I haven’t slept in six months. If there wasn’t a dog beside my bed, snoring through thickened airways or panting heavily with pain or wandering the hallway, clunking the water bowl with her collar, pacing, peeing on the hallway rug, then there was a dog at the bottom of the steps, scratching at the barrier to come up, panting so heavily I could hear her through a closed door, above the din of the 1:00 a.m. TV. I’d get in bed and watch some cop show or The Good Wife, and I’d hear clunking and have to run downstairs, where I’d find Cleo stuck under a table or in a corner, trapped, frustrated. I could feel her panic and embarrassment.
My hearing and smell are already hypersensitive (something that happened when I was pregnant and never left me), but from the moment I got into bed each night, my whole body would tense up with anticipation. I knew she’d want to come up or need to go out or something just as soon as I’d start to drift off. Getting in bed has not been relaxing for a long, long time. And despite the frustration I've been known to express and the tears I've shed, I never once resented my dog.
I lie here now, some lame singing show (why are the women in these shows too lazy to think of words for things [“you owned it, you killed, you rocked it]?) on the tube, just an hour after saying our goodbyes to Cleo. Her limp body is lying in her bed in the dining room, and she looks more comfortable than I’ve seen her in two years. Yet my body is still tense, my ears still pricked, waiting for the panting and the moving furniture.
At eleven every night, when the news started, I would go down and lie with her, whisper loving things to her that she couldn’t hear but I’m sure felt, make sure she was comfortable, check that the basement door was closed and the barrier was up. I won’t have to do that anymore. I won’t get to do that anymore.
I poured a shot of brandy while Marty threw back a last sip of beer. “I’m going up to bed,” he said. Already? “And you should go to bed, too. You need to sleep.” I do need to sleep, I said. I haven’t slept in six months.
But first, one last goodnight.
RIP, Cleopatra Queen-of-Denial Miller. You were a very good dog.
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Thank you, everyone, for keeping my family in your thoughts. We appreciate it more than you can know.