If I recall correctly, the last time in my life I cried was about 35 years ago, at 11 years old, when a grandparent passed away. It wasn't long after that that puberty hit, and I pretty much left most emotions behind. My sister would call me "Spock" at times, when something would happen that would shock the family and I would sit, stone faced, uncaring. When my father died I was 16 years old, and I felt nothing. Over the years, I lived through all the normal tragedies that people normally live through, deaths of friends and family, family members in car accidents, the old "Mom has cancer" or "You're friend is going to live, but he'll never be the same, his brain took too much damage", or any number of other dire proclamations, and even when I felt something, I had no problem hiding it. I grew up in a house where men didn't cry, or complain, they did what they had to do when it had to be done, no matter what. I can remember being a little kid, and any time I did cry, my father would growl, "You better stop that meeping crying, before I give you something to cry about.- He never had to say it twice, he wasn't like one of these 'New Age- parents, who threaten and threaten and never deliver. meep, half the time he didn't even threaten, his justice was swift, painful, and memorable, so getting a threat was kind of his way of being nice. Knowing I lacked the emotions a normal person should have, I was always careful to never have kids of my own. Just because I'm not emotional doesn't mean I'm an meep, a kid doesn't deserve to be raised that way.
Not to say there weren't a few 'perks- that come from a lack of emotions. I have always been good in an emergency. When something bad happens, and everybody is standing around with their mouths open, I'm the one running in and doing what needs to be done. When I come across a terrible motorcycle accident, and the rider was wearing an open face helmet, and he skidded face down and there's not much of a face left, and there are bones sticking out of his arm, and everyone is standing around in horror, I take control of the situation, tell two people to call 911, and hold the poor meep down on blacktop that is so hot it is getting soft and ignore him while he screams that he is burning, in case he has a neck injury. Afterwards, when the adrenaline shakes stop, I go home and neglect to mention it to my wife until she's doing laundry the next day and finds the guy's blood on my pants leg and asks me what happened. I've been in worse situations, and learned that if I say anything about it, people will think I'm asking for a pat on the back, or looking for approval, so I say nothing.
Growing up, my friends knew me as a 'tough guy-. An early fascination with martial arts turned into 16 years of training, voraciously learning every move and trick I could find. I was a natural athlete with muscle I didn't deserve and amazing reflexes, always the first picked in just about any sport, and when I fought I was a demon. When I would find a new martial arts school, I would ask the instructor if I could spar with him, and if I could beat him, I didn't see the point in going back. Most times, I didn't go back. I built a regulation sized boxing ring in my front yard, and told my friends to tell their friends to find someone to fight me, and for a year I took on everyone and anyone. Rules were agreed on, gloves or no gloves, boxing, kick fighting, martial arts, whatever, even tried some drunken bare knuckled blindfolded fighting until I got some poor meeps tooth stuck in the back of my hand. I REVELED in my toughness! I had teeth pulled without Novocain, open wounds stitched without Lidocaine, and never lost a game of what we used to call 'cigarette wrestling-, where two of us would put our forearms together and drop a lit cigarette between them, the first one to pull his arm away being the loser. After 30 years, I still have the scars from winning.
And today, as I type this, I can barely see the computer monitor through my tears. At about 3:00pm yesterday, I had to say goodbye to the sweetest soul I've ever known. My wife and I found her 12 years ago, in a shelter. We had no idea how old she was, at least a year, possibly two. She had been terribly abused. She was so skinny, we thought that she was part Greyhound, where her stomach should have been was just an arch. She was terribly afraid of men. Once she realized I wasn't going to beat her, and it sunk in that she was in a safe place, she wouldn't leave my side. She had never had a toy, I had to actually teach her how to play, though she never did understand the concept of 'fetch-. I would throw a ball, she would watch it until it stopped, then just look at me. In those first few months, if she did something wrong, her fear was frightening to see. After the first time she had an accident on the carpet, I ripped out a side window, installed a door with a doggy door, built her a deck with steps down to the yard, and a huge fence. She seemed to have a fear of grass, she had either been in a cage in a house somewhere all her life, or something bad had happened to her on grass once, she would walk across the lawn like she was tip-toeing. We didn't realize how starved she was, after a year or so, she had gained 35 pounds, and she was full grown when we found her. I knew that if I ever in my life found the people who had owned her before we found her, let's just say I would most likely be spending a good long time in jail.
So for 12 years, this broken dog became mine. She had little quirks, like most dogs do. She loved milk bones, but she disciplined herself. I would empty a whole box of them into a wide box (that she could get her head in) and leave it uncovered on the floor for her. Twice a day, she would go over to the box, take out a single bone, take it to her spot in the living room, and eat it. Two a day, like clockwork. She ignored my wife, unless I wasn't there. She couldn't wait for a TV or movie night, so she could jump up on the couch with me. I could watch a 2 hour movie, and the whole time she would just stare at me. My wife would get jealous, and say that the dog was clearly in love with me, and I had to agree, she acted like a teenager with a crush.
I never trained her, but she learned an amazing amount of English words, and I learned a few Dog phrases myself. I noticed early on that whenever she saw another dog outside, she would make the same whining/growling noise, and when she would make it, I would copy her. Eventually, if I made the noise first, she would run to the window. Any time I would see a dog outside I would let her know with that whine/growl, and when company came over my wife delighted in telling them how the dog had been training me, at which point I would make the noise and she would run to the window, barking.
And then she got older. She started picking up weird little habits that would always remind me of the abuse she must have endured. I noticed that any time I would make a noise, like a cough, or worse, a hiccough, she would get very scared, and as she got older this fear would get worse, to the point that if I coughed, she would put her tail between her legs and run outside, and not come in for a half hour or more. This only got better about a year and a half ago, and only because she started to go deaf. And then, suddenly, things started going downhill. I would walk past her in the living room, go into the bedroom for a few minutes, come back to the living room, and she would be standing next to a puddle of meep that looked like she had invited three other dogs into the house to help her make a puddle. And when I pointed at it, she seemed to just notice it, like she had done it in her sleep, and then she would get scared like she was going to get a beating. A trip to the Vet turned up some kind of 'crystals- in her urine, something that was incurable and would probably give her more problems. Not long after, she developed bladder stones. At her age, an operation to get rid of them was not a great idea. About 4 months ago, she started losing weight, and it was horrible to see her getting skinny again, a stark reminder of the state she was in when we had first found her. And then a couple of days ago, a bladder stone must have gotten lodged somewhere, and suddenly when she'd try to take a meep, nothing would come out. Having lived with kidney stones for 8 months, I knew how painful it was to have one kidney swell up, I couldn't imagine how bad she might get if she couldn't relieve the pressure at all. She grew lethargic, and soon had trouble standing, and we knew we had to do the right thing.
Now, where I grew up, when you had a dog that was in bad shape like that, you took it in the back yard and put it out of its misery yourself. If you were really attached to it, your neighbor would do it for you, and you would help your neighbor out the same way. But that was farm life, and I'm far from that life where I live now, if my neighbor saw me in the back yard with a dog and a gun, I'd have 5 cop cars at my house in under 3 minutes. So we had to do this 'the right way-, and take her to a Vet. I've known since the day we got her that one day, it was going to come to this, and didn't think twice about doing the right thing at the right time. She wagged her tail for the first time in two days when she saw me get her halter and leash, her favorite thing in the world (besides a McDonalds Double Cheeseburger) was a walk, and the only thing that could make that better was a ride in the car. I put her in the back of my wife's car, and my wife got in the back with her, and we headed toward our 3:00 appointment. About 10 minutes in, my wife was quietly sobbing in the back seat, holding the dog's back legs so she wouldn't fall over when I went around a curve, when I looked into my side mirror and saw her face sticking out the window. The fur on her face was almost all white now, where it used to be golden. Her ears, which normally hung straight down, were sticking almost straight back in the wind, like little wings. And she was smiling. It was of course just the face she was making while trying to deal with the wind in her face, but the image was so perfect, so god damned beautiful, I immediately burst into tears. It startled me even more than it startled my wife, she's known me for 20 years and has never heard such a noise from me. I managed not to hit anything, regained my composure, and made it to the Vet. They took us to a little room so we could have some privacy while we waited for the doctor. The Vet's assistant had to find a blanket to put on the floor, as it was too slippery for the dog's feet and she kept falling over. As for me, it was like that one outburst in the car had opened up something that had been waiting to get out for most of my life, and I wept uncontrollably for the next ten minutes. The Vet finally came in and gave her a shot to calm her down and make her sleepy, and said he would be back in a little while to put her down. I got myself under control while we waited, petting her the whole time, and she stared holes into the back of my head until the drugs started to take effect, and she started drifting. I held he head between my hands and kept eye to eye with her, like she used to back when she'd lay on the couch with me. And finally she couldn't keep her eyes open any more, and I let her head down. When the Vet came in I had a quick flash of misdirected anger at him, and came uncomfortably close to doing something really stupid. I may be older now, and have a back that doesn't do much more than give me pain 24 hours a day, but I still remember the moves, I can still do massive damage in a very small amount of time, but I got control once more, let the man I'd never met before kill my dog, and left.
Her name was Nikki. I've been sitting here now for eleven and a half hours, trying to figure out what it was about that damned dog that finally broke through. I'm still crying, quietly so I don't wake the wife, and I've never felt pain like this for any human being I've ever known. I've had dogs all my life, and put the first one down myself when the time came when I was 15 years old, and didn't think twice about it, because it was the right thing to do. Growing up on a farm, you deal with death all the time, and I guess you learn not to get too attached to the animals that you're eventually going to kill and eat, but of course pets are different, and I've seen the sadness in others when a pet had to be put down. After all these years, the intensity of the emotion I'm feeling is overwhelming. Was it because she was so broken when we found her? Or the undeniably unconditional love in her eyes, when she would stare at me for hours on end, like I was the most important thing in her world? GOD meep IT I can't stop crying. My god, Nikki, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so god damned sorry.