Here, boy. I’m here.

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I took my dog Harley on his last walk this morning. How anticlimactic: we went only to the corner, just a few houses away, where he deposited a single marble-sized poop and immediately wanted to go back inside. How unfair, that after fourteen years of walks, his last walk was so brief, with so little amusement. But he didn’t want to stay out, and no wonder: it is a miserable day today. The rain is pissing down in cold streams, and freezing as it hits the pavement; the wind is blowing right through the walls. If it had been a pretty day, perhaps I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do it: to call the vet into my house, and say that yes, please do what you have to do. It’s time.

Harley died with his head in my hands, and his paw in my husband’s hand, and his eyes closed in sleep from the tranquilizer the vet gave him first, before the lethal dose. His once-black face was entirely white, and his fur was a soft as velvet as we stroked him. He didn’t get up to greet the vet, but merely swiveled his head to watch her come in. In better days – even ten days ago – he’d have clambered to his feet and gone straight to greet her, tail wagging. But he’s been failing every day for a week now. We had bought a special harness to help him get to his feet, hauling him around like so much Samsonite. Once standing, he was okay, and could walk and sometimes even trot. Until a week ago, that is. Then he could hardly walk at all.

That it was his time doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye. The grief over losing not only the dog he was recently but the dog he once was – it’s pretty crippling. Just now I thought I heard him bark downstairs (recently he’s been calling for us with a strange, wheezing bark), and the blow to my heart when I realized it was just John coughing, or the wind scraping a tree branch on the windowpane, was physical. And moments later, I thought I heard his toenails outside my door. He hasn’t been here to my upstairs office in two months (couldn’t do stairs anymore), but for years he would scratch at the door if I was in here writing. I can’t stop thinking he’s out there, on the landing, waiting.

Harley hadn’t been a truly healthy dog for a few years, but he’d still been able to swim, run, and chase my horse around, right up until he was going on 13. Then, starting last summer, he developed a number of serious health problems which – although temporary – turned him from an active older dog to a truly geriatric one. Still, up until this week, he’d been happy. There’d been no chance of him recovering his ability to run or even walk a long distance – Cushing’s disease had wasted his muscles, he was deaf, and he had arthritis – but even as recently as two weeks ago, he was still able, on Saturday mornings, to walk a mile to the park and back. It was a Saturday ritual from the days we came to this neighbourhood six years ago. We’d take him to the dog park and let him loose with the canine mob. It’s hard to believe he was eight years old when we got here – still a young dog. Last time we took him there, three weeks ago, he had a great time, breaking into brief bursts of trotting as he attempted to keep up with the other dogs. When he couldn’t keep up – which was pretty much all the time – he’d bark furiously at the whirling, wheeling pack, as if telling them knock it off you damn kids. Then he’d go from human to human, walking slowly and stiffly, begging for pats. Everyone knew Harley, and everyone looked at that grey face and said, “How old is he now?” We’d tell them: 14, we think, maybe 15, and they’d say, “Wow. He’s doing great.”

And he was. He was still having enough fun – when he was awake – that I thought maybe he was going to be one of those canine Methuselahs that make it to 19 or 20. But last week, things began to change. He had trouble sleeping; his pain meds weren’t working. He lay on his side and barked for help, in that strangled rasping wheeze of a bark that I keep thinking I still hear. We took him to the vet; they upped his meds and prescribed antidepressants. We started talking about it being time.

We clung to hope. He’d bounced back from medical problems before (Harley was always a walking vet bill). Then he slept three nights in a row, we thought, well, he’s fine again. But then he would wake up and bark all day, and this was a dog who was never a barker. Now he seemed to be asking for help. “What it is, boy?” we’d say. “What do you need?” We’d bring him food, water; we’d help him onto the sofa and give him a rubdown. He’d settle in and sleep for a while. Then he’d wake up again. Bark. Bark. Baaaark.

We had Harley ten years. We got him from a rescue agency, which had brought him up from an Ohio kill pound. They said he was “about two.” He was at least four. He was, they guessed, a border collie/flatcoat mix. They guessed wrong: we splurged on a DNA test and discovered that he was such a mutt that there were only traces of two identifiable breeds in his makeup – golden retriever and Scottie Dog. This might explain why he was such a goof of a dog: when he ran, it was like he was made of the parts of several dogs all trying to run different directions. His spine would curve, his front legs would prance, his back legs would trot, he would look back over his shoulder (and, consequently, often fall over). He loved to roll in the snow (delightful!) and in week-old road kill (considerably less so). He loved little dogs – the smaller the better – and would gallop up to them (all 65 pounds of him), launching at some teacup-sized thing with alarming gusto. He got nipped on the nose a lot. He had a strange coat – black and silky and short up top, but with long curtains of hair descending from his shoulderblades to his hip bones – and paws so furry that they looked like string mops. He would never have won Best In Show.

He was such a character. He had zero small-animal prey drive, and at the cottage, he would lie on the deck while chipmunks and squirrels ran over his paws to get to the peanuts we scattered around. He was excellent with my horse, understanding right away how horses work, and keeping a healthy distance from the back feet. He and my horse were good friends, and would share the baby carrots I’d bring on rides. One for the horse and one for the dog, I’d say, and the two of them would crunch away on either side of me, in a contented animal chorus. He’d follow along on the rides down to the river, and lie in the cool water while the horse grazed on the long riverside grass. “Time to go, Harl,” I’d say, and he’d leap up and follow.

I wish I could write a eulogy for him that matches what he was. I know everyone feels this way when their dog goes, and I know that people take comfort from hearing other people’s stories of loss. Even this morning, friends were soothing me with their own stories. This grief-sharing is necessary – and so helpful – when a beloved pet dies. After the vet carried his body to her car, to take him away for cremation, I told John I needed to write something for him, to let the world know what a wonderful dog he was, to share his life and his time on earth. I feel like shouting him to the sky; I feel there should be candles lit and trumpets blowing. I feel we should all be saying his name and saying what a good dog, what a special dog, what a beautiful dog he was!

Harley, my good dog, my special dog, my beautiful Little Buddy. Ten years was not enough time. Next time I see you, we’ll go for a really long walk, not just some disappointing struggle to the corner. It’ll be a sunny day. We’ll go to the river together. We’ll swim. I’ll climb on my horse and look down, and you’ll be there. I’ll call to you, and you’ll look up, your hearing restored. You’ll come galloping over, all your parts flying, your tail in the air. You’ll look up at me, ready for adventure.

And I will tell you: come on, boy. Time to go.

 

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Put Your Coffee Down and Do It

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So. About Aleppo. About the city in Syria. Yes, I know it’s far away; yes, I know we have Christmas and Trump and road tolls to think about here. Yes, I know we’ve been distracted by the shitshow that the United States has become, and that is a big worry. And we have rent to pay, or mortgages, and sick pets, and squabbles with co-workers, and then of course it’s winter and it’s cold again. The nerve of it, getting cold. We have to wear scarves, and stomp our feet to keep them warm as we wait for that stupid bus in the morning rush-hour dawn.

So it’s understandable that we haven’t been paying much attention to Aleppo. Admit it. We haven’t. Trump has had us by the lapels, shouting and spitting in our faces, for months, and he’s a very large distraction. Everywhere we North Americans look, there’s a Trump-shaped horror show partially blocking our vision, like a big orange cataract. So many of us who are generally inclined to concern ourselves with the world’s problems – and to be compelled at least partly by a desire to help and protect other beings – have been negligent about Aleppo. Maybe it’s because the United States is both close by, and an easy target for our concern. And maybe it’s because we feel we Canadians have done enough. Admit it. Maybe we feel we’re already on this Syria thing. After all, a year ago our Mr. Sparkle Doll of a Prime Minister tearfully welcomed Syrian refugees at various airports across Canada. We were justifiably proud at the time.

We can’t be so proud anymore.

I won’t get into the details of what’s going on in Aleppo, but I can assure you that right at this moment, welcoming Syrian refugees is (although important) peripheral. If you haven’t managed to notice what is going on in Aleppo at this very moment, just Google it. It’s like an end-of-the-world video game written by some sadist who gives even-sicker gamers extra points for blowing up hospitals full of civilians. They are using chlorine bombs on civilians. You sip your coffee, they get barrel-bombed. You wait for the bus, they get shot in the streets while fleeing – while pushing their baby stroller and carrying whatever they could save from their homes, in shopping bags from the mall, trying to get across town while their government fires on them.

As of this writing, it’s changing by the minute – changing for the worst – and is little more than a slaughter. But we can help. We have to try. And yes, there are other tragedies unfolding in the world, and no, we can’t fix everything. So what. Stop making excuses for not helping, for not trying. People – civilian people, people who have rent to pay and co-worker squabbles and sick pets – are being bombed out of their houses. Their city – formerly one of the most beautiful in the world – is rubble. There are corpses piling up in the streets. Survivors have been using their phones not to call for take-out or to text a meet-up place at the local coffee shop – as they (and we) would normally do in their lives – but to tweet goodbye messages to the world. They are asking why the world has not come to help. They are asking on Twitter, fer fucksake.

And what can we say about that? That we didn’t know it was all that bad? That we didn’t know there was anything we can do? That we were busy?

Fair enough that we feel helpless. Fair enough that we think our government is looking after this (it isn’t doing enough). So let’s just deal with those two things: first of all, we’re not helpless. Money can help. So send money. Yes, you do too have $5 you can give to the White Helmets, or the IRC, or any of the other agencies who are front-line helping. Some of them have workers who are physically dragging people out of the rubble (true: look it up). So get out your wallet and give some money to Medecins sans Frontiers. I bet most of you have more than $5. If you do, give it to them. Buy Aunt Sadie a slightly smaller present and give the rest of the money to an agency. Or give all of Aunt Sadie’s present money to an agency and tell  her that’s what you got  her for Christmas.

The second thing to do is email our government. Now. You’re already on the freaking computer, so just do it. Here’s the link. Look up your MP. No, do not say that’s too much trouble. People are dying. Do it. Write the word “Aleppo” in the subject line, and say, “I’m horrified by what’s happening in Aleppo. Please advise me of exactly what steps the Canadian government is taking.” They get enough emails, they worry about their jobs. They say, “oh, look, Canadians care about those people in Aleppo.” And sometimes they do something. 

There’s other things we can do but at this moment let’s just do those two things: 1. Give some money. 2. Write a politician.

This is happening on our watch, and we’re not watching. Do something. Do it NOW.

Mrs. G.’s Decision

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My mother, who is in her 90’s, lost a friend to suicide this week. Mrs. G. was 86, and as far as we know was in fine health. Her obituary describes her as active and involved; she enjoyed hiking and travelling and socializing. I remember her from my childhood as one of the “nice moms” in my parents’ extended group. She was a cheerful and loving mother, who had four sons in rapid succession, one of whom treated me and my sister to our first-ever sighting of a penis. We girls were 4 and 6 respectively, and he was about 3, and was lying sprawled on a cot at his cottage, displaying his wares. We were amazed at first, then embarrassed, as our mother scolded us for staring. But Mrs. G. thought it was funny. She laughed, and went about her business of supervising lake swims and handing out cookies, making it all no big deal. And that’s all I really remember of Mrs. G.: a vague miasmic sense of happiness. I have long since forgotten her face.

Mrs. G and her husband and family moved to Montreal when I was still little. But she and my mother stayed friends. Over the years, Mum would mention visits and phone calls; she told me of a divorce and remarriage. Mrs. G. became Mrs. P., and moved to British Columbia. After her second husband died, Mrs. G. took in her elderly parents. In time, the father died and the mother became so infirm that she had to be sent to a nursing home, where she died at the age of 100. Meanwhile, Mrs. G., who was past 70, continued to…well, date. She eventually started another romance (“She always has a bloke around, that one!” Mum said), and the “bloke” moved in.

Two of Mrs. G’s adult sons lived overseas, and a third in Ontario. The fourth lived in the same city and was in regular contact, but their relationship grew strained. At some point in the past decade or so, Mum reported to me that Mrs. G. had told her that the son was no longer speaking to her. They’d been having some sort of difficult conversation, and Mrs. G commented that if they couldn’t get along, then maybe they shouldn’t speak at all. “Suits me,” said the son, and hung up. All future contact was tightly-limited and very, very distanced. It was one of Mrs. G.’s great heartbreaks.

I felt terrible about Mrs. G. and her sons, partly no doubt because of projection (my sons have the same names as two of her sons, and we’ve certainly had our share of difficult conversations). But Mum assured me that Mrs. G. was just fine. It’s true she seemed like a game creature: when the live-in beau turned out to be some sort of con artist, Mrs. G. managed to get out of the relationship (which involved evicting him: Mum said it “wasn’t pleasant”). Then there was another romance – “another man,” sighed Mum – and a move to a beautiful retirement townhouse complex overlooking the sea, where the new couple set up housekeeping. That went well until the gentleman developed Alzheimer’s. Mrs. G. called in his out-of-province children for help, but when they arrived, they packed up their father and took him back east. So that was it for Mrs. G.’s latest romance.

Over this past decade, as Mum’s mental state has declined, Mrs. G. and Mum hadn’t been talking as much. Mum has never been very social, and as her mind has changed, she’s sometimes been difficult to chat with. Perhaps Mrs. G. stopped calling, or perhaps Mum did, but there were no more reports of how Mrs. G. was doing. I wondered, from time to time, about Mrs. G. I chose to picture a merry elderly woman, coping stalwartly with the hurts of life: the sons lost to disagreement and distance, the husbands lost to death and divorce, the late-life loves that didn’t work out. I hoped for the best for her: perhaps another gentleman friend; maybe reconciliation with the angry son. I wanted the happy young woman I remembered to be a happy old woman.

But yesterday, Mum received a call from that son, telling her that Mrs. G. had killed herself more than two weeks ago. Whatever problems he’d had with his mother were not evident in the conversation with my Mum. He was very kind and thoughtful, she said. She made notes of the call (she knows she forgets things) and along with “very kind & thoughtful” she wrote “she took some pills.” There had been a funeral, and we looked up the online obit. It described Mrs. G.’s “active and independent” life. It was laudatory but distanced, as if the person who wrote it was talking about someone they’d heard good things about, but whom they never really knew.

Mum doesn’t seem that upset about Mrs. G. She gets this way sometimes, when there’s been a terrible shock. She turns into a sort of wizened female Mr. Spock, feigning a faux-logical, no-point-in-being-upset philosophy. But I’m upset, which bothers Mum. “Why would you be upset?” she said. “You haven’t seen her in fifty years. Why should it bother you?”

It’s a good question. I didn’t really know Mrs. G. anymore, and her story is no less (or more) sad than that of any other suicide. What’s more, I’m aware how much I’m projecting my own fears onto her. One of my biggest worries as I get older is the dread of outliving everyone I love and everything I love to do. I worry that that was what happened to Mrs. G. But she was only 86, and she was active, and she still had her mind. I hate to think she might have felt so forgotten and hopeless and sad that she decided to die. That’s much worse than thinking she killed herself because she’d received some sort of dreadful fatal diagnosis – an alternative that to me, makes sense. It is easier to think of her circumventing a painful death, than to think back on that happy young mother, chortling over her naked little boy, and know that sixty years later, she killed herself from unhappiness.

It would be pat to wax on about the necessity of geriatric mental health services and the frequency of severe depression in the elderly. If Mrs. G. was facing a terminal diagnosis, then she made a pro-active decision. But if she was lonely and depressed, then she didn’t need a twice-monthly forty-minute chat with a therapist, or a prescription for Prozac. Maybe she needed her family; a society; a loved one to look at and to look back at her. But maybe she had that, and she still chose to die. Like all suicides, she takes her reasons with her.

Still, there is no prescription – no cure – for unhappiness in old age. And if it was that bad for Mrs. G., well, then she did a brave thing. I hope she went to sleep believing that she would wake in a world where her children played around her at a lakeside in Muskoka, while a man who loved her called to her from the cabin, telling her lunch was ready and the guests were arriving.  I hope that in her last moments, Mrs. G. was – once again – a happy woman.

Shaming Melania

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Who knows what makes Melania Trump tick? She’s hard to figure out, unless you want to make judgey, slut-shaming assessments, based on her appearance and her past life choices. I myself don’t know that much about her, but what I’ve seen doesn’t exactly impress me. I’ve seen a photograph of her with a gold-plated baby carriage in a gold-plated nursery. I’ve heard an interview with her and Donald Trump on Howard Stern, where she gleefully participates in one of the grossest “are you naked now?” shitshows that you might ever wish to unhear. I know that she doesn’t write her own speeches, and if she does, she plagiarizes like a C- student in her first year of community college. She wears way too much makeup for my taste, and seems to have married for money (because who would marry that man for anything but money? If he were an average penniless Joe, I bet she wouldn’t have given him the fumes off her perfume). So yeah, I guess I’m not a fan of Melania Trump, based on what I’ve seen of her so far.

One of the things I’ve seen of her is a modelling portfolio photograph where she stands greased up and naked, with her feet spread in the standard come-fuck-me stance, her face in a Modelling School 101 Sexy Glare, and her hand covering her pubis. Yawn. Naked lady, baby oil, early gig in a wannabe modelling career, I get it. It’s no big deal. It was a paying gig and she was a model and it’s her life and get over it. If she wasn’t famous now, it would have just been another model doing another nudie shoot. Double yawn.

But when people who eventually become famous are found to have chosen to do nudie photo shoots, or porn movies, or to have worked as escorts, it’s often rather embarrassing for them. Rarely, however, does it turn out to be any big deal. In the modelling, entertainment, film, and other sell-your-good-looks industries, such early-career jobs are part of the climb upward. Nothing wrong with that.

But Melania Trump is not in those industries now – she’s a political wife. Unless we accept that American politics and the entertainment business have indeed now completely merged into a monstrous chimera of reality TV and anti-intellectual, anti-social, just-plain-horrible political-office-seeking people (looking sort of like the monster at the end of Poltergeist II),Poltergeist II: The Other Side movie scenes poltergeist ii the other side ending monster carol melaniadonald

she’s going to have to meet a scrupulous standard of intellect, conventional attractiveness, and public service that has little to do with the game-show/gong-show/horror show that was her husband’s campaign. That’s going to be hard for her: self-evidently, Melania’s choices in her life indicate that she was looking for a high income, low-labour lifetime gig: a rich husband, a gold-plated nursery, and lots of servants. She wasn’t actually expecting to have to work.

So do we get to shame the new First Lady, for the choices she made when she was working her way up in the entertainment/trophy wife industries? In short, do we get to point to her nudie photo and giggle and smirk and make jokes? Some say yes: after all, she’s a public figure. She hooked her gold-digging wagon to a big star (the biggest, the hugest, the greatest), and at no point did she ever unhook it. So she’s a nudie-photo model and a gold-digger, and now she’s First Lady. Can we call her names for that?

No. No. No. First of all, we do not get to shame her for her modelling work. She was entitled to market her body for a possible career in fashion. No, we don’t get to fan ourselves delicately and shriek, “What kind of First Lady would pose naked – gracious!” Melania was a working woman doing a job, and well, some jobs involve getting naked. So no: her modelling career decisions are irrelevant to her job as First Lady.

As is her decision to marry for money. Sure, she married a hideous globule with a marmot glued to his balding pate, and she appears to have done it for money, because hideous globule/marmot. But that’s also irrelevant to her work as First Lady. If her heart (and her sexual response matrix) can accept something that icky, then that’s her affair (you should excuse the expression). We don’t shame sex trade workers and we don’t shame people who marry for money. It’s none of our business, even if the marriage is that of the presidential couple.

So in the face of all the finger-pointing, naughty-photo-sharing, and name-calling, it is possible to feel a little sorry for Melania. She is even more of a post turtle than her husband. After all, she didn’t want to work for a living – that’s why she married a rich man! Now look what she’s stuck with – a job! A hard job! So not only did her nudie picture career and her marriage not end up getting her the lady-of-leisure career she’d anticipated, but now she’s facing hard work. And she’s getting people waving these old pictures and her marriage-for-money decision in her face like she should be ashamed or something, when they were perfectly legitimate career choices for the career she happened to want. It’s not really fair game.

But. But.

You know what is fair game? Melania Trump’s betrayal of women. For that, we get to go after her, tooth and claw. This woman, and women like her – I’m looking at you, Trump supporters – threw their entire sex under the bus when they hooked up with that brute and his political aspirations. Donald Trump has  – without the help of “the media”, etc., etc., but from his own mouth and actions – showed himself to be viciously anti-woman. I don’t care if he has a history of hiring women here and there in higher-up positions. Lots of misogynists can recognize a single woman’s talents, and still be the guy who thrusts his paw up the receptionist’s skirt. And I don’t care if his two ex-wives still allegedly claim to sort-of like the guy (even the wife who swore under oath that he’d raped her as punishment for criticising his hair implants, and then retracted the sworn statement as “metaphorical”, when offered a massive financial settlement). I don’t care if you, personally, as a woman, find the guy to be charismatic or charming or a great orator or something else that suggests you might want to have your meds adjusted. Women like Melania Trump – women who follow creeps like that, and empower them, and marry them knowing what they are, and vote for them – are spitting in the faces of the women who fought and died for our right to vote; our reproductive freedom; our right to work safely and without fear of sexual abuse from our male co-workers and bosses; our right to say no to sexual advances; our right to an education; our right to not have to be physically beautiful in order to be successful (if you think that’s not an issue, try being an “ugly” woman some time). Women who follow men like Donald Trump are thieves, and they should relinquish every right that women fought for. Give it all back. Give back the vote. Give back community of property on divorce. Give back the right to work. Give back your birth control. Give back your education (if you have one). Give back your right to own property, for fuck’s sake – because women fought for that too. Give it all back, because you don’t deserve it.

Women who enable – who support – who celebrate – pigs like Donald Trump take every single benefit and right that stronger, braver, smarter women struggled to achieve, and they use it for their own benefit. Melania Trump is one of those women. She stands back in her high-high heels and her pancake makeup and applauds with her manicured hands and rattles her paid-for-by-hubby jewellery, while her man advocates for a regime that will make life for the rest of us women horribly, terribly, worse. A man who would grab us by the genitals and drag us back in time, to those good ol’ days that Trumpers remember as being just so damned wonderful, and which were anything but – for women.

For that, we get to say: shame on you, Melania Trump. Shame on you big time.