I was managing to hold it together pretty well, sitting in the lobby of the vet’s office next to my mother, until I flashed back to being in the same office at age 18, waiting to have the last of my childhood dogs put to sleep. I wore an A Perfect Circle shirt and remembered the sound of the dog hacking—his lungs filling with fluid—and all the fur I had on me afterwards and the feeling I couldn’t get away from it. I realized I was sitting in the exact same chair, waiting to do the exact same thing. And then I lost it.
This dog, a Chihuahua named Czarina, was gifted to me by my sister when I was 16. She picked me up from a friend’s house, and getting another little dog had been the subject of much discussion. It was so dark and the puppy was so little I didn’t even see her on my sister’s lap until she handed her to me. I insisted we stop on the way through town and show her off to my new girlfriend, who’s now my wife.
The dog was mine, make no mistake, but my mother more or less adopted her, and when I moved out, I couldn’t really bring a dog anyway, so she stayed behind. So it was my mother who held her in the vet’s office, stroking her, telling her she was a good girl, that she loved her, and my mother who held her as the vet said it didn’t look good, she couldn’t stand up, she was in pain—running through all the motions toward the inevitable conclusion. We all knew why we were there.
If you’ve never seen it, the drug they use to euthanize dogs has a pinkish hue. The Pink Stuff. In the 13 years since I last saw it, the Pink Stuff had taken on a sinister opaqueness and a glowing resonance, like luminescent Pepto-Bismol. Really it looked more like a Cosmopolitan my wife might complain about not having enough booze in it.
A woman was speaking loudly in the next room about her obnoxious teenaged granddaughter. One of the vet’s assistants came into where we were and offered sympathy. My mother cried. I tried not to cry and failed. The dog had been given a sedative and my mother kept trying to get her to sleep, but she wouldn’t sleep. She shook and was scared and in pain and there was nothing we could do for her except wait what seemed like an excruciatingly long time for the vet to come back with his syringe of pink stuff and at least get it over with. The woman ranted next door and I looked at the pictures on the wall of other people’s dogs, sitting on couches, chewing bones or tennis balls. They’re all dead, I thought. They’re all dead too.
When it happened, it happened. It was a procedure. My mother still held the dog. I never got to hold the dog. She didn’t look though and I did. When I was 18, I didn’t stay. I couldn’t. It was a failure on my part. I should’ve been there. This time at least I could stay. Did that give me some control over the situation? Over myself? I don’t know. I just cried and watched. But I watched. The vet used clippers to clear away some fur on the dog’s leg and tapped a vein, stuck the needle in and slowly administered the injection. About a minute later, he picked up a stethoscope to check vitals and the dog was gone. My mother was still holding it, still crying, telling her she was a good girl.
The poet Mark Doty said in his memoir Dog Years that to love a dog is to make a pact with grief. I drove my mother home and eventually came to the office to do a couple hours of work, but I couldn’t really hack it and left soon after. Just about every day, my dog Dio comes to work with me. She has a bed in the corner of the Editorial department and she picks her head up when people come in, runs to greet the UPS guy, etc. She and I went home and I spent the rest of the day in bed, watching episode after episode of Futurama in the dark, crying every now and then but mostly just trying to be as punched-out as possible. It didn’t really work. Nothing ever does.