Good-Bye, Old Girl
October 1, 2013
My Old Guardian passed away this morning.
Ripley was a Good Girl – and I owe her a debt I cannot ever repay.
In the months after my divorce she chased so many ghosts out of this big empty house. In the evenings when I would come home from work, it was so comforting to be greeted at the door by someone who was so glad to see to me.
In the turmoil of the months that followed, my daughter Mouse often had trouble sleeping and became very, very afraid of the dark.
Nobel Ripley was drafted for service in the Little Girl Guardian Corps, and was posted at the foot of little Mouse’s bed. She performed her duty bravely – and chased the darkness from the room and the shadows from Mouse’s small and troubled face as she slept. Mouse slept soundly knowing that her big brave girl was watching over her from her post at the foot of the bed. I slept better knowing her sleep was less troubled.
When Mouse would go back to her mothers after our time together – Ripley would often mourn her, and pace endlessly in front of her empty room. If I’d close the door – she’d stubbornly sleep on the hard floor in front of Mouse’s door, as if to say “If you won’t let me in, then I’ll guard the door so nobody else can get in either.”
When my daughter would return from her mothers for our time together – stalwart Ripley would assume her place at Mouse’s side, and never wander far from it the entire time she was here. She took her service in the LGGC very seriously.
If I’d lose my temper with my daughter – and begin scolding her too seriously – Guardian Ripley would jump into service and interpose herself between me and Mouse as if to say “Chill Out Dad, anybody could have put Skittles candy in the VCR – it’s not that big of a deal.” It was hard to stay angry at my two favorite girls, especially when they ganged up on me.
As the years rolled on and my daughter began to grow – the two remained a unit, and when it became necessary for Mouse to start “latch-keying” at my house, it was a deep and abiding comfort to know that that absolutely gigantic tongue and happy snarffling would be there to greet her every day after school, and to keep her safe then too.
A couple of years ago Ripley got very sick. Cancer the vet said. A tumor on her insides. The operation would be expensive – and even if the doctor got all of it – it would be hard on her – and probably only a “temporary” fix. Once a Boxer starts with the cancerous growths – well – the prognosis isn’t good.
For a moment I worried because… money comes hard for a divorced dad, but as I watched my Good Old Girl sleeping peacefully beside my Little Mouse – it was only for a moment. I knew what I had to do.
She was okay for a little while. We had a couple of good summers after that – although she never fully recovered. Our long walks in the evenings and our endless play sessions with that damned old squeaky porcupine were over. Where once she’d prance the entire neighborhood with her head held up like she was somebody – now she confined herself to her overstuffed bed near the couch. Where once I had to be careful or I’d get a well-slobbered squeaky porcupine stuffed in my lap and then a head-cocked look as if to say “Yo! Food-guy! Time to play.” – now she contented herself just sort of mothering that matted old toy as if it was the puppy she never had.
She was a recalcitrant counter surfer, and an unapologetic toilet water connoisseur, and one of her favorite shenanigans was to wait until the evening for me to be in my study writing, then she’d softly get up from her bed in the other room and pad into my study nonchalantly and come over and stand next to me as I wrote – and then – like some old man in a locker room – she’d lift her hind leg and let loose a fart that can only be described as one her famous “face-melters”.
Then she’d quietly pad back to her bed in the other room where the air was fresh – and leave me choking in the great green fog.
I swear to G-d that dog snickered at me every time she did it. If I’d yell or make a fuss – Mouse would try to stifle her amusement and scold me for not appreciating the fact that Ripley just wanted to share with me. Then she’d giggle herself silly and give the wise-ass a jerky-treat.
A few weeks ago her back legs began to get shaky, and I told myself that she might just be sick. My nosey neighbor fancies herself a “dog-lover” and although I’ve exchanged angry words with her about it – she’d still often sneak Ripley table-food treats, something you just can’t do with a Boxer. She’d get horrible diarrhea and her back legs would wobble a bit until she felt better.
But… that turned out to be wishful thinking.
A trip to the vet confirmed that her cancer had returned, this time in her kidneys and liver, and her lower spine. I asked about an operation. The vet explained that my Good Old Girl was, in practicality, over 100 years old, and even if the doctor could get all the cancer (and she couldn’t) Ripley was much too old to survive the operation.
I spent the next few weeks giving her antibiotics, anti-inflammatory pills and steroids, and cortisone injections and a metric ton of pills trying to save her – even though the vet was very clear that there was very little chance that any of it would do any good at all.
Friday evening she didn’t sleep at all, and whined most of the night. Even though I put extra blankets out for her, she whimpered and shook most of the evening. Saturday morning when I woke to let her out, I knew it was time. She couldn’t move anymore at all. Her back legs were useless, and her breathing was ragged and labored. I carried her out to the yard to pee, and as I set her down, she gave me a long and serious look that told me that it was time. She asked me not to hold on to her any more.
I fought back the tears, and made the hard phone call, and arranged to meet the vet Sunday morning.
When the time came, I sat beside her and gave her favorite ear-rubbing, the kind that always made the magic legs beat on the floor, and I patted her face gently as she turned and gave me a look, the look said “Tell Mouse that I’ll be waiting for her when she gets to heaven, and that she can count on me to keep all the rabbits out of her yard until she gets there.” And then she went to sleep for the last time.
She chased so much darkness from of our lives, and I grieved because I couldn’t chase this darkness from hers.
I’ll be waiting for Mouse tomorrow afternoon when she opens that front door, and that gigantic tongue and happy snarffling isn’t there to greet her for the first time ever, and I’ll hold her and assure her that she didn’t go in pain, and that she didn’t go alone, and to help her remember the Gentle Soldier that stood guard over both of us for so many years.
Good-Bye, Old Girl.
August 18, 2013
As August spins down and the dog days of summer begin to fade, there is always this moment where the approach of autumn becomes palpable, and the stores inevitably fill up with school supplies.
The emotions surrounding this time are very strong for me. Especially where my daughter is concerned.
Part of me becomes incredibly sad, because, in very real ways, summer was OUR time. She spent the vast majority of her days with me over summer, and we had so many great summer adventures. Camping. Movies. Float trips. Chicago. Bicycling. And the pool. Especially the pool. We practically LIVED in the water from the moment the pool opened on Memorial Day to the Moment we made our annual pilgrimage to watch them close it up the day after Labor Day.
In spite of the sadness that summer was passing, part of me actually became very excited. Excited about the new school year. The new opportunities for her. The fresh start.
This past weekend would have been the one where I took her to buy school supplies and school clothes.
I miss the hell out of that ritual.
The smell of new paper and number two wooden pencils. Of freshly washed cotton and new blue jeans. The bright splashy colors of Lisa Frank folders, and scented markers and unicorn erasers.
The nervous/excited look on her face as the first day approaches.
I know she is 22 this year, but as I wander through the aisles of Target, I’m gripped by the desire to snatch a new Lisa Frank backpack off the shelf, and fill it with pencils, and folders, and erasers, and “college ruled” notebook paper neatly snapped into a three ring binder with the singer from Evanescence on the cover.
Then I’m going to point the cart down the girls clothing aisle, and fill it with overalls, and denim blue jeans, and shirts with lady bugs and SpongeBob on them and shoes with lights in the heel that blink as she walks. Maybe I’ll stop at “Hot Topix” on the way home and get some black pants and t-shirts with quirky sayings from way before she was born on them. I was never more glad to see one of her phases pass than I was to see “Goth” go on its way.
I know that in a few weeks those perfect binders will be defaced with crude ink drawings of odd things, and the names of her newest “boyfriends” or BFF’s all over them as they are tossed unceremoniously on the floor beside the door in the afternoon as she gets home.
It may seem very strange to admit, but I wouldn’t even mind standing in line to register her for classes, only to find that she failed to turn in some obscure text book last semester that I will have to pay some enormous sum for today – only to find in the bottom of a forgotten book bag in the bottom of an even more forgotten closet mess eight months from now.
I miss having to bring something up to school and drop it off about twice a month because she forgot her gym clothes/lunch money/math assignment.
I miss this aspect of being her father.
I miss our rituals.
The Fall always makes me feel this way.