She walks into the room wearing brown Birkenstock clogs that are faded, weathered and beaten up. She’s pinch-hitting for our regular, most caring vegan vet who’s away taking care of his own sick dog. The pinch-hitting vet is not only a she who’s a much better communicator than the regular vet, she doesn’t mumble and doesn’t think out loud in meandering, tangential monologues. What’s more, she answers questions directly. As an added bonus, she’s attractive. Amazing hands. A slight, English accent. Straight dark blonde pulled back loosely into a long ponytail. Slim and tall and well dressed except for those clogs. I give my head a shake. Not a time to be noticing cuteness.
She invites me into the room with Parker and asks me to wait a moment while she gets something from the technician. When she comes back, she’s holding some papers and her cheeks and chin and ears and forehead are red and she’s hesitant, searching for words.
My heart fell. This can’t be good.
“You’re red,” I say to her and she turns redder, nodding slightly.
Definitely not good. I thought I should prepare myself, but everything in me rebels at taking a deep breath to ground myself, focus my mind. Everything in me rebels at my instinct to find something reasonable and adult to say. In the moment, not only does it seem boring beyond belief, it is dishonest because sometimes, just sometimes, I do not want to be calm, cool and collected and because sometimes, just sometimes, life is not all it’s cracked up to be by all the “everything happens for a reason” and the “power of positive thinking” and the “create your own reality by what you eat and think and who you sleep with” and the “we are all stardust” propaganda brigades. Sometimes life sucks, stinks to high heaven and isn’t fair and this is one of those sometimes and I did not want to be calm, accepting, objective, or adult about it.
I can’t rebel so I take a mental detour instead: Is it too late to go back to Europe? Back to the French countryside? Back to browsing through antique and second-hand shops and cathedrals and markets? Holding hands with she-of-the-killer-smile-and-so-much-more while we drive through towns and cities and make discoveries? Getting lost while I squint at a roadmap I can’t see, even with my glasses on? Back to owls calling out in the twilight times of dusk and dawn? Back to the cobblestones and wine and food and history? To French smiles and English high tea? To history and lazy afternoons? My adult self sighed and turned to face the ever-present uncertainty that is this human life.
“Talk to me,” I say to her. I am not being a brave adult, woman or lesbian. I’m scared. I brace my heart and soul and mind.
She nods again and tells me everything, the red on her face getting deeper, then fading.
I watch her mouth. Look into her eyes. Listen to her accent. I take in as much as I can of what she’s saying and I silently order, demand, insist to my inner self to stay perfectly still, to not move a muscle, to just listen, observe and take it in. A tear or two wells in each eye: I will them away.
She explains why Parker, he of the standard poodle pack, my major dog love has been so ill and weak and why it’s been so challenging to find out what we’re dealing with. Now, after two months we have a diagnosis. And isn’t good.
I ask questions, ignoring the tear or two that escapes and the box of tissues she slides across the examination table toward me. Parker is panting at my feet.
She answers as best she can and says she’s sorry to have to tell me such bad news. After a while, I have no more questions.
“This isn’t going to be easy,” she says as she walks me out of the room. “He’s your baby.”
I took a deep breath and nodded.
Parker and I are back to the reception area to wait for a prescription and reading material that explains more about the condition. I sit on the bench: Parker flops down on the floor, his breathing quite laboured. The lump in my throat gets bigger and I taste salt so I clench my teeth and refuse to cry. But then he starts breathing in ragged, jagged breaths and I move immediately from the bench to the floor to hold him, slipping my fingers into his curly hair, massaging his chest, unable to stop my chin from trembling or the tears streaming down my face. Another thing my magical lesbian shield failed to protect me against: life experience in the form of the loss of a pet, or three.
By the time she comes out with the prescription, I am no longer in tears. I’m composed. Or resigned.
The medication is not a fix, is not a cure, but it will stabilize him, give him some energy and will give him, and everyone who cares Parker poodle, some time. Not a lot of time according to the all the vets who treated and looked at him, but some. And I suppose that’s any of us ever get with who we love: some time.