“A God-Shaped Hole” by Pierre O’Rourke Friday – January 13, 2012

“A God-Shaped Hole”

The reasoning that led to the action does not matter in this piece, only that I became aware it was my last days with Nubble, and I tend to believe he knew it too. And that we were both as at peace with it as possible. His challenge with unstable walking prevented him from doing stairs, so I carried him up our three flights daily for the last three weeks, an act I’d have unselfishly continued had that been the only challenge. What fought the Cushing’s disease fueled the brain tumor or meningitis and vice versa. We had come to believe that Wednesday, December 21st would be his last day. He and I had said our goodbyes the night before although I was unsure of how much my best friend grasped, and I felt far from being at peace. That was the first night I had to use a turkey baster to hydrate him, but it was insufficient. He needed medical hydration the next morning.

A long, caring chat the next morning with Dr. Dick Stolper gave us one more option. We both agreed Nubble was more than worth it and had earned the right to one more chance. Dick told of a miracle that had occurred recently with a high injection of Trilostane in such a situation but lamented that he wasn’t sure he would be granted two miracles. Nevertheless, we gave it a go, knowing we’d find out within hours if there was a chance. And if it worked, we’d still have to address the other illness at some point.

The good news was that Nubble was suddenly able to walk, and not walking into walls, wasn’t soiling himself, and regained his appetite. The tentative news was that we wouldn’t know until evening if the miracle would continue. The bad news was that it did not. I still accepted, and believe Nubble accepted it, as a mini-miracle as if miracles can be measured. It granted us a second “last night” together.

We went home and had a chat, a boy and his dog plus a dog to his boy, making plans. Then we headed to the park. He eagerly fetched the ball on the first toss, and then walked it back the second time, but the third time he seemed unaware that this was once his favorite game and his balance wavered.

Riding in the car relaxed Nubble, so the last couple weeks I’d taken to driving all over town until he dozed. On the previous day while on such a drive, I realized the recent sporadic sleepless nights had me at risk for falling asleep so I pulled into a parking lot and closed my eyes. Unknown until later, one of our police friends was on lunch break and knew of Nubble’s recent health challenges. He walked over to check and found us both sound asleep. I was unaware he took his cell phone and snapped a picture, sending it to me later in the week with the caption, “Team caught in car-napping.”

Nubble referred to Starbucks as Starbarks, a place where folks go to pet him and occasionally purchase a drink. That afternoon was no different and we sat on the patio on Hayden and Osborn with me reading him a chapter from Tasha Alexander’s latest novel. Nubble and I never worried what others thought.

Fearing the worse, I’d shopped for a special dinner to share the previous day but hadn’t bothered to make the salmon steaks because of his sudden deterioration. But the test-shot had resulted in enough of Nubble back in his body that he patiently sat as I grilled one of our favorite meals, tossing him mini-carrots as appetizers.

Nubble had a bed in my Word Corner in his corner. To my right under the shelves holding my latest writing project he would lay while I wrote. Nuzzling my hand at times for a break to belly-rub or he’d nonchalantly drop a ball or Frisbee at my feet when it was time to jog over to the church lot. I carried that bed to our patio where we had a fire in the chimenea and had another evening chat. It felt like the previous month at Kohl’s Ranch where we did my yearly birth-week trek. I can’t say for sure but with us lying there talking, at least for me, we were back at the cabin.

Back inside I sat on the floor and read aloud from Stowe Dailey Shockey’s Flying High. Later I got a familiar text from Edward Ellsworth, Dawg? our signal to meet and walk the dog-threesome. My webmaster/friend lives in the next building, more of God’s curious work. So I carried The Nubster down to join him, Valerie, and their terriers Molly and Lily for what we knew was probably our last outing. As with all we did that day, I was painfully aware it might be our last. It was a tough yet blessed awareness.

Nubble loved water and adored baths. In his eleven years, he’d rarely leave my side even in our home…unless he heard the tub water running when I’d be filling it to indulge myself. More than once I noticed he “vanished” and found him in my bubble bath before I had a chance. So that night he had a watermelon-scented bubble bath complete with oatmeal treatment. Afterward, I brushed him dry and shiny. Then we had real watermelon by the fire and chatted some more, another fave treat we both enjoyed, except I left my rind.

Nubble had his Wall of Paws which I told him I’d maintain and not change other than to add a picture of him in the near future. He also had a collection of books as I strove to be a good Dog-Dad and continue to improve my knowledge of dogs. You’d have had to be there to understand us going through them to decide which I keep and which we’d share to understand his signing them with me.

Our blue comforter was at the cleaners as a result of his accidents the previous night when I’d thrown towel upon towel on the bed so we could continue to cuddle for what I’d assumed was our last night. With the unexpected night, I didn’t care if he had more accidents, but the bed was stripped. The home, the bed, was ours and he had earned more than the right to some off-days. Nubble detested the commotion of the Christmas Tree going up; however, once up, he’d sit and watch the twinkling lights at times. So I made us a bed under our Tree using his living room bed and his Word Corner bed, covering them with the handsome colorful quilt sewed for him by Edward and Valerie. I brought in my pillows adorned with the doggie pillowcases from a series Bette Mandino had made me for a Christmas gift a couple years ago, and we had our final deep talk until we dozed off, eye to eye, nose to nose.

I thought he had only stirred once that night as opposed to the past week of five times per night and I carried him down to do his business and then back up. He was still lying on my arm when we woke early the next day. Imagine my amazement to learn that during the night he had gotten up and wet by the front door and come back to bed on my arm without waking me. I’m still amazed by that, as if he knew Dad needed some sleep.

That morn was three days before Christmas. I made us breakfast as we watched dawn from the balcony. It was as if he’d forgotten the way to eat or drink and it was now obvious the injection at the vet’s was merely a Band-Aid and not a miracle cure. Therefore, I warily called my editor/assistant and often dog-sitter, Judy, and told her that we would indeed be meeting Dick at the Scottsdale Ranch Animal Hospital at 8:00AM. Her voice broke.

Once she arrived, I explained to her the promise I’d made to Nubble that he’d still have his Christmas. He was lucid and knew which gifts were his, in particular, one from his Auntee Sherry in Illinois. Once I gave him the okay, he tore into them with such vigor I had momentary lapses that Nubble had fully returned, but after the gifts were unwrapped, it was obvious this was only another moment of his old self. As if to assure me we were making the right move, he refused food and water, trapping himself in corners and walking into walls. I look at it not as sad but also as assurance the final trip to the vet’s was necessary. I got the purple bandana that his Auntee Shandaé had given him, a signal we were going on an adventure. This was the one many of you saw him wear while frolicking a few weeks before in the creek at Kohl’s.

We almost made it to the door when I had the urge to take him on a stroll through every room in our home, realizing once more this was “the last time.” Nubble stood in the center of the living room and slowly gazed about and then slowly walked to our balcony and back inside. He sniffed at his Wall of Paws as he passed into our bedroom where he sniffed at our bed, giving a forlorn sigh. Passing our Tree, he stopped and nuzzled one of the ornaments. He’d bob it with his nose, look at me, and then nudge it again – seeming quite content when I lifted it off and placed it in my vest pocket. His toy box looked familiar and he nuzzled it some before giving me a trustful glance as if making sure I’d honor another promise later on. Then he strolled to sniff the window ledge in my Word Corner where I was so used to seeing his nose and ears peeking out when I got home. Left his last nose prints. Then we headed out the door. He stopped at the maroon ceramic pot where we buried Violet the hummingbird. Two years before he’d found “her” in the dark exterior hallway, whimpering until I went to investigate. We made sure “she” did not die alone. She lay in my hand as Nubble sniffed her once her body was still.

One of our newer tricks was Elevator, the signal for him to put his legs on the third step when at the ground level to make it easier for me to pick him up. At the top landing, he put his legs far in front and looked at me to scoop him up. This time though, he pulled at the Navajo leash until I realized he was of a mind to walk down the stairs, pretty much the first time in three weeks. Halfway down I looked at him and said, “You lil’ turd. You just don’t want me to have any bad memories.” He looked up with that Nubble-smirk as if to say Duh, and then we continued down slowly, but on his own power. As if.

As mentioned, he loved to ride in the car, heck…in boats, trucks, even a helicopter. But in the car he’d generally lie down and just watch me or mouth a toy or nap. Today he sat up most of the way, even putting his nose out the window a few times – a real rarity. Once at the vet’s, he didn’t allow me to lift him out although I had to assist. And although unsteady, he walked in under his own steam. He even walked Judy to the waiting room before he and I left her.

Dick has a very comforting room with sofas and soft lamps at Scottsdale Ranch Animal Hospital with not a single medical thing in the space. Here we chatted, him sitting and then lying on the floor, consoling and talking to Nubble as much as to me. We verified that we’d exhausted all physical and spiritual options. I took about fifteen minutes with Nub before we began, him lying in my lap looking up at me and watching my lips as I spoke. I’d promised him the night before that I would flood him with sweet memories from our life together to buoy him if he grew scared in this final adventure. We talked of him swimming in the pool with Lainey on various holidays at the Schrader’s. Of Team-Nubble on Facebook. Of playing in the creek and waterfalls at Kohl’s. Of Frisbee and fetch. Of funny pictures we’d made. Of how much he helped me in my writing. That I’d still do a children’s book for him and his school kids. Of the dogs waiting to greet him whose parents had come to know him through the reunion and Facebook.

When Dick returned, I took the ornament from my pocket, an old-fashioned-style dog toy with bright yellow wheels that had Nubble’s unique markings, including his right black eye. I explained that it had been one of several dog ornaments gathered through the years but that particular one was from one of our first two Christmases. I explained that I had a feeling Nubble wanted Dick’s family to have it. He wrote Nubble’s name on the bottom and the dates.

Under bright yellow-and-green gauze from the previous day when we had to hydrate him, Nub still had the IV tube in his left leg so it was a simple nonintrusive action to attach the needle to inject the first shot to make Nubble sleepy. I continued with stories and sang the Nubble song: Nubble is my little doggie. He’s a puppy not a guppy. Nubble, Nubble, Nubble, Nubble, Nubble. Dick asked if he could tell him good-bye too. He lay down cradling Nub’s head. “I am so glad I got to know you. I see why so many strangers fell in love with you. I love you, Nubble.” There wasn’t a dry eye between us.

Nubble’s brown eyes rested on me while he lay fully across my lap, me massaging his brow where I had dabbed a drop of lavender from Duffy. Nubble is my little dog. Two feet high and three feet long. Nubble, Nubble, Nubble, Nubble, Nubble. He was asleep and resting well as Dick administered the second shot while we continued to stroke his fur. Nubble and me are best friends. We’ll be together till the end. Nubble, Nubble, Nubble……..”

I returned to Kohl’s Ranch this week with Nubble’s cremated remains, and his special quilt, his tan dawg with brown floppy ears, which I admit I have been sleeping with, and his toy badger. Included also was the familiar picture of him balancing a heart-shaped cookie on his nose plus seven dog biscuits that I offered to nature, one every morning, giving thanks from Nubble and me. They sat atop the mantle, his picture on the make-shift desk Kohl’s keeps ready for me. I walked the creek twice this week, and it almost scared me. I kinda had to get myself ready for today.
I’d brought a bag of edamame beans, one of our favorite treats when we went exploring. I walked around the grounds and left a bit of The Nubster before taking that final walk with him down Tonto Creek, offering Nubble in small sprinkles to the water as I hiked. I began to talk aloud about how scared I was and that I hoped I did him justice with his remains. That I hoped he was in a place where he was happy, and if he were allowed or he ever wanted to reach to me from wherever he was, that it would be fine with me.

A green finch lit on the shrub I was approaching, not the norm for forest birds and making quite a ruckus for a little guy, so I noticed it. It was as if it were leading me. As if. Green is the halfway color of the spectrum of seven, referred to as the bridge between the physical and spiritual. The feathered messenger stayed within three to five feet of me for the quarter of a mile, just ahead until I arrived at the big boulders where Nubble and I spent most of our creek time. Then it flew away. Some may say coincidence but Og Mandino used to say coincidence is just the name for those things that God doesn’t choose to sign openly.

Kids called it a waterfall but it is more of a narrow pass where the water tumbles. Nubble would let the current carry him to calm water, climb out and shake himself by me, then run back to the top to jump in again. And again. And again. I’d laugh and I knew he enjoyed making me laugh. That seemed like the perfect spot to finish off “our” lunch and scatter his final remains. Sitting down, the mud had hardened from our play date weeks prior and I could actually make out his paw prints quite clearly.

For one that has never held the cremated remains of another, they vary. Basically it is like gravel mixed with flour and some smattering of lead-tip-sized pieces of bone. The lighter particles dusted the air before settling on the water where they clouded as if to mimic the grey-bluing of his coat. Granules settled to the river rock below, reflecting like the gold he was. I stood with the last handful and mustered up the best smile I could. “Fly high, Nubble,” and let him sail.

Turning away, I actually tripped over the “perfect” stick – with teeth marks. I picked it up, giving it a gentle kiss before I threw it far out in the water hollering, “Get it Nubble,” watching it until the current carried it from my view as the Rainbow Bridge had taken Nubble on his last journey. Two grey squirrels were sitting on the porch when I returned. I thought of Nubble’s squirrel-herding from last November. Hmmm.

Those who might say Nubble was only a dog would never have understood the scene in Cast Away when Tom Hanks loses Wilson at sea. I am one who “got it.” I reckon only depends on the amount of love given, the amount received, and the amount of love we allow to flow from ourselves. The cross to bear for the living is that we can’t hug the ones we miss, but they hold us all the time.