Memoirs of a Mall Walker- Part 2

When your iTunes playlist seems to sync with your life…

I arrive at the mall not long after sunrise. The mall has just opened.

Lap 1:

The mall is eerily empty. Much of my first lap around the mall is alone. Sometimes I’m lucky if I see one other person. The lights are in various stages of on/off, but mostly off. The stores are empty. The few lights that are on cast long shadows against the reflective glass of the storefronts and I turn my head frequently to make sure no one is behind me. It takes time for my nerves to settle.

The mall is silent except for the obnoxiously loud mall music that blares near the largest anchor stores. The music overpowers the sound from my earbuds. As I move from the blare, there is a quiet pause between the songs on my playlist. I hear my shoes squeaking against the mall floor tiles. They are embarrassingly loud. I must have stepped in something sticky or they mopped the floors with dirty water. Eventually the next song begins and I focus on matching my stride with the beat. I’m walkin’ on sunshine…woah! I’m walkin’ on sunshine…

Lap 2:

People are beginning to join me. This second time around brings more light. An anchor store and a couple smaller shops have their lights on. Employees are moving inside to unload and stock new items. I dodge a dead bug on the floor that I missed on the first lap, but will not miss again. There is light and movement within Chompies. A wonderful smell wafts through the air as fresh bagels are being made. This is why I don’t bring any money with me. I know they have gluten free items. It would defeat the walking if I stopped for a bagel when I was done. I know that there is pain but you hold on for one more day and you break free from the chains…

Lap 3:

The lights are now on in more than a half dozen stores. There is movement inside. They are as curious about me as I am about them; but they go back to their work and I continue my walk. Sticky shoes. Sticky, sticky shoes. The mall cop on his segway whizzes past, holding his head high, refusing eye contact as he tows a child’s fire engine/stroller back to its rightful place. He is proud. This feels beneath him. Curse that movie for making a joke of him. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…

Another man, a man with a prosthetic leg, is slowly making his way around the mall. Most days he is alone. He struggles. He pauses frequently to adjust the attached limb. Sometimes he stands and stares at the rest of us walking. I said, “Good morning,” to him once and he looked away. He grunted at someone else who tried to speak to him. But this morning, as I approached him, I noticed he was walking with someone. A lady someone. As I moved to the left to pass I smiled and said, “Good morning!” to them both. This time he turned his face to me and smiled. It was lit up with joy. He wasn’t walking alone. He was walking lighter and stronger. I wondered if this was his wife (I’d seen her walking many times before, but always alone) or if she had just decided to walk with him for awhile. Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend…

Lap 4:

There are many people circling the inside of the mall now. Some window-shop more than walk. Some walk refusing to notice those around them. Some find the balance of acknowledging and walking. I wish I could tell someone they should be proud of me. I haven’t walked into a wall. I haven’t tripped over my own feet. I haven’t turned my ankle. I’m doing this! But I settle for a quick, “Hi” from the T-Rex ladies as they bob past me all fresh and free. My ankle ligaments begin to feel like they are turning to stone. I want to slow a bit but the song refuses to let me. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…stand a little taller…

I straighten my shoulders and press on.

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Memoirs of a Mall Walker- Part 1

I didn’t set out to become a mall walker. It was the furthest thing on my mind. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to see trees and sky as I walked, so initially I walked a golf course. In Phoenix in the summer, it can be 95 degrees shortly after sunrise, so I began my walks at sunrise. There were trees. There was sky. There were lots of people walking their dogs!!! I love dogs. Life was good. Hot and sweaty, but good.

I only got lost the one time I deviated from the golf course, so I didn’t do that again. I walked out a mile and 1/2, and then back along the same route. I said, “Good morning!” to the same friendly folks every morning, and loved on the same friendly dogs. I listened to audiobooks and my workout playlist. But there were a few problems.

First, the golf course had sprinklers that were turning off just as I arrived. The combination of water and heat made for a rather hot and humid walk.

Second, there was no bathroom.

Third, I had two nasty bouts of shin splints.

Now the third problem was my own fault. I was trying to do too much too soon. In my ignorance, I thought I should just be pushing through the pain. No pain, no gain, right? The runners/walkers on my virtual race support group Facebook page quickly corrected me. I was told to halve my workout, wear better shoes/inserts, and wear compression socks. I was given an article by a physician about compartment syndrome and how it can happen in your shin muscles when you overdo (I thought that was something that only happened to people with severe breaks/crushing injuries. Who knew?). It advised to stop doing whatever exercise caused the shin splints until the pain was entirely gone, and then when you are ready to try again to reduce how much you had been doing.

I rested up a few days. Then the impending monsoon storms pushed me to find another place that wouldn’t subject me to the elements when I walked. The mall seemed the perfect fit. It opens at 6 am so that’s plenty of time for me to drive there, get my 3 miles in, and get home and shower before work. It was air-conditioned and had an open restroom.

It’s a bit of a drive, but my focus was more on eliminating any excuses for walking.

Walking in air conditioning is lovely. Regretfully, it doesn’t eliminate me from sweating like a… do pigs actually sweat? I’ve never seen one sweat. Who came up with that phrase?

I have learned why mall walkers “walk the edges” of the mall, dipping down toward each mall anchor store and back up to the main path again. If you walk the edges, one loop is almost exactly .75 of a mile. Four laps = 3 miles. Perfect. I was now an edge-walking mall-walker.

In the time I’ve been walking the mall, I’ve come to recognize certain types of people that frequent the pre-store hours of the facility.

First, there are the T-Rex-armed speed-walking ladies. They breeze by everyone with their elbows tucked in and their hands up in front of them, bobbing as they walk. They float past even the most focused of walkers, tossing a brief but friendly, “Good morning,” as they leave you behind.

Next are the short-route walkers. These people are focused on fast and would rather walk more laps than cave-in to walking the edges of the malls. When the edge-walkers dip to the right toward an anchor store to maximize their steps, the short-routers keep going straight, undeterred by anything but the fast track.

Then we have the Grunts. These are the gentlemen in their mid-70s or so who walk with their eyes focused 12-inches in front of the tips of their shoes. They keep their heads down and plow past anyone who gets in their way. When they reach the ends of the mall, they stomp up one side of the not-yet-moving escalator and back down the other side of it in a fast loop before continuing with their walk. They walk like they are on a forced march with the enemy closing in. If you try to say good morning to them, you will not be acknowledged with anything more than a grunt.

I’m happy to report I am no longer the slowest walker there. I now fall in the mid-range walkers. Most of us are women, walking alone, listening on our headphones to whatever encourages us to keep moving. We smile and, “Good morning!” back when greeted, but for the most part, we are lost in our thoughts and our tunes or our audiobook.

There is a single couple that walks against the crowd. Everyone else follows the traditional keep-to-the-right and walk counter-clockwise route. This sweet couple keeps to the left and walks into the faces of everyone else. They have beautiful smiles as if to say it’s more important that we see each other than that we are all going the same way. Inevitably, I turn a blind corner and nearly walk into them. The wife and I giggle and the husband laughs, and we all keep moving in opposite directions.

The last group is the slow walkers, among whom there is an odd subset. There are a certain number of gentlemen who come and walk alone, but they dress as if they are going straight to work afterward. They often have a briefcase or a coffee in one hand. I can’t quite figure them out.

There are some heart-wrenching walkers. There are adult children (30s-40s) talking painfully slow walks with their parents who are clearly recovering from some illness/surgery. The parent often looks grieved and humiliated. Growing older stinks.

There are other walkers that are clearly struggling to walk with every step. Some with some sort of palsy or muscular challenges that make them fight for balance and control. One gentleman with a prosthesis from his knee down walks every day. Progress is slow, and I’m guessing painful, but he does it. He motivates me to silence my own excuses and keep moving.

We are a motley crew. But I’m starting to feel I belong there.

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Choose Beauty

Months ago I caught my thumb. At first it looked like only a scratch diagonally across the nail; but then the scratch turned aqua-blue, and then a purplish-black spread out from it. For a few days it was excruciating as the nail separated, except in a few spots, from the nail bed. I got used to the pain. The colors continued to change but a black line remained across it.

It was two months before I realized that what I thought was a dried scab under my nail was actually a piece of wood that had been shoved under my nail back when I injured it. It pulled out easily, and the pain decreased immediately. In a few days, the colors of my nail faded into yellows and the base of the nail seemed to be growing out in a fringing arch.

A few days ago I caught my nail, or rather knocked it squarely on the leading edge. The top, dead nail separated almost completely, except for the left edge which remained firmly and painfully attached. I wrapped it up and wondered if I’d be able to keep it like that until the top detached, but the pain told me I needed to do something. So I waited to get up my courage (and for the nausea of the idea to pass) and as quickly as possible trimmed the top nail back to where only the attached edge was left. The pain is much better now. It’s wrapped back up to prevent the remaining bit from snagging and I’m mentally preparing myself for the fact that at some point, if that bit refuses to grow out as the nail beneath it grows, I may have to grab some pliers and pull it out. The nausea of that idea has not yet passed and for now, since it’s not painful, I’m willing to put up with the band-aids.

How the nail looks is another story. The new under-nail is, well, ugly. The bottom half at least looks mostly normal, but instead of being smooth it is ridged and dull. The top part is crumbly and does not yet extend to the top edge of my thumb. I wonder if it ever will.

There are a lot of painful things in life we don’t ask for, yet we are forced to deal with them. They are ugly, sometimes excruciating, sometimes nauseating; but they are ours to deal with. We can choose to hide them and pretend like they aren’t there, or we can pluck up our courage to do something about them.

This nail may always be ugly, always stick out from the rest as damaged; but I still have a choice. I can leave it, or I can do something to make it better, something to replace the ugly with beauty.

We all have this choice, daily, to deal with the ugly. Choose beauty.

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Be Kind

I was watching a documentary on the Sixties recently. One of the big slogans of that era was “Be Kind.” When I was in high school I was convinced I should have been born in that era. Friends thought that too. I was into Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund and anti chlorofluorocarbons. I loved The Mamas and The Papas and folk singers and my Best of the 60s cassette tape. I wrote a research paper on Haight-Ashbury. A friend from high school called me a “clique queen” because he thought I belonged to so many cliques; but the truth is I felt I belonged nowhere, so I was just kind to everyone.

I think we forget how important kindness is.

When I was counseling clients for my Masters degree, I realized after working with many couples, that kindness was key to the success of their relationship. If they were still able, despite their differences, to be kind to each other, there was hope. If the idea of being kind to each other was more repugnant than having their fingernails pulled out, it usually meant they had both already given up on their relationship and each simply didn’t want to be the one to end it.

Social media horrifies me at times. It seems to promote the idea that if someone disagrees with you, it’s not only acceptable but expected that you unfriend them (after you publicly denounce them as idiots for not thinking as you do). The idea of respecting individuals with differing opinions, ideals, or beliefs seems to have become a foreign concept. Almost as foreign as being kind to those same people.

Maybe it’s because I was taught in school to present both sides of any argument that I learned to have value for people who don’t think as I do. I don’t feel the need to banish them from my life or from my friends list if they don’t agree with my faith or my politics or my personal values. I desire diversity among my friends, not only in ancestry but in ideas. While I admit sometimes it is painful to hear the hatred attached to their concept of my views; without question is spurs me to be a better person. The differences lead me to think more deeply about who I am and what I believe and how I live. They are never a reason to not be kind.

I hope we, as a nation, are able to reclaim kindness. To stop yelling about why we are right and start listening to what others have to say. Maybe then we can see how often we really want the same things. We all want to feel safe in our daily lives, to know our loved ones are safe where they are. We all want a better world for our children.

Let’s be kind.

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Suicide Awareness

September is suicide prevention awareness month. It’s not the easiest thing to be aware of…but we have to change that. We really do.

I’ve known two people that have killed themselves.

One was the 19 year old son of a friend. He was sweet, socially awkward (possibly with Asperger’s) and bullied because of it. I watched my friend and her husband try to find something to hold onto as their lives melted through their outstretched fingers. I did my best to stay in touch; but my friend (his step-mom) was in so much pain I think it was just too hard for her to stay connected with this place. Last I heard they moved out of state.

The other was a dear friend. We attended the same church and became friends at a small group. She had miraculously survived a serious car accident and lived with chronic pain. Her husband lost a bunch of weight and decided he needed to explore the new attention he was getting and divorced her. She had to find a way to support herself emotionally and financially. She joined a single ladies’ Bible study I led as she didn’t feel accepted in the married ladies’ study of which she had been a part for years. I helped her get a job in the company where I worked. Every now and then when I had to go into the office she’d come running to find me (or I’d seek her out) and I’d get one of her hugs and we’d catch up as quick as we could.

You can imagine my surprise when one day I got an interoffice email saying that counseling was available for everyone who knew her and the memorial service would be at this date and time. I emailed my manager asking her through my denial if this email was about my friend. She quickly apologized for not realizing no one had told me before the email had gone out. No one seemed to know what had happened. It wasn’t until the service that we learned that they think the pain just got to her, or the pain medication had befuddled her, and she had taken her own life. I wanted to jump up screaming in the middle of the service. I couldn’t understand. This wasn’t the gal I knew who managed to smile through her pain and move forward through such difficulties and who had happily remarried a short time before her death. I managed to control myself until we all stood to leave the service, and I made a break for my car. I can’t remember how long I drove around, or where I went. I probably shouldn’t have been driving.

It’s been a couple years now. I was thinking about her just two days ago and realized, to my extreme horror, that I couldn’t remember her name. I know when you lose a loved one your memory fades. You forget their face. You forget their voice. But I remembered those as vividly as possible. I could not for the life of me remember her name. I tried for two days and finally had to ask my boss to help me remember. She did. She told me it was the pain that blocked it from my memory. She told me she’d been thinking about her lately too. I hate my inability to remember names.

I don’t know if you’ve lost someone to suicide; I know some of you have. Can we agree in this day and age of selfies and “my opinion is the only one that matters” and unfettered narcissism that we need to be all the more careful to be kind? We need to put down our electronic devices to connect with the people around us at the dinner table. We need to be a voice of kindness to that befuddled cashier. We need to be gracious when we drive. We need to look at the people in our lives and make sure they are ok. Yes, there’s a limit to what we can do—we can’t know everything going on in someone’s head. Ultimately we can’t stop someone if they have decided that’s what they want; but we can be more determined to love people well. How hard is it to send a text that says, “I’m thinking about you today. I miss you.”? Or call someone and tell them you don’t need anything from them, you just want to see how they are doing? Leave a note of encouragement for someone who needs it. Take a lonely person out for coffee or lunch or a movie. Tell the people in your life that you love them and that they matter to you. Please? Just do it.

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Moving Forward

Today, I drove past the house where I grew up. I do that every now and then. Maybe I should stop. It always leaves me melancholy.

The house has changed hands multiple times since my family left it; but here it is, over 20 years later, and I live less than 2 miles away.

The first new owners pulled out my parents’ carefully cultivated rosebushes and the dwarf peach trees that blossomed with memories of sticky-sweet peachy-goo from finger tips to faces, and they slabbed it over with concrete on which to park their monstrous RV.

The next owners stumped the gorgeous silk oak in the front yard, leaving it as a wooden tombstone to my childhood.

The owners after that placed a giant clay pot on the stump. The mind reels.

The current owners finally removed the stump. The grass is a bit overgrown. The once open atrium at the front of the house, that was filled with plants that beckoned guests to the front door, is now empty and bars close off the entire opening to the front of the house.

I’m the sentimental one in my family. While my personality demands that I over-analyze and mentally work out all future eventualities so that I am always prepared for the worst-case scenarios; my emotional side tries to hold onto my past. I don’t want the landmarks of my life to alter, much less become unrecognizable. That house has become so. I had to drive by it twice before I could pick it out.

Why do I do that? Try to hold onto what once was, but isn’t now. It was a place of Wonderful World of Disney family popcorn-for-dinner nights and contests to see who could swim the farthest underwater in the pool. A place where we took hammers to the pool-side river rocks to see if we could find geodes (sorry, Dad). A place of tarantulas in the pool skimmer and lizards that made Grandma scream. A place of fire ants and root beer floats and Mom’s watermelon whale fruit salad bowl. A place where little girls with bandanas on their heads and brooms in their hands sang, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” or dropped to their hands and knees to be Snoopy in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”. A place where my sisters and I sat in the dark front room of the house before the twinkle-lighted Christmas tree playing “I Spy” and shared what we hoped we’d find under the tree in the morning. It was a place of many things. It was. girls at sunset

But that place isn’t mine any more. No part of it. What is still mine are those memories. They always will be, as long as I have the ability to remember. But I don’t live there any more. Those memories can be momentary touch-points—the way you absent-mindedly reach out to be sure your phone is still next to you while you are focused on the task at hand. Those memories are still within reach, but they aren’t my “now”.

Before me is a path not-yet-taken. My curiosity propels me forward into the unknown that awaits. I may turn for a moment to watch the past fade behind me before stepping forward; but I must keep moving. There is so much more ahead. And for once, I’m excited at the prospect of that. The future is laden with hope, and not fear. It’s time to move further on.

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The Creative Ache in Grief

When I grieve, I shut down. Most of the time I won’t let myself cry in front of anyone else. I’m just trying to hold it together.

I couldn’t speak to anyone without fear of crying.

My creative spark shut down too. When I sat down to paint or draw, the brush or pencil seemed heavier than Thor’s hammer. Impossible to pick up. Impossible to wield.

I tried to sing to ease the pain of my heavy heart; but even songs of the greatest melancholy left me dry.

At the same time I felt the deep ache to create.

I’m learning to let it out. To seek out safe places where I can ugly cry and no one will care. It helps. It’s much more healing than holding it in.

I took to writing. It helped me get out what I wanted to say, to process my thoughts, with no one to see me sobbing but my computer screen.

Some time ago, when I was visiting my parents and attended my mother’s church, I listened to a lady sing. She sang a powerful solo with tears streaming down her face; yet her voice never wavered. I was amazed. My own nerves could always be heard whenever I was asked to sing solo. I couldn’t imagine being that emotional, crying while singing, and yet my voice not being impacted. When I asked her how she managed it she said, “You can’t fight it. You have to just allow yourself to cry. Fighting it is what makes everything else go bad.”

There’s no way around pain. We can try to avoid it, but it just ends up hurting us more. Grief has to be allowed. Like a river, it plots its own course, not always going where you’d expect. The boulders and trees and mountains of each person’s life make it move and flow differently for different individuals. It must be allowed to flow.


It’s been months since I sat down and wrote the above. At the time my grief was still so heavy. I was ready to go off on the next person who told me to “just get another dog.” The idea of EVER getting another dog felt like a pole impaling my chest.

I fought to find an outlet. I tried to paint, feeling nearly manic about it, as if I started to sketch or apply brush strokes to paper or canvas I wouldn’t be able to stop. Would all night be enough to let it out? Would all weekend? Would any measure of time be sufficient to put a dent in it? In the end, I couldn’t even start.

I’m not sure what happened, what changed. At the 6 month anniversary of my little dog’s death I was still so full of pain; but a short time later it was like a door in my heart opened and allowed in sun and fresh air and I could genuinely see myself, one day, getting another dog.

I’ve also been able to be creative again. Not to the extent I’d like, not yet…but little by little. Creating a necklace for a friend, ready to do some bracelets for another. Working slowly on some watercolors for my sister, and an acrylic for a friend. Writing more regularly and more creatively than my normal wrestling with words to figure out what I’m feeling. I’m sure not everyone has this same creative ache in their grief, but maybe some do. And finally I feel the freedom and breath of life and love reaching back into those painful, wounded places…bringing healing.

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On Grief…with Thanks

Grief leaves you with puffy red eyes that you cannot hide.

Grief makes you hear and see things that aren’t there.

Grief weighs you down like a lead-lined blanket.

Grief makes you endlessly tired but unable to sleep.

Grief takes away your ability to answer questions, to think straight.

Grief pokes at you day in and day out; and just when you think it might have finally given you room to breathe it looms large again.

Grief makes your emotions change randomly and frequently.

Grief dehydrates you.

Grief is lonely.

Grief is work.

But I’m thankful to those who gave me so many kind words on Facebook. To the one who called to ask if I needed help with final arrangements. To the ones who dropped everything to be there for me in that moment and gave me a safe place to fall. To the one who sat with me and made sure I ate something and told me I was doing really well through everything. To the one who kept reaching out when I pulled away, until we worked through this. To the one whose words shortened the distance between us and provided great comfort. To the one who called long-distance to be here with me. To the one who let me cry on her shoulder and told me sometimes dogs are just better than people. To everyone who understands that you really can grieve over a dog as deeply as you can a person…I just wanted to say thank you.

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Losing Kobe

It’s 4:30am as I sit here and write this. My head still hurts from crying all day yesterday, and much of last night. I knew this was coming. In some ways it helped, but only in some. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.

Over fourteen years ago I went through some major health stuff. When I finally made it back to work, I was weak; but managing. They had me training someone for our job. Over the course of three days, the person I was training had learned of my health challenges and it turned out many of them were in common with ones she had survived. She didn’t like that I lived alone while I was going through everything. “You should at least have a dog.”

I had looked into getting a dog, I told her, but between the pet deposit on my apartment and the cost of the dog I just couldn’t afford it, especially with all my medical expenses. I don’t do puppy mill dogs. If I went to the pound I’d want them all. I found a gal in my office who had one, but she wanted $300 for it because it was an AKC papered-Lhasa Apso she had bought for her daughter who was moving and didn’t want to keep him.

The next day I came into the office and the lady I was training handed me a check for my pet deposit and told me I could pick up my Lhasa Apso from the lady in the office whenever I was ready. She had paid the entire amount for me. Needless to say I was floored. No one had ever done anything so kind for me, especially someone I had known for only three days.

When I first met Kobe he was a tangled, overgrown ball of matted fur. Because the daughter hadn’t wanted him, he was left outside on his own most of the time, not cared for. It didn’t matter. It was love at first sight. He was mine. His actual name was Colby III (yes, “the third”); but his owners called him Kobe and I didn’t want to confuse him. He was only a year old. A black, course-haired Lhasa with a white patch at his chest.

If you’ve ever rescued a dog you know how grateful they are to you. They know when they aren’t wanted. They know when they’ve found someone who loves them. He laid on my feet while I sat at my desk. He laid on my feet when I used the toilet. He followed me everywhere. Once he pulled away from me when I was walking him and he ran away…disappearing around the corner to the parking lot. I ran, praying a car wouldn’t hit him. Suddenly he was running back straight at me with the look of a terrified toddler, his eyes screaming, “Where did you go???”

I soon taught him to sit, lay down, shake (with both paws), roll over, beg, and give kisses. His kisses. There were times I thought I was his salt-lick. He loved to lick my legs when I laid down to sleep. Drove me nuts sometimes. When I was sick he would lay down next to me and lick my throat. When I tried to sleep in he’d sit on my hair so I couldn’t move and lick in my ear! Sometimes, for no reason I can think of, he’d walk over to me, touch his tongue lightly on my leg, and then turn and walk away. It always cracked me up. I know a lot of people hate dog lick. I never have. It was always sweet to me.

Kobe was small, about 18 pounds; but from the other side of the door his bark sounded like he was Rottweiler-sized, which made him perfect for life in a small studio apartment. He was also formidable and protective.

Once my back went out at 2 in the morning. I tried to force myself up to use the bathroom but ended up passing out, hitting my head on the bathtub. It took me almost 3 hours to crawl to the phone to call for help. Kobe was next to me the entire way. He whimpered and circled me as I tried to move; and when I stopped moving he’d lick my face. When the firemen came to help me, he had all FIVE of the big guys backed up against the wall. He wouldn’t let them near me. I had to explain to them that he knew something was wrong and was just trying to protect me from strangers. One of them got down on his knees and started speaking kindly to him. Only then did he calm down enough to let the fireman move him into my kitchen.

Most nights he slept snuggled up at my feet. If I turned away from him he’d move up behind my knees or my back. I called him my furry hot water bottle. Even in the 117 degree heat in the summer with the a/c broken, he still wanted nearness.

He still did at the end. He’d had a congested lung for nearly a year. The vets disagreed on what was causing it; one thinking cancer or valley fever and the other thinking merely an infection. Four rounds of antibiotics and steroids did nothing. He didn’t seem bothered by it, aside from the occasional cough. He was perky as ever. Eating and doing everything else normally. He’d loved moving in here. Renting a room from a friend with two dogs gave him an instant pack. He wasn’t sure what to make of it at first; but soon he was following around the largest (and youngest) dog, watching her every move. We joked that he wanted to be like her when he grew up. She put up with him walking under her (he could actually walk under her belly, because of the size difference).

The day before yesterday his breathing changed. It became rattling and wheezy. It was much more labored. They had already told me there was nothing more they could do beyond extreme measures I couldn’t afford. He was fine when he was laying down, but when he’d move he’d erupt into prolonged coughing/choking. Even still he wanted to be near me. Sitting at my feet while I worked. Forcing himself to follow me if I left the room. But he was changed. He seemed confused. I had to pick him up to put him outside and then he just stood there instead of going into the grass of the backyard. He had stopped eating, uninterested in even his favorite treat. I had to lift up the bowl of water for him to drink. I laid him on my bed so his head could be elevated as he laid down; but as I turned around to work he’d breath harder, more urgently. He didn’t want me to leave him.

During my first break of the morning I laid down beside him. Almost immediately his breathing became desperate. His head raised up and back until he could see me and then he went limp. He stopped breathing and his heart stopped. I screamed for my friend to come. We said our goodbyes. Then he moved. Incredulously we watched as his breathing started again, only seriously labored. Again his head raised up and back until he could see me. I told him it was ok. I was with him. He wasn’t alone. Again he went limp. Again, what seemed like minutes later he moved and breathed again. I was nearly hysterical. I was ready to rush him to the vet. I didn’t want him to suffer; but he HATED the vet. I didn’t want his last moments to be full of fear. This time his breathing gently slowed, and stopped. I felt his heart stop. We waited. No movement. No more. The alarm signaling my break had ended went off. It took just over 15 minutes.

A friend came and I wrapped him in his blanket and we took him to the vet for them to confirm he was gone. I couldn’t bear the thought of burying him if he was only in a coma. They came out to the parking lot to check him so I didn’t have to come in. They confirmed. He was gone.

I’m so thankful I had him. I’m thankful I didn’t have to make the choice to put him down. He was fifteen years old. Fourteen of those we spent together. My friend told me the fact he wanted to be with me, to stay with me when he died, spoke of our closeness as many dogs seem to go off to be alone when they die. I hope that was true. I hope that he loved being my companion as much as I’d loved him.

I have a furry water-bottle-shaped hole in my life now. I keep thinking I hear his paw move on the floor. I worry about stepping on him when I put my feet down from the bed. I think for a second I left him outside.

When you live alone for 14 years, there are many challenges in that. He was my only companion for most of that. He made my life so much better. I’m so thankful.

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Lucy Died Today

It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be like. I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t tell it had happened, at least not right away.

I was working when from the other room came a terrible cry. I ran in but couldn’t figure out which dog made the noise. There are three dogs in the house. One was with me. I knew it wasn’t him. One was running outside. The other was sleeping, breathing normally. I went back to work.

The next “scream” was longer. I ran into the other room again. This time I saw it coming from the sleeping dog. I assumed it was a dream. Her feet were moving. She was breathing like she was running. I tried to rouse her, but seconds after her head lifted she’d lay it back down and start snoring. It must just be a dream. I went back to work.

There was another yelp. This one short. I ran back to the room. I tried to rouse her again but she wouldn’t wake up. She was breathing hard. There was a bad smell. She had vacated under her chair (her favorite sleeping spot). I tried to lift her and she yelped. I called her owner (my friend who rents me a room here). I told Lucy to hold on. I petted her and talked to her and told her that her momma was coming.

Before my friend could get home, Lucy stopped breathing. I watched my friend touch her and confirm she was gone. She handled it far better than I did. Talking sweetly to her. Saying it was probably the best way for her to go. I’m still crying.

She was old. A 12-13 year old cream-colored cocker spaniel who looked like a sheep when she needed a haircut (seriously, kids who saw her would point and say, “Look mom, a sheep!”). She was blind. She would often walking straight at my dog and get into a tussle because my much smaller dog thought she was picking a fight. She was sweet. We called her the ninja dog because of the way she would sidle up to the coffee table when there was food on it, her nose going the whole time; then, when she sensed no one was looking, she’d move quick as lightening to snatch whatever she could.

She would be sound asleep and as soon as you pulled out food (cold, hot, didn’t matter) you’d see her nose start wiggling back and forth and soon her big, sleepy head would raise and lead her toward the smell.

It was the first time any living thing that I’ve loved had ever died in my arms.

I’ll miss her.

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