his side, his belly shaved white and stapled, and a woman standing next to him, rhythmically pressing down on his chest while another inflated and deflated a bag whose tube was shoved in his throat. when I reached the table I touched him and I swear I felt his leg shiver the way he did when he was asleep and I gently touched him to wake him. the doctor was saying things to me that she needed to say, but all I caught was the drift that there was some more surgical things they could do but she didn't think he would survive those. I asked if I could be at his head and they moved around to accomadate me.
his eyes were focused on something directly ahead of him. his heart was still beating. I said, "hi, buddy, it's okay, it's all okay," and let my hand settle on his head in the space between his ears where his fur was soft and his head warm the way he liked me to do. I said, "you can discontinue now, it's okay," and they immediately stopped. I have seen many animals die in my life, and a lot of them animals I loved, and his eyes dimmed and blackened the way that animals' eyes do. I told him repeatedly he was a good dog and he was loved and it was all all right.
the doctor asked if I wanted to spend time alone with him and I cried. I cried like I hadn't cried for my mother when she died or for my older dog who'd been with me nearly 17 years. they wrapped him in a blanket and took me to a room with couches and soft lights and laid him on my lap. I kept stroking him. I called my wife, said, "merlin's dead," and cried some more. "he's still warm," I kept saying while I patted him and held him and we cried together. his fur was still so soft and silky, the sheen of polar bear fur, and I couldn't get enough of touching it.
I was on the phone with her I don't know how long before the vet came back, asking if I wanted more time. I said no, I felt I was finished, and asked if she'd take a photo of me holding him. she said of course, and we prepared him. I asked if we could have his ashes in a specific metal urn like we have other pets' ashes in and she said one of the vet techs would show me the book where I could order it. I asked too if we could have a paw print in baked clay like we had with other pets and she said of course.
the vet kept saying, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." I told her, "it's all right, I understand, it's okay." my wife would tell me later that the vet had been certain he was on the rebound when she'd spoken with her, and the vet tech would tell me the vet had decided at the last minute to take one more glance at him before she retired for the night. it all happened so fast. when I arrived, everyone was crying, the techs and the vet, the women surrounding him. everyone was caught flatfooted. I found myself in a familiar position, that of counseling the counselors around me, telling them it was all right, I knew it was a surprise and everything would be okay, I was fine.
we did paperwork and I paced in the lobby a lot, just working off energy. I called my wife again in the lobby and again when I left. I had his print in clay, his collar, and a tuft of fur I'd asked for. the drive home was long and I hit the scan button on the radio and just let sound wash over me. I dreaded pulling into the driveway because I knew it meant it had all happened and getting home meant it had been real.
my wife with wide red eyes sat on the couch surrounded by dogs and cats. we wept and held one another. then I put my shoes back on and went out to take the garbage bins to the road because it was garbage night and the truck that came every 2 weeks would be by in the morning.