Wednesday, April 13, 2016

We write to taste life twice; in the moment and in retrospect.

The title is an Anais Nin quote.

I was driving home from downtown Denver today and I put my iPhone/iPod/iTunes on shuffle, which is always a risk when you've had an iTunes account since 2005. The first song that played was Bombay Bicycle Club's 'How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep'. Do song titles go in scare quotes? I'm not sure. I should know that, but I don't. I thought hard for a minute about last night when I had told Adam I hadn't written for myself in a long time. And that song made me want to write again. So I figured I should light up this little corner of the internet that used to be mine.

That song is one of those timeless classics for me and I tried to think of the time in my life when I first heard it and I cannot remember. I know I snagged it from a rocketshoes playlist but I cannot even remember the year. Sometime in my undergraduate career, for sure. I have it on a playlist called 'Writing Songs'. And I'm listening to it now.

And I moved to Colorado, so maybe we should start there. But before there I absolutely have got to write about the experience that was the last shove out of Flagstaff.

I got Cohen when I was 21 years old. He was a gift from the worst boyfriend I've ever had. I was probably too young to care for an animal but it's one of those situations you just kind of get thrown in because of cuteness and lust and a fleeting feeling of believing. When I first got Cohen was when I first met Emily Prange and Lauren Vranich - two of my now roommates, and two of the funniest people I've ever met in my life, and one night when Joe told me he didn't want to be with me, Emily was the first person over. The third is Kelsey Peppers - the only person that could ever convince me to actually use the alien face emoji.

I'm rambling because this is hard to write about. Which means it should be written about.

There was a lot of heartbreaking that went on for me in Kalamazoo for a few years, and I buried my face into Cohen's neck and cried hundreds of thousands of tears during those times. When I finally got the courage to leave that relationship is when I started to run. And I ran because of Cohen. Great Danes aren't exactly exercising dogs, but we ran together from my apartment and through campus, topping out at about 3 miles. Thinking back on it, it had to be an odd scene. A girl who was smoking a pack a day and drinking every other night jogging around with a dog that was bigger than herself.

From there, life got better. Running took off for me and I didn't stop, and Cohen was happy to join me for leisurely trail miles. He was three then.

There's a comical blog post I wrote a couple of years ago when I couldn't catch Cohen at the trailhead during the winter. I think it's titled 'A Cohen Conversation'. I can't bring myself to reread it quite yet.

We moved to Flagstaff and kicked life around at 7,000 feet for a year and a half. Cohen remained my right-hand-man, my body pillow, my conversation starter at bars and my occasional pain in the ass. In February of 2015 he needed surgery on his spine and the grand total was just under $10,000. And I made it work. I wiped out my savings, spent my tax return, used some student loan money and had generous donations from a GoFundMe account. It was then that I realized how many people loved my dog. How could you not? Cohen loved every person and every animal more than I ever could. At the time I thought he had a few good years left. I never imagined it'd be just one.

Great Danes are known as the heartbreak breed. I thought I'd know when the time had come to say goodbye but my mom had to kind of help me see that. And when I saw it, I couldn't stop seeing it. When did he get so grey? When did he stop getting up quickly? When did he start laying down so slowly? When did his body start to fail him? Why didn't I see that?

I put him down on a Wednesday night. The thing about Cohen is that everyone always has to talk to me when I'm with him, and they have to pet him, and they have to ask his name and how much he weighs and how old he is and if I've had him since he was an 8 week old puppy and if it was just me and if he was okay and if he likes other dogs and if he can have treats and some godforsaken horse joke. I had answered all of these questions for six and a half years and I knew that on that Wednesday evening it was the last time I was going to answer them. And I managed some nods because I couldn't speak around the lump in my throat. I remember sitting there, with him standing over my legs and leaning his body onto my torso and looking at the receptionists behind the desk and listening to their conversation. One of them was having relationship problems and was discussing how to approach her significant other about it in a 'non-threatening way' because he 'gets so mad'. And I remember clenching my jaw as hard as I possibly could and having anger run wildly through my veins because what I wouldn't fucking give to be dealing with a shitty relationship rather than putting my dog down. Fuck them. Fuck that girl and her shitty relationship. Who fucking cares. Your life is trivial and I hate you and my heart is breaking so hard I swear to God I can feel it.

I couldn't talk to my vet without crying and she understood and we agreed on the decision. We agreed that it was the humane thing to do. Because I had always said I wouldn't be that person that made their dog hang on to life because they couldn't let go. What happens is they take you to this nice room. There was a huge dog bed, a fireplace and it was dimly lit with plenty of tissues within an arm's reach. And you take as long as you want and then press this button. So I sat next to him and put my arms around his neck and told him what an amazing dog I thought he was and how much he had changed my life. Cohen had led me to running and running had led me to Flagstaff and Flagstaff had led me to Colorado, but I wasn't there yet. I told him about how he had helped mend my heart from some breaks, but nothing compared to the break that was happening with him dying. And he did that thing where he lays his entire body weight into mine and throws his huge head into my lap and stares up at me and I couldn't even breathe in that moment, and I almost can't while remembering it, either. And my vet came in and it was two simple injections and then she listened for his heartbeat and told me he was gone. And I cried harder than I ever have, with the shortest breaths I've ever taken. And I had to choke out "He's-[gasp]-lean-[gasp]-ing-[gasp]-on-[gasp]-me."Because his body weight was still against my bent knees and if I got up I wasn't sure if I could take seeing his lifeless body move. So my vet moved him a little for me. This is a weird thing to recall, but for some reason I remember it so clearly.

And I sat in my car and called my mom because that's what you do, even when your'e 27, that's what you do when your heart is shredded. You still call your mom. And we cried together. And I couldn't pick my head up off of my steering wheel for an hour. My whole body shook with every sob and I remember thinking it almost sounds like I'm laughing really hard. And then I drove home.

And I texted Nick Irvine who is my friend and was my boss and I knew had gone through the art of losing a dog last summer. And he texted me back and so did his amazing wife, Amanda. And Amanda said that when they lost Pongo she was okay during the day, and whisky helped at night.
Because that's what it's like. It's the ultimate heartbreak, and I knew how to deal with heartbreak.
You surround yourself with people. Constantly. And you drink. You have to keep busy. So Sarah came over with wine, hummus and cookies. And I forced Dave to climb with me almost every day. And Giselle finally came back from California.

It took me about a week to realize I should probably tell the world that Cohen was gone. I was running into people around town and they asked "How is/where is Co?" and I had to awkwardly say "Uhh, I actually had to put him down." and once I just blurted out "Dead". I instantly laughed at how blunt and morbid and awkward but oh-so-Kelsey that response was. The responses I got from everyone were incredible. I distinctly remember Gayle texting me and saying how she remembers Cohen always leaning on her and standing directly in front of her when she was sitting on the couch, staring her down, waiting to be pet. And that made me remember how he would do those things. I remembered every detail. I remembered the weird little low-key whine he would do until you pet him, and he'd shift his weight on his front legs. I realized I was remembering. Why had I forgotten it? How had I forgotten it? What the fuck, Kelsey?!
Because you force yourself to forget things, sometimes. You protect yourself when you're that hurt. And sometimes you're not ready to remember them. But I remember it now. I remember all of it.
(Queue my psychology friends)

I had read a few days prior that it's normal for people to think they hear or see their animals after they're gone. That didn't happen for me. I'd like to think it's because I'm very in-touch with reality, but I think it's because I held him as he slipped away and I knew he was gone. And I knew he wasn't coming back. And I think that's closure. There were two times that I did catch myself thinking he was still around. One was at the grocery store when I had stopped for avocados and thought "Oh, I better get dog food," and was two steps towards the pet aisle. I had always needed dog food. Another was a local commercial that came on when I was baking my 8th loaf of banana bread, reminding people to make sure their pets were up-to-date on their vaccines and I, without skipping a beat, thought "Is Cohen due for his Bordatella?" But just for a half of one second.

I wasn't sure what to do with Cohen's body. I had him cremated because in that situation it's hard to think of any other option. I didn't have my own place to bury him, and even if I did, I couldn't carry him. I'm not that strong. I asked how much the cremation was, and she said she wouldn't charge me for the euthanasia because she wanted me to be able to take him home. This is why vets are the most under-appreciated and under-paid doctors.

I was halfway through my bedroom door with my phone in my right hand when I watched the screen move from
Canyon Pet Hospital calling to
Missed call from Canyon Pet Hospital to
Missed Call + Voicemail from Canyon Pet Hospital.

I knew what that voicemail said, and six days later I actually listened to it.
Three days before I left Flagstaff I knew I had to actually go there and pick up his ashes. As I walked up to the counter one person told me they'd "be right back to be with me" and the other sat at the computer without glancing my way. And I stood there and stared at the corner that I hung out with Cohen in and wished that someone would just hurry the fuck up and give me the ashes and let me get the fuck out of there because goddammit I was going to lose it.
And once I got back to my car I did lose it. But not for very long.

The next night Giselle and I camped at the End of the World in Flagstaff. We made a fire and drank cups of wine. She fueled the fire with some memories that needed to be let go, and our conversation bounced from me realizing that I can't stop chasing things, and neither of us want to own a house and whether I should eat a third hotdog or not and where she will be next and was the wine gone?

G set an alarm for sunrise and we slept through a windy night. I remembered how the last time I was at the End of the World it was so windy the highline webbing snapped and the next day I had flown to Boston.

Spreading ashes is kind of a weird thing. It's also kind of a really funny thing. I thought it'd be this emotional experience and it'd be like a movie and out of nowhere the perfect song would play. Cohen was a huge dog, and his ashes came in not one container, but two. G and I each hiked out with one, and she asked when the last time I was able to carry Cohen like that was. I laughed and couldn't even think of the answer. 10 weeks old, probably. She also pointed out that this was our last hike with Cohen. I laughed again, and felt like I was healing.
We found the perfect spot and I couldn't get the containers open and found myself muttering "Goddammit, Cohen" one last time. Once open, I wasn't entirely sure to do. "Do I just.. like.. dump it?" "Yeah I think so." ... "Like this? Am I doing it right?"
There was a nice breeze that worked in our favor that morning, but when I started dumping the ashes it died immediately. They just sort of piled up on this rock a foot or two below the ledge I was standing on and I just started laughing. Of course this scenario wasn't working out like the short movie I had in my head. When does it?
I waited for a second and the wind started again, and then we got that movie scene where the ashes wisp away in a little ash tornado. And then they were gone. And I had a deep, satisfied sigh and then realized there was still another container to go through. And how can you not just kind of chuckle at that?

Over the past six and a half years, I've lived alone a lot. Not entirely alone, of course, because it was always me and Cohen, but I've started to recall my best memories with him with laughs instead of tears. Cohen always got reallycrazyexcited when I'd dance, and for a few months I had a routine of getting up in the morning and playing music and we'd dance around whatever one-bedroom-apartment I was in at the time and I'd start laughing at him and not be able to keep dancing. And I'd collapse on top of him, give him a huge hug and shake his ears and get in the shower.
I did that every single morning for months and I'll never do it again.
But that was a long time ago.
And you're never the person you are at 24 ever again in your life, anyway.