Today has been such a sad day.
My friend suffered a tragedy, and I can’t get it out of my head. He had to put his 10-year-old dog down a couple of months ago because she had cancer (stupid fucking cancer, can’t even leave our beloved dogs alone). Lady, his 3-year-old dog, was moping and lost without her companion, so my friend decided to get a puppy.
He did everything right: researched breeds and breeders, readied their home for the new arrival, and began training the pup the very day he arrived. My favorite girl and I had the honor of driving to the airport to pick up the new puppy while my friend worked (we have puppy fever…bad!). We bonded with that little darling in the car, and my girl picked out a squeaky toy a few days later for the pup. My friend and I discussed the pup at length, every day. We oohed and aahed over puppy pics and laughed at his antics. I’ve never seen my friend so elated and so happy.
When he got home from work yesterday, he noticed that Lady and the pup didn’t greet him at the gate. He went into the house and noticed that Lady and the pup weren’t wiggling in anticipation at the back door. When my friend went into the back yard, he found out why: the pup had drowned in their pool. He was floating belly-up in the cold, unforgiving water.
I’m so sad. My friend is devastated. Crushed. Beyond sad.
He and I texted back and forth 100 times today. He vented, and I murmured words, worthless and meaningless words. He expressed his anguish, and I texted back trite blobs of nothing. He admitted his guilt at having stayed late at work instead of rushing home to check on the pup, and I sent blah-blah-blah back to him. He confessed that he couldn’t stop crying, and I texted back virtual hugs. He raged at the unfairness of the situation, and I replied with “life’s not fair/there’s no meaning/nothing makes sense/it’s so cruel, etc etc etc.”
This man lost his father — to cancer, of course — nearly 25 years ago. He and I have an understanding about hard times and grief and the random cruelty of life. We can talk to each other in that way of members of the same club: stripped away, raw, honest, and brutal. We are both shameless animal lovers who have been accused, more than once, of liking critters more than humans. This is a terrible, terrible blow.
Beyond the text-a-thon, I felt helpless. My brain won’t stop returning to the terror that was the pup’s last moments of life. The startling plunge into the pool. The cold water. The frantic flailing. The fear and the struggle. The pain and the terror. The image of that lifeless pup floating in the pool has haunted me all day, and knowing just how anguished my friend is adds insult to injury. I did the only thing I know to do in the midst of loss and tragedy: I got in the kitchen and cooked. Chicken noodle soup, jalapeno cornbread, fruit salad, Greek-style green beans, and insanely fudgey brownies for the family, and sweet-potato dog biscuits for Lady. She needs a treat, too, after the senseless death of her new best friend.
Recently I wrote about the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve been thinking about this, too, today. As I drove to my friend’s house to deliver the food, I was struck by something: I would expect that having traveled down some rocky roads (my mom’s death 8 years ago, my own cancer “journey”), I would be steeled to tragedy. I would expect to be hardened to the shitty things life throws at us. I would expect to be stronger. Tougher. Better-equipped. But I’m not.
If anything, just the opposite is true. Hard times, ugly challenges, and crushing loss are harder, not easier, to handle.
Rest peacefully, sweet pup. We didn’t know you very long, but we loved you gigantic paws, your piercing blue eyes, your high-pitched howls, your feisty spirit, your stubborn streak, your easy-going personality, and your sweet, sweet self.
Today is World Cancer Day. This year’s theme is debunking myths and erasing stigmas attached to cancer. While I’m all for the debunking and erasing, I’m not at all sure how to feel about cancer having its own day. At first blush, I thought: Woohoo! A day to celebrate! I’m always up for that. But then I thought, Wait: what exactly am I celebrating? The fact that I survived? No; too much emphasis on survival makes me uncomfortable, as if I’m tempting fate. The fact that there’s so much awareness and dialogue about cancer nowadays? No; I’m sick of talking about it and even more sick of thinking about it. The fact that I persevered despite a devastating illness and an even more dangerous nosocomial infection? No; I would have rather skipped the whole experience. Especially the infection part.
There’s a poster at my gym with this quote from Sir Edmund Hillary. I’m assuming it’s in reference to Mt Everest. I look at the poster when I’m on the VersaClimber — a cardio machine that at first seemed like an instrument of torture but now is part of my routine. Most times I have to close my eyes to get through my VersaClimber intervals (it’s pretty bad!). But when I’m not closing my eyes, I look at the poster and read Hillary’s words, and realize that indeed, we do conquer ourselves. Including the cancer.