I recently uploaded a bunch of my Rearview series images at Leica Fotopark, It’s like an image server run by Leica Camera, and two things happened. Firstly, I won 3rd place in a Valentine’s Day photo contest they were running and secondly, I was contacted by Leica Blog about doing an interview with me. Just like Lana Turner, sometimes you do get discovered.
Now in my 50th year I find myself thinking a lot about time. The way I usually equate time is through events or milestones. Because dog’s lives are so much shorter than our own, having a dog causes us to witness an accelerated microcosm of our own life. I have been a constant dog owner. Here is my life in dogs.
One day when I was six years old living in Tudor Court, my grandfather showed up with a little black ball of a puppy. I spent the next 4 hours scheming with my mom on how we were going to present this to my dad. If I remember correctly he was eating dinner when he heard soft little yelps emanating from the living room. My father wasn’t crazy about the idea of a dog but tolerated him. I named that puppy Fritz after the son of the guy who was building our new house. Fritz was a smart, athletic dog that had 9 lives. I remember him being hit by a car and a motorcycle on two different occasions. He was always running away (we never had him neutered) the evidence of which was one of the neighbor’s new puppies which when it grew up was Fritz’s double. Fritz settled down a lot in his old age. When my parents divorced and I went off to college my dad and Fritz bonded. Fritz would pace around the house keeping in constant motion, I imagine because it hurt too much to stop. He would have a hard time getting back up once lying down. In the end my father would have to carry him outside to relieve himself. My dad knew it was time to take Fritz to be put”to sleep”, he just kept putting it off. When he finally took him to the vet for the last time it was he who held him as he passed.
A smart, contemplative, melancholic dog. We chose Emma because she was the only dog not barking or making a fuss while walking through the pound . She stood at the back of the pen sheepishly staring at me. This is the dog I wanted. My ex-wife named her Emma after the daughter on the popular television series at the time “Thirty Something”, it fit. I think Emma may have been abused as a puppy because she would cower when an object was picked up too quickly near her. It took awhile for us to gain her trust but she eventually came out of her shell. When my first wife and I split, I got Emma. Emma and I lived in some pretty dismal places and I shared my food with her. Her funniest trait and the reason I referred to her as melancholic was her constant sighing. I think Emma grew to think of herself as my equal. We went everywhere together, she didn’t need a leash. Emma was good-natured and accepted whom ever I brought into our lives, girlfriends, wives, children Emma put up with or loved them. When dementia started to set in and Emma started mistaking indoors with outdoors I knew it was time. I held Emma when she was euthanized and I’d never cried so much in my life. Emma was the best dog I had ever had.
I was dogless for 5 years when I felt that canine yearning again. Annie was chosen off the internet, not the best way to adopt a dog. It took me awhile before I warmed up to this nervous little creature, my wife even longer. My son however immediately loved her as I had loved Fritz. We named her after a bottle of ketchup on the dining room table. I kept Annie with me constantly the first 6 months we had her which was why she was so successfully housebroken. I was able to bring her with me to work everyday and she developed her amazing ability to ride in a car. I’ve never had an animal that was so good in the car. She jumps in the car and lays down in the backseat foot wells and sleeps until we get to our destination. Annie’s bad traits are her nervousness, which makes her a chewer. She’s chewed through drywall and our sneakers. If you bring anything new into the house and she sees that you need or want that item, she’ll take it and chew it to pieces. Her other con is her smell, which I attribute to her nervousness. Its sort of homeless person mixed with cooked peas. This smell requires her to be bathed pretty regularly. Time will tell where she ranks amongst other dogs but I have grown fond of her just the same.
Dog’s lives become milestones of our own. There really is nothing better than getting to know a dog. The only downside is their lives are so short by the time you get to know them they’re gone.
I’m not a spiritual person and except for my brief dalliance with divinity. I consider myself an atheist. So how did something that happened last year lead me to question some of my preconceptions?
My mother died a year ago today. While that in and of itself is a significant occurrence in a person’s life, it pales to a day that happened two weeks before this. My mom had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in January of 2011. Bladder cancer is typically curable, except my mother’s cancer was in a much more advanced stage. Knowing her cancer was stage 4 and not wanting to deal with chemotherapy she chose to go the natural route and went to Mexico. After a week of intensive vitamin supplement therapies she made it home in a weakened state. In pain and not able to keep any food down, she went into the hospital at home where they put a nasogastric tube through her nose down to her stomach to relief pressure. My mother for years had suffered with colitis and the doctors were thinking that the colitis was flaring up because of the stress she was undergoing and this was causing a blockage in her intestines. The idea was to get the inflammation down and the blockage will go away. After 2 weeks of this and no relief, the decision was made to send her to The Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia where they specialized in intestinal surgery.
I decided to take the day off from work, drive to Philly and visit my mother in the hospital. It was a Thursday. She didn’t want me to take the day off to come and visit her. “Wait until the weekend, come down on Saturday” she said. I reassured her that It was fine for me to take the day off and I would see her the next day. I called my friend Tim and told him I would be down and I would have breakfast with him in the morning before going up to the hospital, visiting hours started at noon.
I got down to Philadelphia around 9:30 am and called Tim from outside his house. No answer. Strange, his car was parked on the street. I walked up to his front door and rang the bell, waited, nothing. I went back to my car and tried to call again, again no response. I waited in front of his house for about half an hour and tried to call one more time, still no answer. This time I left a message. “I’m going to the hospital to see if I can get in early, call you later”
When I arrived at the hospital and parked, for some reason I decided to check my email. There was a message from my mother which said it was good that I was coming because she had to go in for emergency surgery immediately and she could see me when she woke up. She had very bad phone reception from her hospital room and took to emailing everyone. I immediately made my way up to her floor. They were prepping my mom when I got to her room. I was able to spend a few minutes with her and walk with her gurney holding her hand to the elevator. The nurse told me to go up to a family waiting area and “check in”. When I did and they said it would take about two hours I decided to go get something to eat.
Tim called me when I got down to the street. “I don’t know what happened, I couldn’t wake up” he said. “I turned my phone off for some reason which I never do and I didn’t hear the doorbell”. “I’m glad you didn’t wake up” I said.
Forty five minutes later my cell phone rang and it was her surgeon. “Can you come to the family waiting area now”? It was way too soon for the surgery to be over, I was about 3 blocks away and I ran full-out to get back to the hospital. I had a bad feeling and knew something was wrong. When I arrived upstairs the surgeon greeted me with a sorrowful look on his face. “When we opened your mom up her insides were so diseased with cancer we closed her back up. We took the NG tube out and put in a Gastrostomy so she should be more comfortable. “How long does she have”? I asked. “she wont be able to eat anymore and won’t be able to absorb any nutrition so only a few days to a week, I’m sorry” he said. “I want to tell her when she wakes up” I said. “OK, I can certainly be there and tell her if you want” The surgeon said. “No” I said “I want to do this”.
I waited the longest hour of my life for my mom to come out of the anesthesia. As I sat at the foot of her bed and she stated to stir, I finally understood what dread feels like. Her hand first went to her nose, as she felt nothing there a smile came to her face. Then she began pulling the covers back and touching her stapled together pelvis and with a dry raspy voice said “what happened”? “Mom, it’s not good” I said. Her hand immediately went up in the air and turned palm up, a gesture that I immediately recognized from my grandfather, her father, which meant oh well what are you gonna do? She immediately fell back to sleep with what seemed like relief from finally knowing what she already knew.
I don’t know if it was coincidence or some divine intervention but I felt compelled to go down that day. Something caused me to be in the right place at the right time during every event that unfolded. I was there for a reason that day, I’m sure of this. And even though it was one of the worst days imaginable, I can’t think of any place I would have rather been.