Q

I called into work this morning because I’m grieving for an old friend who passed away last night. At four o’clock this morning, to be exact. And, he passed away because we gave the doctor permission to end his life. We paid the doctor to end his life.

I kept wanting to write “to kill him,” but my brain wouldn’t let me. It was a mercy killing, and mercy calls for euphemisms. “End his life.” “Let him go.” “Allow him to cross over the rainbow bridge,” or whatever else helps us feel okay with watching a friend die.

My friend was, of course, a dog. If that, in any way, makes the grief I’m currently feeling seem diminished to you, then you’re not a dog-person. Or you’re a sociopath. Whatever. In either case, I feel sorry for you. I am currently grieving my personal loss, of course, but my life was enriched while my friend was alive. Those of us who open our hearts to other creatures—human, canine, or otherwise—can truly experience both the joy of life and the sorrow of loss. If you’re not willing to face both, it can be a bit of a barren existence.

When I called into work this morning, the Postmaster answered the phone. I had entertained thoughts of lying this morning, claiming to be sick. It’s something that goes against the grain of my personal convictions, since I spent nearly three decades taking those calls. I’m not feeling well—pause (hack, hack, fake cough)—and I can’t make it in today. Instead, I went with the truth.

Okay, a version of the truth. I opened with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to make it in to work today.

The Postmaster said, as if repeating by rote: “We will need documentation of your incapacity.” Who talks like that?

I responded that I wouldn’t have documentation. A good friend of mine passed away during the night and I was operating on little sleep and was an emotional wreck. All true statements. I did sleep a little, but not enough, and the wreckage of my emotional response is still in the process of piling up.

I didn’t mention that my “good friend” was a dog, and that I signed off on the order to have him put to sleep. That’s incidental information. If pressed, I will produce documentation. I guess I lied about that as well because I do, in fact, have documentation. It includes the cost of the chemicals used to kill my dog. I would rather not get into all that, if I can help it. Some assholes just don’t understand.

I understand where the Postmaster is coming from. I empathize with her, even. My absence won’t make things easier today. I’ve been there plenty of times. But, I can’t see facing the public today, selling stamps and smiling as if things are all right with the world.

Things aren’t all right. I have to allow myself a moment to wallow in self-pity and grief.

His name was Q, and he’s been a part of our family since August 2008. The vet at the time estimated his age at around six or seven months, so our best guess is that he just turned 10 years old. My wife and her sister were driving behind the vehicles that rolled over him on Oak Street here in town. Fortunately, no tires hit him, although his pelvis was shattered and he was in bad shape. He was a stray poodle pup, less than a year old. He managed to make it off the road and my wife scooped him up without getting bit, which was probably a miracle in itself.

My wife has a habit of taking in strays. Thank God, or I probably wouldn’t be here. We spent a small fortune to get Q patched up, and we made an honest attempt to find his owners. He wasn’t in bad shape, other than the getting run over part, and he was a good looking dog. We assumed he was a poodle mix, but a vet later told us he looked pretty much like a pure toy poodle to him. We had two miniature schnauzers at the time and weren’t really looking for another dog. But, we suddenly found that we had one.

About his name. When it became apparent that our injured houseguest was here to stay, we began talking about names. I wanted to name him “Roadkill,” but Sharon immediately nixed that suggestion. Wiser heads must prevail. She suggested “Q-Tip,” because he was skinny at the time and resembled a Q-Tip, that thing that everyone sticks in their ears even though the product instructions tell us not to. I refused to have a dog named Q-Tip, so I suggested “Q.” Just a single capital letter.

This led to interesting conversations over the decade. I had people ask if he was named after either the omniscient character from Star Trek—also named Q—who I was aware of even as we went with the name, or the character of the same name from the James Bond franchise. Bond’s Q is short for “Quartermaster,” if I understand my Bond lore correctly. When I told the truth behind his name, it often seemed anticlimactic somehow. Q-Tip. As if.

Q was a good dog. He was also a costly one. We paid to have him patched up after Sharon’s first meeting with him. Then later he was diagnosed with diabetes, so we had to begin paying for his insulin. Then he went blind. We paid to have his corneas replaced in an effort to reverse his blindness, and it worked for about a minute. Then we had to start paying for eyedrops to stave off eye infections. Finally, after he began having seizures the night before last, we paid to have him hospitalized at an emergency animal hospital about 30 minutes away over the holiday weekend. The vets there tried to determine the cause of his seizures, then told us his kidneys were failing, and we ultimately had to make the final decision. Not before spending another large wad of cash on him, however.

I like to think that we gave him an additional ten years of a pretty good life that he wouldn’t have had without us. He was loved, and spoiled. And he loved us in return. You can’t ask for more than that from a relationship. Giving the permission to end his life was a difficult act, but it was also a loving one. I no longer feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for us.

More specifically, I feel sorry for myself, if I can allow myself a little selfishness this morning.

The new year has started out on a pretty sucky note.

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