“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, May 4, 2012

Part II, Day 28: Storm

Last night the distant grumble that began in early evening crescendoed into a full-out electrical storm while we were falling asleep.  My husband and I had sacked out by 9, we were so tired, and I think I was already dreaming when we heard it, as steady as the rain: our dog's cries.

It's hard to know what to do in a thunder storm with Zoe.  First she just sounds indignant, like someone is playing offensive music and won't turn it down.  The noise is just an irritant, maybe, and she'd just like a little sleep, a quiet place to go where the giants bowling on our roof won't disturb her peace.

Then it seems like she's asking for something from us.  Can't you make it stop?  Can't you fix this?  At times like this, we wonder if she thinks we're omnipotent.  I think of all the troubles I would never ever have put her through if I did have god-like power, but she never holds those against me, never begrudges the monthly trips across the border where she's anesthetized and has blood drawn and chemicals slipped in; was unfazed by having that chunk of scab and flesh lasered off under the green tent a week ago, and never murmurs when I open her mouth to stick pills in there.  I coat them in cream cheese, and she licks my fingers afterwards.

In fact, just hours earlier Cindy tried to pull off what she thought was a burr on Zoe's head but it was actually her stitches from last week's minor surgery.  I didn't witness this, but from her report, Zoe bore what must have been painful quite calmly.  Cindy had just been bitten by a dog at one of the other houses she cleans because she dared to stand in between the dog and her person.  "In my day, dogs were put down the first time they bit someone," she said.  "But this dog is the woman's baby."

"I can relate to that," I said.  Now we were having a drink together at the end of the day.

"I know, and if it was a baby that bit me, I wouldn't want her to put it down."

And then we laughed and laughed and laughed so hard that I almost spilled my wine.

I realized last night that we haven't had one big wallop of a thunder storm since Zoe was diagnosed with cancer in late August.  A few times the skies threatened, and I heard a distant roar that sounded like a Chicago el train many stops away, but then it would pass.  I was so grateful when it skipped our village, riding other currents into other people's lives where maybe the dogs were more robust about storms.

In a storm like this I always think of the wolf threatening the three little pigs.  "Let me in, little pig, or I'll huff and puff and blow your house down!"  Zoe, who might be part-wolf and loves to strut around in the woods demonstrating her superior rank in the food chain, becomes a little piglet cowering inside.  Her cries are piercing, heartbreaking.

Zoe was silent as a puppy, and the first time I knew she had things to say was when a crazy wild summer wind shook our house when she was maybe ten weeks old.  She was lying in the living room, looking demure and self-possessed, and then she lifted her snout to the roof, and out came a peep, an alto precursor to her "woof, woof," and it was clear to me that she was telling that wind off, telling it not to mess with her house and her life and her people.

Last night we couldn't get her to settle down.  My husband suggested the crate at the foot of our bed where she often begins the evening before she jumps onto my stepson's bed across the hall and starts the morning while she waits for us to wake up, but she wasn't tempted.  Our bathroom held bunker-like appeal because it doesn't have windows and hence, no view of the sky over the river all lit up, silvery and spooky as the belly of a fish.  But that didn't last either.

I got up and followed her around as she went downstairs, into the TV room, over to the mud room, where she did a kind of body block against the door to the world, then back into the hall leading upstairs.  Finally I coaxed her upstairs again and down the hall to the room I first claimed as my study when I moved into this house.  Back then it had madly plaid wallpaper from the previous owners and the kids called it The Psycho Room.  We papered it over and put in my books and a carpet, but it still feels layered with history, much of it unsettling.  There's Mom in there, in a box, waiting to be sprinkled onto the grounds of the art museum in Cleveland and the back yard of the house she occupied on and off for decades, where other people live.  There are pictures of me from almost every age, including high school.  Zoe used to spend part of the night sleeping in this bed, but it's too high for her to jump up onto now with three legs.  The duvet on it is very soft.

I got in that bed and hoped she'd lie down next to me and eventually she did--she squished herself into the narrow band of carpet between the bed and a bookshelf with old cassettes from the 80s from when I taught aerobic dance at the YMCA in Northampton.  Back then I got people much older than me hopping and grooving to The Clash, the Police, the Pretenders, and the Eurythmics, the thought of which does not make me sleepy, and I think of that pretty Annie Lennox song--did we do sit-ups to this?--"Here Comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory." Tonight will be a memory that I'll treasure too.  Even though I feel helpless in the face of Zoe's terror.  I flip down to the foot of the bed so that I'm directly above her and can pet her nonstop.

Maybe I can sleep like this, I think.  My arm will just move automatically, like breath.  I close my eyes and position my hand around Zoe's ears and breathe slowly, and we're together like this for a long time.  I'm a foot above her, her protector, and she settles in, almost.

I drift off for a second because next thing I know my arm is dangling in space above bare carpet, and I hear her piercing cry back down the hall, in our bedroom.

I think, in the end, that it probably comforts her more if everyone in the house is exactly where they belong.  I take my side of the bed, my husband is on his, and Zoe eventually finds a spot on the floor where the wolf can't get in.


  1. It's always eerie to me when, just as I'm falling asleep, both the cat and the dog look up and stare in the same direction for several minutes. They know something I don't. At those times Abbe doesn't really bark, but there's slow rumble in the throat, the woof of a much bigger dog....

  2. Beautiful, Brenda. That big woof is in there, no matter the size of the dog.