Friday, October 25, 2013

fiercely ever after.

i put my son in bed with me last night. my conscious mind told me it was so i could be close to him in case he needed me. my subconscious knew it was the other way around—that it was i who needed him. in the deep and narrow folds of my brain, the truth of today was there. i slept, poorly, with it all night.

i hoped i would wake up and phaedra would be gone. i wanted her to die in her sleep so i wouldn't have to make them kill her today. but she didn't die. and in a few hours, she will be gone. it will be the end of an era. she and kaiser both will be gone. and nothing will ever be the same.

my boss at the blue moose cafe, molly, found phaedra running around her neighborhood in 2001. as soon as i saw that black-and-white baby come around the corner of the counter that afternoon, wiggling all the way, i knew she'd be mine. and so she was.

kaiser was two. he and phaedra took to each other immediately, as if they had been waiting for each other, and for me, all along. we lived in a basement apartment on willowdale road. it was nicer than your average basement dwelling. considering many of the rental pits in morgantown, it was nice, period.

the landlord, fran, wasn't happy about my new addition. it wasn't a pit bull issue for her but an issue of two dogs and a college kid living in her property. i had taken good care of the place thus far with one dog, and fran had met my dad—and meeting my dad can't be anything but a plus—so maybe that's why she gave in to my pleas to let phaedra stay. and so she did.

my parents weren't pleased with the news, either. another creature to care for was not a good idea, they said. this was an obvious fact, but pragmatism had never been my thing and certainly wasn't on the agenda the day i met my girl. on the day my mom first met phaedra, she had come to town to take my grandma for an appointment and said she'd meet me downtown. when she pulled up at the curb, i walked to greet her with my baby dog on my hip. that's how i carried phaedra in the early days. she didn't seem to mind at all.

phaedra went into heat before i could get her spayed, so off to the pet store i went to figure out what a person does about that sort of thing. at the exotic jungle pet store, i bought her a box of feminine products for dogs and a frilly pair of red-and-white checkered panties to wear on top.

during that period, phaedra's period, that is, kaiser went half-crazy. he wanted nothing in the world—not food nor treats nor my affection—more than he wanted that pretty baby girl-dog in the frilly, checkered panties. i barricaded him in the kitchen and he turned into a woodchuck with a taste for the corner of the farthest cabinet on the left. i couldn't have accounted for a dog-in-heat situation, so i didn't put that incident under the category of Reasons Fran the Landlord Would Say I Told You So. in the days before i moved out, dad had come over and worked some magic with wood putty. all was right in the basement before we went on to our next home. and the next one. and the next.

phaedra was a femme fatale true to her name, which i had taken from greek mythology. she was clearly the boss among my two beasts. although burly and stout (all muscle and teeth, according to one of my many landlords), kaiser easily bowed to the girl with the line of black fur that sat like an eyebrow over one eye.

phaedra was such a beauty. stark white except for that eyebrow, two ears, and one eye colored in blackest black. she had a temper, too. never with me. she didn't care for other animals and was occasionally cranky with people. however, contrary to the lore that says pit bulls give no warning, phaedra gave clear notice when she didn't want to be bothered. and she always wanted to be bothered by me. what a love. near me—in my lap, specifically—was her favorite place to be. she'd snuggle right up to me in bed, and unlike my quirky kaiser, she didn't move until morning.

when we moved to memphis, phaedra and kaiser and i lived in a guesthouse fit for a girl my size. it was tiny and brand new, and we made it our home far away from home. the three of us became known around the neighborhood: the new girl and the two scary-looking dogs. "do they bite?" asked a strange stranger one day. "only the right people," i answered.

we made a life in the south. we sat in spots of sun in my yard with spots of grass. walked along the mississippi river. played at the dog park of our dreams at shelby farms. we even babysat two puppies for a whole day; phaedra was nonplussed, but she turned out to set a fine example for the little ones.

shortly after we moved to felix avenue, our little family grew again: along came joker, another pit bull. a foster who became forever. i knew kaiser, in his infinite oblivion, would barely notice another salivating, gaseous canine in his space. to my surprise, my cranky girl welcomed the newcomer without a hitch as well. in those early months of being the owner of not two but now three big dogs, i was a little frazzled. but there was a thought that would tiptoe around the house at night, when i was in bed and prone to hear the slightest sounds: joker will help you through it when they're gone.

 my family of four, plus one in the oven, moved back to west virginia on a july day in 2011.

not a year later, kaiser would die of lung cancer. another year and a half later, today will bid goodbye to the last of the two companions who saw me through a decade and then some. when phaedra fades away, so will an era of my life.

it's 3:36 p.m. phaedra and i have only 39 minutes left together.

on the way to the vet, phaedra barked at strangers from the window of the car. as old and sick as she was, her voice was yet distinct. short and dense like the thud of a kick drum; round like every bark was accompanied by a mouth full of air.

when the vet said cancer two years ago, the countdown began. how many weeks would i have with her? and then the weeks turned into months. ever so slowly, she grew weaker. never too weak to lose her fire. she fought illness with the fierceness that was phaedra. at the vet this afternoon, the fire was still there. just not enough.

it's 6:11 p.m. my phaedra won't know tomorrow.

next to the hole kaiser left in my heart, another one grows.

goodnight, meanie pants. fay-fay. my pretty girl. i love you with the fierceness that was you, precious you.

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