past and present all at once
the day, tues 2.7.12, began at 640, rising to feed Strunk and Lennie. I got dressed and went for a run. As I was leaving Strunk came outside through the open door. when i returned there she was sitting on the front porch. She followed me back inside. M & N were awake by now so I said hello, then jumped in the shower and drove to the dentist. Had periodontal cleaning (this is a little more advanced than your standard teeth cleaning thanks to my prior bad habits). When I was done I came out to the car and thought for a bit. I could either drive the car home and see M & N and then walk to the bus on Hawthorne or I could drive over to Brooklyn and pick up one of 3 lines at intersection of powell and milwaukie. Since it was after 9 am and since on Mon/Tues we have someone come from 9a-12p to sit with N so M can do some work (be it of the day job or writing variety) I thought it best not to interrupt them and opted for the latter choice.
Drove on 17th and decided to park at Rhone by the credit union b/c i could take the 17 line and what's more at the end of the work day I - fast forwarding here - saw myself walking through Brooklyn at the end of the work day, our old neighborhood. where we lived when we moved up from los angeles; where we lived through my diagnosis and treatment; where death and rebirth are ribboned together in my memory, intersections on several planes.
I waited for the bus. The bus arrived.
At day job things went normally, which is to say paint-dry boring and mind-numbingly un-engaging. In the afternoon I got an email from my endocrinologist regarding recent blood draw. It was not bad news (in fact it was expected news) but the mere interaction was enough - as it always is - to send me back to brain tumor world, those sensations and aches pulsing just below the skin, the quake, the blackness, the fear. A reminder - not that i needed it - that I am not as recovered emotionally from the entire BT experience as I am able to convey. After an object is shattered you can reassemble it but it is not the same. Which is to say I carry wounds, despite the ultra-positive outcome. (This is one of those surreal paradoxes of survivorship. Put against the notion of your oblivion how can isolation, sadness, depression be anything but whiffs of smoke? Question: If the outcome is positive would it not neutralize, mollify or mitigate anything as ephemeral as an emotion? Answer: No). The best analog I can think of is soldier, long-returned from combat, wrestling to re-enter 'normal life', surrounded by those who haven't been there, who assume that since the war is over s/he is now well. backpats and whew, dodged a bullet! and what is there to worry about since you're fine now?!
At 5 or so M called to say that Strunk hadn't eaten. Not a huge deal but she had been showing slight lack of appetite the past couple days. As we were talking Strunk began throwing up. Should I make an appointment at the vet? M asked. We decided it best to see how Strunk was doing the next morning. I left work.
At the bus-stop I got on the 19 instead of the 17 b/c the 17 was 10 min away. This meant I had to exit at powell/milwaukie (instead of 17th and Rhone) and walk through the Brooklyn neighborhood. Valentines Day will mark 8 yrs that we moved to Brooklyn from Los Angeles so as I walked I couldn't help but let associations ping-pong through my head, the past and present all at once, the new coat of paint on what i recalled as a decrepit house, the coffee shop once such a large part of our lives now a remodelled lesser iteration, and so forth. Also Strunk was in my thoughts, thinking about how she'll probably be fine but how one day she'll die; about how she and Maxwell (RIP) and Henry (RIP) were part of our family, part of our transition from Los Angeles to Portland, part of the past and present all at once. I thought of all the things we've done, all the life we've lived in those 8 yrs - 4 houses, travel, illness, 2 pet deaths, birth of our son, and a gazillion stops in between each.
As I approached our old house on 14th (still the same green paint, the same birch trees) a song came on my ipod randomly that put me in the house in march 2005 between my surgeries, me and M in the basement painting it yellow. I was outside the house and inside simultaneously. Outside, I saw the telephone pole that Henry scrambled up; I saw the house that Maxwell ran to that day he got out of the yard; I saw the Miller's old house where Strunk had got locked in their basement for a whole weekend while they were out of town. Inside, I saw the drop cloths, the paint cans, the spattered radio playing the song I was currently listening to; I felt the low quake again, the black fear i felt then, not knowing what was going to happen, neither M nor I truly knowing if I was going to live despite our positive talk and thought, despite the shiny new yellow wall.
I walked further, past the house, around to 16th Ave, everywhere seeing triggers: there's the house where we ran into Joe H and got the bookcase we currently have in our basement. there's the house that was for sale when George was in town that we all looked at; there's the squat purple house on a hill that we walked by when we took Maxwell for walks. The sky was grey and the streets were empty. it was like walking though an old photo album, a long-destroyed city after an apocalypse, ruins all cauterized and stiff but each humming and vibrating with the imprint and charge of life. These images were not merely triggers for the BT year but also our rebirth and replanting after moving from LA, all inextricably linked together, symbolic death and rebirth fused with possible death and then symbolic rebirth. Strunk and Henry and Maxwell were there for all of it. They were all (save Strunk) pre-N and to that end, like our kids.
I got to the car. I started the engine and pulled away, out of Brooklyn, away from the pulse of so much that i'd forgotten to recall. Traffic was rush-hour terrible. Over to Holgate to 39th to Lincoln to our street. I parked in front and as I ascended the steps I saw M & N in the door window. I presumed they were waiting for me because the traffic kept me away but when I opened the door M said Strunk is dying. She waited for you. It was 5:50 pm.
Moments later I'm in the bedroom, lights off, a candle burning, over Strunk's body. She is near the end, laying prone, eyes glazed, gasping intermittently. My mind is spinning, like i'm sleepwalking, in a movie about the memory of an old submerged dream. I get to say goodbye to her. I pet her and talk to her. And soon she is gone. Just like that. Added to the tally of things we've done and life we've lived in the 8 yrs since we arrived here. The raw pain of her death another of the gifts I am lucky to savor because I am alive. The steady pulse of everything arriving all at once, symbolic death and literal death fused together in one liquescent moment, here for one beautiful shimmering instant, and then gone. just as quick as it came.