Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pothole Atheist

I woke up to quiet -- not to an alarm or a three-year-old announcing "THE SUN IS HERE!" It was 7:17am. Michael was long gone to work; I heard the shower, so the household member most likely to oversleep, the stepkid, hadn't. I marveled at my good fortune to go under for few more minutes, found that sweet spot in the pillow...then remembered a recent story of a kid my daughter's age going for a stroll around his neighborhood one morning (in a diaper) while his parents dozed. They later stated wonderingly (and perhaps a bit proudly? Since the kid had suffered no more than chilled feet before being spotted by a neighbor, they could indulge a sense of pride at his dexterity and problem-solving skills that wouldn't likely have surfaced had the outcome been different) that he'd never opened the heavy front door on his own before, and how on earth had he reached the latch on the gate?

My kid was either still in bed, or on the roof. I vaulted to her doorway and witnessed, with relief, the source of the lack of the daily wake-up din: a passed-out pile of cuteness. Meow-Meow, the cat, was supine along the length of the kid's right leg and Wren, the dog, was curled into herself like a cinnamon roll beneath the left one. Everyone's hair was messy; someone was snoring an open-mouthed, air-gargling sound. I stood there a while staring wonderingly, proudly, at our furry foundlings and their human playmate/pack member.

We knew we hit the companion-animal lottery when Wren came to live with us 5 years ago, by way of a rescue group that moves dogs slated for death (mainly pitbulls and rottweilers) out of shelters and into foster homes. She was already a survivor, having been left caged in an empty apartment in the Bronx, all scars and ribs. Her foster mom, Jeannie, fed and loved and leash-trained her, and Jeannie's pack of rescued pooches schooled her in the domestic arts of climbing stairs, snuggling on the couch and not shitting where you sleep. Michael rallied for a Staffordshire Terrier; I wasn't sold on the notion. Although I'd only known them personally (through shelter work and a pet-sitting business) to be sweet of temper and mild of manner, people have definite preconceived ideas about pitbulls and I didn't want to deal with fear and bias, especially as new residents in a neighborhood full of children. But between the tearjerker testimonial about her horrid history and this glamor shot,  it was love at first sight:

And she loved us back a hundred times over. She loved our son, and our baby, and the kitten. She especially loved my aunt and their walks. She loved to swim and play but if her people were hanging around the house she loved to just be with. She knew the difference between kid toys and dog toys that look exactly like kid toys. She didn't chase the chickens. She was our por vida pup, and then she died.

She was hit by a van. The front door was ajar and she pushed her way outside. She had never done that before. Maybe she never had pushed out the front door before because she hadn't had the chance. Maybe she had to pee, or saw a dog she likes across the street...The stepkid and his friend came home after school and didn't shut the front door well enough behind them. It has a tricky catch, and we've all accidentally left it open. But the storm door latches tightly; perhaps it was a tiny bit open, too, snagged on a lip of snow. The snow. There were 8-foot walls of snow blocking sidewalks and visibility.

No one knew the front door was open or that Wren was outside until a cop came to the (open) door and told us she'd been hit. He saw it happen, saw a van not see her and saw her unable to get out of the street because of the snow.

She was healthy. She was afraid and in pain at her death, which wasn't a quick one. Animal Control brought her to the vet hospital, where we saw our sweet Wren bleeding, spine broken, still rallying, the vet stunned at her fortitude and cautiously optimistic about her survival. We opted for surgery, but she died before it was possible. We were with her when she died. She knew we were there, which offers no consolation whatsoever.

Someone said, "Why did God take her so young?" I wanted to punch them through the phone. I thought, "No, it was a D-O-D-G-E, not G-O-D." I never felt like an atheist until that moment. (Would that be a pothole atheist, rather than a foxhole atheist?)

I don't believe that everything happens for a reason, or that God works in mysterious ways. I believe that crap happens, some of which we have control over, most of which we don't, but that we always have the choice on how to interpret and respond to said crap.

We've talked matter-of-factly about death to Stellina -- she's known 2 great-grandparents and 2 hens and random critters around the house -- squirrels and birds -- to expire before this. We told her what happened. We cried together. The next morning -- the morning after marveling at our perfectly compatible combination of kids and critters -- she asked when Wren was coming home. (Note to self: when you tell a kid the people they love will always come back, they believe you.) I explained again that she died, and said, desperately, that she was running and playing in doggie heaven. She gave me a Look and said, "She isn't RUNNING. She is DEAD." Well, then.

As for the stepkid, it was a good opportunity to talk with him about how we know it was an accident (no one leaves a door open on purpose on a 20-degree day) and that we all screw up, but part of being in a family is accepting and forgiving one another our mistakes and getting through stuff together. We don't want him to carry this. We don't blame him. We grieve as a family the loss of the first pet we had as three (then four) people figuring out how to be a family. And it's in this afterward (versus afterlife) that grace resides.

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr