Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Pet, my Kids, and my Ex

When I came home Isaac was upset. Wanted to talk.

I asked him to come into the living room, our cozy pumpkin, to talk.

He stepped into a pile of vomit. Rocky (our 8 year old German wire hair/Irish Wolfhound has been a little lethargic lately, not eating well, and obviously worse than I thought).

After the rug was scrubbed clean we sat down. We talked.

"I think I need help, like Jeremiah. I think my brain doesn't work right. I'm too scattered. I lost my camera. I lost $20 today... Maybe I need to take those tests again so they can see if I can get the kind of help Jeremiah can.”

“Isaac, I’m going to talk square with you. I know you are worried, you are scared. You are afraid you won’t be able to make it in the world. I’m going to sit here now and tell you exactly what I know, what I think, and how things might work out. But before I do, I want you to know something...

“It’s going to be OK. You don’t have to worry about your life. You can live a very good life. Jeremiah is going to always need someone to watch over him. He will have to live in a group home, and have people tell him what to do and when to do it. But you will be able to live on your own, live your own life. You are going to be OK.

“The other thing you need to know is how much I love you. If there was a truck barreling down the road and the only way to save you was to push you out of the way, even if there wasn’t enough time for me to get away, I would do it. You are more important to me than I am to myself. You are more important. I love you. I am so glad God gave you to me. I will always make sure that the best possible things I can make happen for you, will happen.”

His eyes shifted back and forth... to the wall behind me, to my face, to the couch... a small smile flickered on his face.

I launched into the most difficult talk I have had with him.

“The average IQ is between 90 and 110. Jeremiah’s IQ is 46. Yours is 77. To be considered mentally retarded a person’s IQ has to be below 70. You are too smart for that. You cannot get the sort of help Jeremiah is eligible for. You are almost twice as smart as Jeremiah. That is a good thing.

“You won’t be able to do everything you might want to do. I know you want to work on computers, be able to figure out all sorts of problems with them... but they can be very complex and it takes a lot of clear thinking to be able to figure out what might be wrong. I don't think you will be able to do that.

"But there are lots of other jobs you will be able to do. You will be able to work at an electronics store. Learning the inventory and how everything works would be a challenge at first, but once you did, the small changes and additions that would happen would be easy enough for you to keep up with. You could work in a video store, or all sorts of places, and earn enough money.”

I gauged his responses. His eyes were locked on mine.

“OK... Here it is. You are scattered. You do have trouble keeping things in their place, knowing where you left things. But there are things you can do to help.

“Have you ever heard about leprosy?”


“It’s a disease. Nowadays it is usually called Hansen’s Disease. For most of history people were afraid of people who had this disease. They didn’t understand how it was spread. They were afraid of it because lepers, that’s what they call people who have that disease, because they looked awful. They had terrible sores, so bad their bodies would come apart. They lose fingers, hands, feet, parts of their faces.

“Nowadays people aren’t so afraid of it. Now we know that it is caught by children when they live in places where there are terrible conditions. In such places sewers run in the streets and kids are exposed to it. The kids get it
after a long exposure to it, and even then many don't get it. Now we are much better at keeping kids away from it and they don’t get leprosy very often.

“And most lepers today don’t look like they used to. They have learned a way to keep their bodies from doing that.

“Leprosy doesn’t deform their bodies. Infections do. You see, leprosy kills nerve cells. And since these people can’t feel things, they don’t know when they hurt themselves. When they get a cut or a bruise, since they don’t feel those cuts and bruises, they don’t notice they are getting infections, and the infections get real bad and they get gangrene, and they swell up, and parts of their bodies just rot away.

“But lepers today are taught a way to keep that from happening. They are taught to do what is called a VSE, a ‘Visual Surveillance of Extremities.’ They are taught to always be looking over their hands, and arms. They are always taking their socks off to check all over their feet. They learn the habit of looking carefully all over their bodies all the time so they can take care of themselves and stay healthy.

“That is something you can do to help yourself with being so scattered.

“There were a couple of things that your tests showed about you that were different than most people. Yeah, it showed your IQ is a little lower than most people, but it showed you were higher than other people in some ways.

“You care about people. In fact, you care about other people a little too much. You tend to think about others far too much, much more than about yourself. What you need to be careful about is that there are some people who care too much about themselves and they will take advantage of you. But you can use that trait of yours to your advantage.

“Another thing your test showed is that you are extremely careful about following laws and rules. Much more than other people. You can use that to your advantage.

“Just like people with leprosy learn to make a habit of always of always checking their body, you can learn the habit of always checking everywhere you are before you leave. You can learn that habit, and if you think about how that when you leave things all scattered you are making others pick up after you, and you don’t want to bother other people, you will learn the habit easier. Also, if you tell yourself that everything belongs in a very particular place, and it is a rule, you will be checking to see if you are following the rules... and you want to do that. Thinking of keeping things in the right place is like following the rules, and you will be checking everywhere you are, and you won’t lose your camera, or lose $20.”

He seemed to be following me closely.

“I know you have been wondering if you could go to college. Well buddy, I don’t think you can get a bachelor’s degree like some people, but you can get a high school diploma... and you can go to a junior college and get into a two year program that can teach you to do things that I know you can do. You can learn to work on cars. You can learn to weld. You can learn to do all sorts of things.

“We are all unique... IQ is only a small part of who we are and how it affects us. I’m a little on the smart side. But that doesn’t mean things always go my way.

"I never want to talk down about Mom. I want you to always respect her and love her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make mistakes. Mom is smart, but she has made a lot of mistakes.

"I’m pretty good at figuring a lot of things out, but sometimes I have trouble reading people. Sometimes I don’t feel comfortable around people. Sometimes I think and say things I think are funny, and other people don’t get it.

“I think the new medicine you are taking makes you more scattered. But I also think it makes it easier for you to think clearly. We can go back to the other medicine. But it will make your thinking a little fuzzier, and I think you can learn habits that will compensate for being so scattered.

“Another thing. I know you are upset about losing the $20 and are scared about your future... but it will be OK. Part of what you’re feeling is about worrying about how well you think. Part of what you’re feeling is because you are confused and sad about this situation with Mom. I get it. I feel it. That stuff wears you down. But it helps if at least you know you are feeling that way because of those things.

"I love you. Mom loves you. It will all work out. I will always be there for you, and you can stay living with me for as long as you need... though I think that someday you will need to move out on your own because living your life, in your home, doing what you want to do and not worrying about my way or my rules, is what is best for you. But for now, finish high school, get your diploma. And next year we will work on getting you used to working and earning money. And we can set things up so that your paycheck goes directly to your bank, and your bank can pay most of your bills directly.

“One last thing. There is something about you that you don’t know, even though you have heard it. But it is true, and I want you to believe it. Ready? OK, here it is: You are very handsome. You are one good looking kid.

"You will be able to find a girlfriend. I know you want one. You just need to feel more confident, less afraid. I know there are a lot of girls out there who think you are handsome. And they are right.”

He looked straight at me. Hard. Unsure how to take that bit. And I stared back, judging the truth of how beautiful he is. For him, the dreadlocks really do set him off very well. And his eyes. He does have beautiful eyes.

He could see me scanning his face, and that I was smiling, and that I really do think he is one of the best looking kids I know, whether or not I am his dad.

We watched TV together, at dinner together, folded clothes. Rocky got sick again. We cleaned up dog puke.

I went to bed early. Fell asleep fast.

It didn’t last long. A knock on the bedroom door woke me in less than a half hour.

“Rocky threw up!” both boys were saying.

He had indeed. In three places. I cleaned it up. He didn’t look too well.

I opened the sliding glass door so he could go outside if he felt ill. Turned off the heat so we didn’t waste money heating the Oregon night. I covered him with a blanket. Went to bed.

He was worse in the morning. He had thrown up four more times. I called the vet, who wasn’t available to see him on a Saturday morning. He was headed out to make his rounds at various farms. But he gave me the number of a vet in Beavercreek.

I called the vet. They could see me in 40 minutes. I jumped in the car.

Rocky could barely get into the van. I had to help him up. He was wagging his tail, anticipating another good walk at Molalla River State Park.

I started driving, and I thought about Brenda and all her stuff. I sent her a text message, telling her I wanted her to get her stuff out of the house.

I thought about how much she loved Rocky. I hadn’t told her about my going to the vet because I was a little ticked that she hadn’t called the boys in over a week and they missed her and they hurt and she didn’t seem to care and she seems to love the dog more than them and... she should know the vet said that this sounded very serious. So I sent the text:

“Rocky is VERY sick. F (the vet.) says he might not make it to Monday. Call me if you want to meet me @ vet’s.”

She called. I gave her the address.

Rocky could barely walk when I got there. And when I got him inside, he collapsed. I put him on the scale. He has lost 20 pounds since his check up a month ago.

Brenda showed up. Minute by minute Rocky looked worse. His temp. was four degrees below normal. He was anemic. He was having trouble breathing. The veterinarian gave us an estimate to start blood work and x rays. $570.

And he would need to go to a pet hospital anyway.

We wondered if we should have him put to sleep , or start on the costly checks of what he has. I said something about how I thought he would not get better no matter what, but I thought we should take him straight to the pet hospital. And see about first steps.

Then he started bleeding out his rectum.

We got him into the van. Twenty minutes later I was pulling into the pet hospital parking lot. He couldn’t stand. I picked him up, carried him into the building while blood trickled out his butt and down my pants leg. Brenda held the door open.

The receptionist saw me carrying this huge dog, saw his condition...

“We need a triage doctor and a gurney in the lobby, STAT!”

Two technicians came rushing out with a gurney and I placed him on it. They wheeled him away. Brenda and I followed.

But behind the offices, in the area filled with all sorts of equipment to care for the pampered pets of Americans, equipment third world clinics beg for, we were turned aside and put into consult room.

Ten minutes later an animal doc came in to tell us Rocky had stopped breathing. He was on a ventilator.

We went to see him.

Agreed to euthanize him.

I lifted his ear, bent close and whispered “You’re a good dog. You’re a good boy.”

The doctor put a large syringe filled with a pink liquid into his catheter. We nodded. She pulled back the plunger, and a little blood leaked in, mixing darkly with the pink fluid, it was in a vein. We nodded.

“This will only take about 30 seconds.”

We nodded again.

She slowly pushed the plunger in.

He grew still.

I held Brenda.

Afterward we went to Denny’s. I wanted to catch my breath before going home, telling the boys that their beloved dog is dead. Have a cup of coffee.

I noticed she was wearing a class ring where her wedding band once was.

At one point she started saying things about how awful life is. How she wished we hadn’t adopted Jeremiah. I told her that if she said one more word about Jeremiah I would leave the money for the coffee, get up, and walk out.

She came home to help me tell the boys. I suggested she pack some more of her stuff. I told her she had two more weeks to get the rest of it.

She got into a "rag fest" over the way we have been putting away plastic containers. I pulled her into the bedroom.

“Knock it off! I don't have to listen to your negativity anymore, and I won't!

“Yeah, the boys don’t do things exactly the way you do...”

She started in on how the boys are inept: “It takes no more effort to do things right than to do them wrong. If they would just...”

“I said knock it off! If you can’t be nice, then get out!

"It takes patience to teach them how to do things. I find the good they are doing and praise them in order for them to learn. It is great they are doing things! They are trying. So what if it isn’t perfect?! That is so far down on my list of what is important I can barely see it. They are helping to run this house. They are learning to cook and clean and wash laundry and dishes and learning to do things simply because they need doing and not because someone has told them to do it. It doesn’t matter if sometimes I have to rewash the dishes, or revacuum the floor, or do the sweeping again.

"That they are trying is much more important than how well they are doing it.

"Not doing it right. I can work with that. At least they are doing something!

“This is exactly why you are having so much trouble in your life.”

“I’m having trouble in my life because bad things never stop happening, while good things do,” she whined.

“You’re wrong.”

“I’m wrong?!! THE DOG IS DEAD! How much more wrong can it get?“

“You just don’t get it. You hold onto every bad thing that happens. You are constantly angry and constantly resentful. Resentment is a poison you take hoping it will hurt someone else.

“Yeah, life is pretty bad sometimes. But it is also beautiful. Life sucks, and life is wonderful.

“On the way here, as we drove through Oregon City, there were all those yellow leaves floating down just in front of the railroad tunnel. It was beautiful. It looked like I was driving through bright yellow snow. I would guess you didn’t notice.

"Now it is twenty minutes later, and I am still holding onto the image of all those beautiful leaves floating down. I deal with what is wrong, and I dwell on what is right.

“You can look at the ugly things, take them in, and let them poison you. Or you can look at the ugly things, deal with them and then focus on the beautiful. And life is full of beauty. Even that jerk you are with in Molalla probably has good in him.”

I told her to pack more of her stuff. I had a couple of errands to run. I left.

This evening we had dinner at the group home I think would be perfect for Jeremiah. It was another step in the complex process of finding a good future for that child of mine.

At any rate... tonight my children are upset over the loss of a beloved pet. Tonight my wife cries for this dear former companion of hers. Tonight I am learning how to guide my home and my children through another little mess.

Sometimes life is full of shit. So... one should put on waders, walk through it, take care of the mess, and then wash it off. Sure, life stinks sometimes. But, it is also beautiful.

I have two wonderful children.

I will miss Rocky.

But, I have an important job to do in finishing this task of raising my sons to be as independent as they can be.

Now... I have spent too much time recording the events of last night and today and I need to get to sleep. Tomorrow my team of Special Olympics Bowling athletes are going to the regional tournament and I should get some rest.

Brenda is not sleeping beside me, and Rocky will no longer be sleeping on the foot of the bed. I have more adjusting to do.



Marvin the Martian said...

How nice of you, to be there with Rocky when he died. Every pet deserves to be with Mom or Dad when they go.

You're getting stronger every day, Will! What a formative year this is for you.

When I am quiet, sometimes I am disagreeing, or I think you are making things harder for yourself, but that is not constructive to say, so I say nothing. Sometimes I simply have nothing at all to say. ;-) But it doesn't matter, because this is YOUR blog, and if I didn't like to read your thoughts, I wouldn't come back. ;-)

I'm back. And I will be back again. And you will survive, and so will the boys, and things will get better and better for you, because that is God's plan. Heaven helps those who help themselves. You are doing much to help yourself.

Keep up the good work!!! I am proud of you and pleased for you. I am glad to have "met" you.

ukok said...

Through teary eyes i write this...prayers for you and yours going up...

Curious Servant said...

I didn't go to bed until after 1:00. Before bed I walked the local park as I did with Rocky almost twice a day.

I got up and walked the park again at 4:00 a.m.

Three hours sleep.


Well... Maybe I'll take a nap this afternoon.

He was the best dog I ever had, and I've had about a dozen.

becky said...

this is a difficult read.


glaucia said...

Wow! Will. You're amazing guy, and God knows that! Praying for your transition.

Paula said...

I am so glad we reconnected, so I can support you and pray for you during this difficult time. This post proves what I've know all along. You're a great dad and a man of God. You choose joy in pain and that's something that is rare to find these days. Sorry about the loss of your pet, that's like losing family. Sorry your wife is acting so ugly during this time.

I have a private blog of my own. In light of your trials, my private blog seems silly and insignificant, but it deals with spiritual issues and food. Food is my drug of choice when it comes to dealing with stress. Is it okay if I add a link to this blog on my private site? Stop by sometime and we'll also keep in touch here and on Facebook.


Anonymous said...

Will, maybe you and the boys can do a mini memorial in your yard - bulb planting season is here : ).
Your family is so dear to my hert!

Anonymous said...

So sorry about the death of your friend Rocky.
You are a good dad. You are teaching your boys the important things in life.
Your talk with Isaac was good. He seemed more confident and happy when I was talking with him today. He has a very contagious smile.
still praying for your family...

Amrita said...

First of all I must say you are a wonderful Dad and a great parent.

I grew up wilt a disability and was never given self confidence.I wish someone had talked to me like you did to your boys.

I love dogs and 3 of them have died in amy arms.
I know what its like.
I still cry for my Jimmy and can 't bear to look at his fotos at times
What happened to Rocky so suddenly...sounds like toxic poisoning.

% 570 for the goodness. i had to spend $15 on Sheeba 's vet trips last week and that was too much for me.

Becky said...

so much here to comment on, to affirm...the difference you are making in your boys lives, in the lives of we who read here...He gives and takes away this post just moved me in many ways. THANKS Will praying for you, your boys and Brenda.

Pia said...

Your son is gorgeous, you are a great, loving father, and you're an all around great guy. You have the wisdom of the ages in you. God bless you and your family.

Lucy Stern said...

So sorry to hear about Rocky....It is hard to lose a loving pet, they become part of the family so quickly.

You had a good, honest talk with your son and I think he understands that you love him and there are things he can do. Hopefully he knows that his Heavenly Father loves him too. Keep working with him and he will grow to be a productive adult.

You are a good dad and the boys are very lucky to have you. Don't let Brenda get you down, Will. The boys don't need her negative attitude. Stay Strong!