My classes are studying memoirs; I thought I’d share what I have so far. What follows is the 2nd draft of a memoir about putting my old dog to sleep.
Feeding Popcorn to a Ghost
Without a word, my mom and I knew it was time to put our beloved family pet to sleep. After almost fourteen years, Sally was no longer living a fulfilling life as a dog or as a companion. Her eyes, once black as coal, were no longer useful. Gray clouds of cataract bloomed inside her eyes, blocking out the world around her and making it difficult for her to navigate the house. Although she still knew us by scent, her confused movements and nervous disposition let us know that we needed to call the vet.
So after making the appointment for 10 AM the next morning, my mom and I made sure that Sally spent her final hours doing what she loved most: watching movies with us and eating popcorn. I sat on the couch and my mom sat in her favorite chair. Sally curled up at her feet, a giant ball of steel-grey fluff gently expanding and contracting. No words were exchanged that night, only the childlike cooing of my mother as she fed kernels of popcorn to Sally. The two had perfected this nightly ritual over years of practice. My mom extended her hand down as Sally raised her head up. With a silent slurp the kernel disappeared. Once the deed was done, hand returned to bowl and snout returned to floor. My mother and her dog emitted a sigh equal parts sadness and satisfaction. This continued until the movie was over and the popcorn was all gone. The lights stayed off as everyone retreated to their beds for the final night.
The next morning was all performance. My mom and I went through the usual motions of daily human life: eating, laundry, and errands. No one made a sound, as if could prevent what was about to happen by simply refusing to acknowledge it. The house sat and watched our movements, respecting our silence. At a quarter to ten we led Sally out the front door and down the makeshift ramp we had made for her once her hips started to deteriorate. All of a sudden she collapsed, her legs buckling beneath her as she crumpled forward into the grass. My mom and I rushed to her to help, but it was difficult. Sally was confused and disoriented. She twisted and pawed at the air, letting out fearful whimpers of exhaustion every time we tried to pick her up. At this point neither my mother nor I dared look at one another.
The vet was merciful and quiet. They let me and mom stay in the room as they lifted Sally up onto a stainless steel table and injected a clear liquid into her thigh. My mom and I, faces bright and soggy from ceaseless tears, held Sally as her breathing slowed. We held on tightly until her body no longer rose and fell. Within seconds it was over.
My mom and I didn’t say anything until we got home. Normally when we arrived home, the jingling of our keys at the door was enough to alert Sally. We would open the door to our faithful, furry companion, excited to see us no matter how much she aged. Now we opened the door to silence. We were no longer trailed by the jingling of her collar as she dutifully followed us throughout the house. Now we walked through the house alone, inspecting each room as if expecting to see her napping on the floor, bathed in afternoon light from a nearby window. “I guess we can put these away,” my mom said picking up one of Sally’s favorite socks. Her voice sounded like tissue paper. We held each other and cried.
The loss of Sally brought me and my mom together in an unexpected way. The experience felt almost like a secret, a hard nugget of pain and truth that would bind us together in the way that only shared loss can. We haven’t spoken about that morning ever since it happened, and that’s alright. I like to imagine Sally followed us around the house for a little while after the vet put her to sleep. She wanted to make sure she we were ok. And to get any last pieces of popcorn before she disappeared.