He had such a great smile.
Obi was my first dog. His name was of course a nod to the Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi, the wise Jedi master, but it also translates to mean “heart” in Igbo, a Western African language. It’s the most perfect dog name ever, and perfectly fit this dog, who was all heart.
Obi died six years ago, today. He had multicentric lymphoma, which in dogs is treatable but not curable. He was diagnosed only a month after he turned seven years old, and died just a few months before he would turn eight. It seemed incredibly unfair, as these things always do.
I’ve written a lot about Obi, lots that I haven’t published anywhere yet. Probably because the anniversary of his death is approaching, I wrote about him in my Wild Writing class a few weeks ago, and thought I’d share it here today — in honor of Obi, one of the best dogs ever, and in honor of the rest of us, opening our hearts and loving each other like crazy even though we know it’s going to end badly, every time, no matter what we do.
The day we adopted Obi, April 20, 2002
Poem prompt: Unforced Error by Meghan O’Rourke.
I used to think pressing forward was the point of life. Last night in the kitchen with Eric, we got to talking about Obi, our first dog. It’s coming up on the 6th anniversary of his death, and I keep getting notifications from the Facebook “memories” feature and my Timehop app on my phone about things I was posting six years ago. Yesterday it was a status update about how one of Obi’s tumors (he had multicentric lymphoma, so every node was a potential tumor), one of his tumors was growing close to his throat, so I was listening to him breathe, knew we didn’t have much time, and I was right, we only had 13 days left. And in the kitchen last night with Eric, he told me that was the moment he became an adult. That experience was the end of innocence for him, a moment when he realized bad shit happens to everyone, and everyone you love will die. He grew up in a military family, his dad was in the Army, so it was just him and his sister and his parents. Relatives were people he only heard about, saw once every two or three years, strangers really, and no one in his family had yet died when Obi was diagnosed, not anyone close, not anyone he really knew. So when Obi got sick, and the diagnosis was “treatable but not curable,” it hit Eric hard. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry, 16 years in and I’d never seen him that upset about anything. Before that, he was rarely even unhappy. A life can be a lucky streak, and up to that point, his was. It wasn’t that he believed he was special somehow, that bad things wouldn’t happen, just that the reality was so distant to him, unreal. And then it knocked on his front door, moved in, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.
Still a puppy
Poem prompt: The Future by Billy Collins.
It was like this, when we first found the lump it was so tiny we didn’t think it was anything to worry about, like a grain of rice buried just beneath his shoulder, a spot where I didn’t even know dogs had lymph nodes. Eric noticed it first one day when he was petting him, told me about it a few days later, couldn’t even find it when he tried to show it to me. A few days after that, I was petting him and found it, and as soon as my fingers pressed around it, Obi gave me the weirdest look. I’d come back to that look days later, when we knew, and wonder if Obi knew what was happening to him before we did. And still, we didn’t make a special trip to the vet, just reminded ourselves to mention it when we took him in for his next checkup a few weeks later. We even joked about how obsessive we were, that other people wouldn’t have even noticed it, teased each other that Dr. Mulnix would just tell us to “keep an eye on it” just like he did about every other worry we brought to him. But he didn’t say that. Instead he wanted to do a biopsy right then and there, put in a long needle and get a sample, send it to the lab. Later, after the shock of the diagnosis — cancer — wore off, Eric and I realized that Dr. Mulnix had known as soon as he felt the lump, had seen the same too many times in his 40+ years of practice, wanted to be wrong, sure, but was pretty certain that was what it was. When he called later to confirm, I didn’t understand. Lymphoma is one of the most treatable cancers in humans, and Dr. Mulnix only gave me the name of the thing, no details and certainly not a prognosis, just told me to call and make an appointment with Oncology at CSU. It wasn’t until later, home alone waiting for Eric to get back, waiting to tell him the news, that I Googled it and kept seeing the same thing, site after site, link after link, “treatable but not curable.”
Poem prompt: Want by Carrie Fountain
This is the heart’s constant project, trying to understand how we can love so much, so deeply, so intensely that it eclipses everything else and we think we’ll die without it, when the reality is every relationship ends badly — if we don’t beat it to the punch with a break-up it eventually finds one of us involved gone, gone gone, the big gone, forever gone, and it ends that way. And we know this, even someone like Eric, so removed from it for so long, so distracted by the lucky streak of his life and disconnected from the reality of it, even he knows this is how it will end. And sure, some of us try to avoid it by not loving, not letting anyone get to close, but I don’t think it even works for those people. I see them working so hard to distance everyone, classifying every human on the planet as either an asshole or a jerk, but it doesn’t even work. I watch my dad feeding a stray cat, acting like he doesn’t care, but it’s a lie, he does care, even if it’s “just a cat,” he can’t help it. We can’t help it. So this is the heart’s constant project, learning to hold hope and hopelessness together, knowing that love is impossible without the loss. I was telling my friend this the other day, after we’d shared a blog post from a person whose dog had just died, and I told her that even though I don’t ever want to experience it again, I keep getting another dog. I know how it will end, how much it hurts, and yet I do it again. And then I saw a video later about pet loss and one of the people said that she knew it was hard to get another pet when you know how it will end, how hard it will be and how much it will hurt, but the inbetween is so good.
The inbetween is so good.
This picture is hard for me to look at, and yet it’s so precious to me. It was taken the day before Obi died, and you can see so clearly — he loved us so much, didn’t want to leave, but he was so ready to go. Good boy, Obi.
He’s been gone for six years, and it still wrecks me. I know that some people totally understand, and others think it’s a sign that something is wrong with me. I agree with both perspectives. There is something deeply and profoundly wrong with me, but if we are honest, it’s the same thing we all suffer from — we all have hearts, and they are breakable. We love and what we love will eventually be lost.
But the inbetween is so good.