To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. —Emily Dickinson
I am looking at Sabrina. Her head is out the window and the air is moving beneath her floppy ears, lifting them making her seem capable of flight. She makes my heart feel lighter, her being so free, finding joy in simple things.
Pine trees on opposing sides of the road pan by, then a grand estate. “Poles Apart” by Pink Floyd is filling the car, a song sung by Gilmore with his faithful guitar advancing me to the next moment. I can see his fingers strumming each chord.
Hours earlier, I had worried about the temperature. Worried about the state of the ground, if I could dig into the soil.
For soil, the ground, is a final resting place.
The last 3 weeks, I have not rested. I have watched one of my animal companions struggle, losing the ability to groom herself and topple over as she attempted to do so; seen her body become emaciated. I knew the day was coming—when it was up to me to play God and snuff her remaining life out. It has eaten away at me, causing me to have dreams, images of the decay inside out. “She,” “Pickle,” is a favorite; rides atop my shoulder as I do chores around the house, a pet rat that shows me affection like any dog or cat might.
I had arrived at the vet, checked in and sat down on a bench. The place was busy, chaotic. Sabrina put her head on my knee, a gesture that suggested, I’m here for you, Mama. Cradling Pickle I envisioned golden light around her, tried to help myself by taking deep breathes into my belly, blink away the tears.
The cat and dog people around me began asking what I was holding. A rat, I whispered repeatedly, knowing the fact would bring a wriggle of a nose, a grimace, a sound of disgust. Certainly not a clutching of the heart.
These are so-called “animal lovers.”
A vet tech approached me, hadn’t known what I was there for, the girl answering the phone who made the appointment for Pickle’s euthanasia was busy chatting with a friend on the line about shoes. I wanted to punch her, her chubby cheeks, sink my fist into the package of MalloMars beside her. Tell her how damned insensitive she was being. But the vet tech got in the way of my getting even, asked me to follow her to an exam room.
Dennis helping with cage cleaning duty. Rat Lily is on Dennis’s back; Georgy is on top of the cage (half the size of Cupid); Charlie the cat trucks along the bottom of the cage and Sabrina watches the action from her bed nearby.
Down the hall and to the right. I set the carrier down on the metallic table, slipped Pickle inside and beside Cupid, another rat who’s health had rapidly declined, then made for the reception area. What’s wrong? the tech said, it’s just a routine exam?
I made my mouth into a straight line, told her the vet’s putting them to sleep and I’d like to leave with the bodies.
Saying “I’d like to leave with the bodies” brought my euthanasia experience to a very down-to-earth experience. I usually don’t have to articulate the words, just check off my preference on some consent form.
I’d like to leave with the bodies.
The vet had been kind; engaged in a sort of conference with me as I waited in the reception area snorting air through my filled nose, tears streaming down my face. He told me I did the right thing, the rats were old and feeble, that I was a good rat mom.
A voice in my head said, dear ratties, do you think I’m a good rat mom?
Chubby-cheeks cupped the receiver with her hand as I was leaving. She told me she was sorry for my loss. I looked at her long and hard and in a very un-Reiki moment considered telling her to take her MalloMar and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
The door closed behind me.
I climbed down the steps to the car; could see there was a blue towel folded into the carrier that I hadn’t brought. My animals, the ones that had life moving through them just twenty minutes ago were in there albeit still, lifeless, their little spirits gone someplace else.
Now, to “the rez”—our own dwelling offers no haven—with the dog, the bodies, my hand shovel and paper towels.
The soil that I had worried about was soft beneath the snow. I found a remote spot with a tree upended, dug a hole, and wrapped up their bodies which were so warm it left me feeling strange, wrong even. A couple of women walked by— without dogs—strange for the rez, an afternoon stroll. Thinking I looked conspicuous amid the bare trees, I ducked further down behind fallen limbs, my heart afright; figuring I’d be fined if caught for burying warm rat bodies in the ground at the Weston Reservoir.
Affluent women leave warm bodies at the vet; pay for cremation.
The women strolled on, seemingly without a care in the world, nothing to report.
I finished my business dragging heavy limbs over the grave and Sabrina followed me back out to the car. The carrier was still in the backseat, its door askew with the folded towel half in and half out of it. This was the towel that Dr. Hallisey had so caringly wrapped around their warm bodies, insulating them.
Now they were in the ground growing cold.
I wondered. Had I been brave? A renegade? Or strictly after mercy and doing what those animals deserved—to be returned to the earth, part of nature’s procession?
As I question myself, come to support my decision, I look to Sabrina. She seems to understand about death, the soil, the final resting place. Animals do.
And her companionship and light-hearted spirit, just like Pickle’s, took the chill right out of my