"I can't walk the fucking dog."
Spoken in a kind of amazed, compressed, staccato anger. "I can't ... walk the ... fuh-king ... dog!"
Late December. The occupant of the White House bracing himself in the doorway of the Oval Office, leaving claw marks in the lintels, howling about stolen elections. The Last Lie. And the biggest, and most damaging.
As if that weren't bad enough. Our little dog Kitty hurt her leg. Running figure eights around our living room, pure enthusiasm, unaware of political developments. Adding injury to insult.
She had needed a bath. Because her coat had gotten too long. Because there is a global pandemic and getting the dog groomed seems a thing that can be put off. Because I had administered the dog bath, and set her down, and she did her yippee figure 8s, and I let her because, well, she's been doing it for a decade and maybe it would help her dry off, encouraging the evaporation process. So it was sorta my fault, when she let out a shriek, and came up limping, her little back right leg curled up. Hurt. There was nothing to do but pat her and stroke her and let her rest.
"We'll see how she is in the morning," I said. But that night, about 9 p.m., gently scooping her off our bed, intending to take her outside, she let out a yip of pain, and we hustled her to the animal hospital instead. Because I'm not going to go to sleep and leave the dog in pain. They gave us some doggie aspirin and told us to see the vet in the morning. Probably a torn meniscus. $225 please.
"Like Derrick Rose," I said, exhausting my Bulls knowledge.
We took her to her regular vet the next morning. Probably a torn meniscus—x-rays are pointless, since they wouldn't show the ligament. Have her keep off it as much as possible—no long walks. No stairs. Another $225 please.
We blocked our stairways off—our house has four levels—with broken down paper boxes.
I would carry her down the front steps of the house, a half block to one of her favorite spots. And this is the heartbreaking thing. She wanted to go. Go go go. Pulling the leash. Wanted to do our usual walks. True grit.
Dogs are heroes of routine. It broke my heart to see her surging forward, all determination, her little back leg curled up.
"She can go as fast as three legs as she can on four," I marveled to my wife.
I worried about her. About having to drop $5,000 on dog knee surgery. About not being able to walk her for two months. She'd get fat. I'd get fat. It seemed the final indignity. I can't go to the gym. Or restaurants. Or see friends. Or travel. Or see my parents. The country is dissolving before my eyes and NOW, I can't ... walk... the ... fuuuuuucking dog!"
It seemed too much. And a reminder that distant abstract woes, no matter how enormous, do not register the way small private ones do. I'm sorry that 450,000 Americans have died in the past year, and try to use that fact as a rag to stuff in my mouth whenever I feel inclined to complain about anything, which is often. But nothing sliced through this whole COVID nightmare like watching that 15 pound bichon-shihtzu mix powering forward, its little leg back right leg curled up, useless.
But time passed. I carried that dog up and down the street, scooping her up after she did her business, imagining my neighbors tisking and tutting from behind their curtains. "That strange old man is carrying his dog again. He must have completely lost his mind. They say he drank, you know."
And then after a span of days—four, five, a week, two, hard to say now. Less than a month—she started tentatively putting her weight on her right rear foot. A few steps at first. I sobbed, I'l admit it. Briefly, out of relief, and joy. The leg works, and it's getting better. Thank you thank you thank you.
And it has. Two months in, she never curls it up. She boldly powers through what we call the "used ta" walk—the walk my wife used to take with her before she—my wife—got her current job. Eight blocks round trip. About a mile. The spheres returned. Things go wrong, but things get better. If you let them, if you listen to the vet and crumble the little cylinders of joint herbs into her food and are patient. Recovery is possible. You never know how precious ordinary life is until it's yanked away. Someday I'm going to be sitting in that Thai restaurant on Madison Street, as the waitress slides my beef and broccoli before me and shake my fists in exaltation and cry out, "Yessssssss!" But not yet. You just have to wait.