Tuesday, May 29, 2007

eulogy for Harley

With Harley on Discovery Beach, Seattle, 1999. Olympus Stylus Epic. Photo by Jim Schlenker.


Harley: May 1993 – 1 September 2000

My girl is gone. The skin biopsy they took the last day of August revealed the root of her puzzling illness: lymphangiosarcoma, a cancer that cats get sometimes, and dogs, almost never. It’s true; life really isn’t fair. Just three days before we had toured the halls of the vet hospital, Harley happily skipping along, thinking that it was just another day at school, greeting everyone we walked by and trying to duck into every room or office to see if she’d missed anybody. The last three days, she was so tired, she mostly just followed me with her eyes. She was so weak, she would take a treat into her mouth and only hold it there. In some ways, she was already gone.

When I knew there was no hope it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I think that maybe she didn’t even notice – she was merely trading one state of being for another quite similar. I only wanted to make sure that she never had any bad days. Harley was a fighter, or maybe she was just incapable of comprehending evil, or even plain bad luck. She had never in her life known pain, or fear, or anxiety, or defeat – only that terrible lassitude of the last three days – and all that mattered to me was to keep it that way until the end. She was such a good girl. She went easily, in my arms. It actually wasn’t so hard for me to be there, and I want everyone who reads this to remember that: it is the last act of love you can do for them. If I who loved her so much could be there for her then, anyone should be able to find the strength. What I have to go through now is the hard part.

There are a thousand stories I could tell about her, every single one of them about her beauty, her wit, her brilliance (did I ever tell you that she would unwind herself if her leash got tangled around a tree?), her athleticism (you read that right!), her honesty, and none of them would even begin to explain why I loved her the way I did. Who would have ever thought that someone who weighed ten pounds could leave such a hole in my heart? Some dogs have one-note personalities; hers was a richly layered composition. She was often pensive, always mulling over something – I never caught her with a blank look on her face. She was such a beautiful creature that everyone loved her on sight, and she returned that love a thousandfold. She was supremely confident: she knew that the world adored her, and because she never questioned that love, she gave it back to everyone with love to spare. All of us should be so lucky. If she had a funeral, hundreds of people would show up. More, I am certain, than would come for me!

Because she was always with me, there is nowhere that she shouldn’t be, nowhere that I don’t expect to see her, and nowhere I am safe from missing her. I see her everywhere – laughing at me from the top of the stairs. Toddling busily ahead of me as I walked to campus (she always had to be ahead, even if she had never been there before and had no idea where she was going). I ran home to my mother’s house in Virginia and still she is everywhere. A glimpse of russet fur in the passenger seat of the car. Peeking out of the dining room, where she liked to hang out under the table. Squeezing herself into her favorite space under my bed. I walk through her as I traverse the second-floor hallway. Harley loved liminal spaces, like doorways and halls. I hear her tags jingling. I hear her nails clicking on the floor. (She submitted willingly to all manner of grooming with the one exception of having her nails done. She hated it. I would have to hold onto her paw and she would lean in the opposite direction to get the rest of her body as far away from the evil nail clippers as possible. So, her nails were always too long.) In some ways I am glad that I keep seeing her, because she is as she always was, not as she was during her last days. Maybe it’s her way of saying goodbye. Maybe it’s mine.

I loved her, I loved her and now she is dead, so much sooner than she should have been. Maybe dogs are only allowed so much happiness in their lives and Harley used all hers up. Because every day, she felt joy. You could see it in her eyes. Harley, my good girl, I miss you. You were everything a dog should be and nothing she shouldn’t and you were perfect in every way and I was so very lucky to have you. As much as I hurt now, I wouldn’t trade a second of it. And if I had it to do all over again, I would, in a heartbeat, even all the bad parts. Except this time I would let you eat jerky treats and forget all that low-sodium diet nonsense. I’m sorry about that. I love you. I love you.