juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
CW for discussions of pet death.

Two days ago, I got an email from my father that they'd euthanized Jamie. She'd been having episodes when she'd lose her footing or fall, and panic when she was unable to get up. This occurred when my mother was home; Dad left work, and the two of them were able to calm and comfort her until she could get back up. But these episodes were reoccurring, and only likely to become more common, and they could happen when no one was there; and she'd had ongoing health issues, and the vet had just found a possibly-cancerous mass in her abdomen. So that afternoon they took her in to the vet. They didn't want her to ever be alone and in distress.

She bounced back after the episode and she loved the vet and was excited to be there, and they almost had second thoughts, but this is a long time coming—and even Mamakitty, when we took her in, as sick and exhausted as she was, perked up at the vet because it was a new and distracting environment: that momentary change didn't erase the ongoing problems, for either of them.

This was a long time coming, which is why it feels so hard to handle; or rather, not hard, but distant—James had a heath scare a few months back, and I feel like I said my goodbyes at that time, not preemptively so much as in preparation, and I have done my grieving; but of course I haven't grieved and now I can't seem to start. I'm sure it will sink in when I go home, but I'm not ready for that. This in-betweenness of knowing and not believing, of loss without feeling, is unwelcome but not new; I've experienced similar disconnects before (like when Madison died).

Here's what I do know: We got Jamie the year we got back from England—England is an important landmark in my family's history, Jamie was an era. We named her after Jamie Oliver, because we watched his show while we lived in England, and to preserve the family tradition of giving our dogs gender-swapped names. She was 15, and that's ancient in lab years. My mother told my father about what I'd said, when they made the decision: about valuing the time had, about working in her best interest. She was a ridiculously good dog, ever since she was a puppy; she never had a demon dog phase and we even had a ban on talking about her when when Odi was going through his because no one needed the comparison. When she was old and blind and halfway deaf all she wanted to do was lean against her people so that she knew they were there and loved. She was a leggy field lab & she didn't know how to swim because she had skin conditions as a pup and by the time she was introduced to water she was afraid of it. Every Christmas, she got her own stocking and got to unwrap her own gifts:



She had the knee issues common in labs, and had surgery on both front legs when she was young; for a long time, she was afraid of both the vet and the location in the house where she threw out her first knee. For most of her life she didn't bark, she was an entirely silent dog; only in old age did she sometimes boof when a stranger passed the window. She used to stare out the gap in the blinds for an hour before my dad got home each evening—my mum was the pack leader but my dad was her best friend.

In my first year of college when my life began to fall apart, my mother made a surprise trip to Walla Walla and brought James; they waited in the quad for me to get out of class. I saw a dog across the way and thought, oh, a dog! dogs are great! and then the dog began to jump around because before I even recognized it was my dog, before I even saw my mother, Jamie recognized me across the distance and she was so happy to see me.

She was a sensitive, engaged member of the household, and would get super upset if people fought or talked about politics. She knew tons of commands, most of which we never taught her and were casual sentences, "Jamie, get out of the kitchen." She was our only black lab (the others were chocolate), her fur was rainbow-white in the sun, she liked ear-rubbing the best, she didn't like having her toenails trimmed but would let us do it anyway, and this was Jamie:

Jamie in the Sunlight


I don't believe that pets owe us love, but that it's something we owe them; it is our responsibility when we make them our responsibility, to provide unconditional care and support. But there is no love like the love of this dog, nothing so essential or complete.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I have been having one hell of a roller coaster ride over here man let me tell you.

Devon was up on Saturday, but didn't stay until Sunday because he's fighting some sort of cold/allergy/sinus infection thing of ick. It was fantastic to see him and I spent half the day in tears. So I said that Portland and I have unfinished business. Devon-long-distance and I have unfinished business and Whitman and I have unfinished business too, and this last week has been a particularly strong reminder of all of that. Normally I have a poor memory, which I may call a pain in the ass but actually rely on to protect me because as it turns out, the last (oh say) ten years of my life? really not worth remembering. This last week has been nothing at all like those years, but there's been so much emotional turmoil that sometimes it's hard to tell, and...

It's just that I remember it all.

Examples wouldn't help you or me—because they aren't your memories, and because fuck no I do not want to dwell on them. But all of it, everything about my time here in Portland, everything about seeing Devon this weekend, reminds me of something else, some random thing that I've done a perfectly good job of forgetting these last few years. Not every memory is awful, but each one is tied a past that is, and so all of it, even the nostalgia, it fucking hurts and scares me.

But after Devon left, Dee hung out with me in the living room for a few hours and we just talked. I talked, I rambled, I touched on some of why this is so difficult and scary, and it was distracting and cathartic and wonderful bonding time. I didn't have to ask for it, I don't know if I expected it, but—ah, this is what friends do, isn't it? They're there for each other. That's still a revelation for me, a surprise—that I have friends; that this is what that means. On Sunday we went walking, in the glorious and gentle overcast weather, we went to Starbucks and poked at awesome stores and had that sort of perfect day where you do exactly what you want, purely because you want to, and come away feeling satisfied, which is no small thing. At night we watched The Dark Crystal and it was fucking fantastic. These things surprise me, too. Happiness always does.

And then today I thought I'd ride on that high—the high of discovering that Devon can leave without the world crashing down upon my shoulders, the high of having loved ones and being happy—by writing a book review and making dinner and attempting my version of productivity, and instead I was singularly nonfunctional and after a mini-breakdown I just decided to lock myself in my room and pretend I didn't exist anymore, at least for a few hours, and ain't that just the hallmark of mental fucking health. It's hard for me to talk about these things with her—to talk about the wild ride of the brain crazies, because I find it difficult to work these things out in words; to explain the effect they have on me and why I don't want to leave my room, because I fucking hate to admit the truth about myself because I just don't like that truth very much, you know? And so I repay her love by being the bad non-communicative friend ... but on the flipside I come out feeling a little better, a bit more prepared to try again.


I feel it all I feel it all
I feel it all I feel it all
The wings are wide the wings are wide
Wild card inside wild card inside

Oh I'll be the one who'll break my heart
I'll be the one to hold the gun


I've sort of flayed myself alive here: I've opened myself up to the thin air and it hurts like a motherfuck, believe you me. And when I see in there, I don't like it all. It's almost enough to make me wish I didn't know it was there. But I did this to myself and so I can't regret it—and not just because I don't want to look like an ungrateful coward, unhappy even when she gets what she wants; but because I did it because I wanted to. I want this opportunity and this pain. I want to work things out and embrace these new experiences and give myself the chance to become myself. (I want the dog days to be over, if you will.) That doesn't make it any easier, though.

I love you more
I love you more
I don't know what I knew before
But now I know I wanna win the war


So it's been an intense couple of days is all I'm saying. And beautiful. And awful. And intense.

And I think I caught Dev's cold thing.

P.S. Sometimes in the process of writing all these things out I manage to resolve them, at least a bit, at least temporarily, in my head. Almost all the time I manage to tire myself out. That can make my replies to comments absent and/or slow. But those comments are still so welcome and productive and beloved, and I don't want anyone to think otherwise, even if I can't always express it.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Friday, Day 6, At Sea
To come back up North [as we had, at this point, just began the return journey] is like coming home. When I was at school in Walla Walla, I felt the same thing on those long drives south. In the last two hours I would come back into a land of evergreens and fog, of water and growth, a richness of the land that the desert end of Washington refuses to offer—and as the view out the window went misty and dark (even in the warmth of summer) it would tug down to the deepest part of me that was—this is—home.

The temperature has dropped an easy 20 degrees, and we sail today into the wind--a wind to lean into, a wind strong enough to knock knots from the boat's speed. The sky mists at its borders, and the waves are rich blue again. This is like coming home. It's almost a relief to know that, when shoved south for a week, I don't suddenly realize that I love the warmth--my world is not rearranged, but rather what I assumed to be true is true: these dimmer, darker, deeper days are my days, they are my comfort and my home. I don't have to move to Mexico.

And to think, these aren't even the cold, salt-bitter Pacific coasts of my home state.

Tonight, meanwhile, is the big family night—the actual anniversary, and a formal dinner no less; we're taking group photos in just a few minutes and first I need to brush out my hair, because a walk on deck has turned it wild. I am not looking forward to pictures—but perhaps the rest, the closeness of the family, for a reason, with direction, perhaps even with good food--perhaps that will be nice. But there's no time left for wishful thinking—Devon's just finished using the comb.


Further thoughts, four days post-cruise
The anniversary celebration did indeed go well.

I had the same quibble about family photos as I always have: I have no problem with a commemorative group photo or two, but feel it's offensive to peer-pressure or demand others take part in numerous other photos (of individuals, small groups, family groups, etc.). I understand why some people would want to have those photos (I don't like or keep snapshots, but for those who do they can be pleasant mementos), and I think it's perfectly acceptable to request someone allow their photo to be taken—but more often than not, it's not a request but a simple assumption which removes the individual's ability or right to refuse. And, you know? It's unacceptable to take away that right, especially when it comes to someone's body—even if you're just transferring their image to film. That this assumption exists isn't my family's fault; it's wider-spread than that, it's cultural. And no, being photographed didn't do me lasting harm. But it made me resentful and uncomfortable, in part of the standard of assumption that lies behind it*, and that counts for something.

As for the rest, well, I'm not sure what to say.** The actual anniversary, the actual family event, it was lovely. By nature of my grandparents's personalities and relationship, the dinner was laidback, lively, humorous, and yet still authentically touching. But my memory is limited and inconsistent, and already a summary of that evening has fled me. Instead what I remember is this: Despite a few glasses clanged and words uttered, there were no formal toasts. There was, instead, my grandfather rising simply to say they were blessed, to thank everyone for coming, and to pledge that in another ten years, we would meet again. Ten years ago we celebrated 50 years while on a ship touring Alaska. No one knows where we'll be ten years from now (and general consensus begs it's anywhere but another cruise ship) or who will be around then, but we will be together to celebrate family and love.

And that—that is beautiful.


* For further reading: My body is not your property, by [livejournal.com profile] shadesong writing for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center blog. This essay is about the assumption of consent (or the assumption that consent is unnecessary) for physical contact, but the two issues are hardly unrelated.

And while I'm on the topic, I also had issues with assumptions related to physical contact and consent while on the cruise. I'm hyper-sensitive to issues around touch because I avoid most physical contact, and so what bothered me probably wouldn't bother most: the instances of unasked physical contact were all fairly "safe" (being touched on the shoulder by our waiter) or occurred between family members (being hugged by my grandparents). But they did bother me—because for every majority that doesn't mind this sort of touch there is a minority, like me, which does; because even if each individual incident is minor, they all reflect a culture in which one (especially if that one is female) is not able to determine how and when others interact with their body. And that culture scares me.


** Am I better at writing critically than appreciatively? Yes, yes I am, thank you.



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