On 25 October 2012, I boarded a bird bound for Los Angeles, CA. Usually within minutes of sitting on my seat, I’m fast asleep. That early morning as I sat down, I should have fallen asleep even faster than usual, as I’d been up since 2 AM for fear that I would miss my 6 AM flight. After a quick journal entry, I opened the first page of The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A little over four hours later, three hundred pages behind me, tears were streaming down by cheeks. I’ve read many great books; I couldn’t remember one that had moved me as much as this one had. The pages recount the story of a dog – Enzo – who’s a philosopher who believes he is so close to being a human, that in his next life, he will be. I could not decide whether I identified more with the dog or with his beloved master. The book hid my face for much of the flight, cos I couldn’t turn a single page without a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye. All throughout, very poignant; even more so for me, since my dear friends Ryan and Kate had recommended the book to me the last time I saw them in Chicago in August, the same night that I ended in the hospital the victim of a beating, a night that would have undoubtedly ended differently if I had my dog Taylor with me. Dogs rule. Taylor rules. And so does this book.
If I could pinpoint a single, prevailing theme in my life and in my writing, Stein’s quote captures it beautifully. “That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.” I’ve always said, am I someone who has things happen to him, or do I make things happen? How does the way that I look at situations, dictate my perspective on life? I can say wholeheartedly that I am the creator of my destiny, and everything that has happened – the good and the bad – has happened because I had a hand in it, in many cases more than a hand, but the driving force. “To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to.” I didn’t die in those moments I thought I may have, or should have all those years ago, cos I believe something great is my destiny.
For much of my life since I was twelve, we’ve had dogs. We started with a German Shepherd named Tina (I didn’t come up with these names). Later a Chow Chow named Helix whose name was later changed to Jack; and we called him Jackyboy. My brother George got an Akita named Kalib when he was in college; and years later, two American Bulldogs named Lawrence & Taylor. My brother Les had a Sharpei named Argyle, then an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Foster (who became the most well-traveled of all our dogs, having lived with every single one of us at some point in his life, one with more personality than any person or dog I’ve ever met) and later an American Pitbull named Mason.
Years before my current dog Taylor changed my life, in 1998 a ten-year-old Jack had become an old dog who had given way to younger dogs Kalib and Foster.. And that’s where this story begins. I had tried to bring Jack up once before but I was living with DaveRisner, and Jack bit his cat. That experiment lasted one night. This one would last four glorious years. Old at ten, he discovered his fountain of youth, and thereby I discovered mine. Jack & I were inseparable, going on long walks together, going to bars together, going to parks together, etc. Because of him, I would meet Elizabeth, to this day one of my closest friends, and coincidently shared the same birthday with Jack. Where one was, the other followed; it was unclear who followed whom. What I did know was that this was a different dog the moment he moved in with me to Chicago. A couple of years thereafter, George & Kalib would also move in with me, our adventures escalating with the four of us together. I’ll never forget when he turned 14, when George & I marveled at how young Jack looked and acted. And just like that, everything changed. Jackyboy wrote this letter to my family the day after he passed away.
19 July 2002, 3:30 am / Chicago, IL
“I have to admit these last three weeks have been hard. Climbing up and down the stairs had been a little tough on my legs. Usually, I made George or Cecil carry me up and down the stairs. Sometimes I would run down the stairs before they could catch me. Even though it hurt, I had a big smile inside because I knew that they were angry with me. I always did like to get their blood boiling.
Just last week, I needed help even to get up off the floor. I knew I was getting old when even a piece of bread wouldn’t get me up from my spot. Mmmmmmmmmm… bread!! Monday night, I had an accident in the living room after Cecil had brought me back from the vet. To tell you the truth, I also had an accident in the kitchen during the day before he took me to the vet, as well. Both times I made Cecil clean it up. He’s such a sap; he’ll do anything I tell him to – I like him that way… my very own slave. I liked making him clean up after me. It was pretty funny; he was making all these puking sounds, and I don’t think he liked it one bit. It stunk the joint up pretty good. He had to carry me downstairs; I got my crap all over him, his arms and chest. But he got me back a few minutes later by hosing my ass-end down, then toweling me dry. At least it wasn’t Dad toweling me dry. Cecil used to tell me horror stories of when he was a kid and Dad would dry his hair; he thinks that’s the main reason his hair fell out in his twenties. (Hey, it seems to make him feel better, though I think he’s living in a fairytale.)
Yesterday, I heard the doc tell Cecil what was up. The prognosis wasn’t stellar. I thought that I had hip dysplasia, which is somewhat common in Chow Chows, or at the very least a severe form of arthritis. As it turned out, I’m sure I had the latter, but probably not the former. After the initial feel-up on Monday, the doc had suspected some form of heart failure or a tumor. I had lost much muscle mass, as you could feel my skull and spinal column prominently as you ran your fingers across my body. Cysts were popping up in places on my body, as well. However, I did still weigh 56 pounds, but that was mostly due to the build-up of fluids. My chest and stomach area was enlarged; the doc could feel my organs along my side. I had developed a demia (sp) on my legs, which basically meant that my legs were all squishy like a newborn or old man which is what I basically am. My heart rate and breathing were abnormal. I had some blood-work done on Monday. On Tuesday morning, Cecil took me in for x-rays. The reason I had such problems with my hind legs was that not enough blood was being delivered to them, which lent credence to the heart problems. The problem was that I had so much fluid in my chest cavity that the x-rays couldn’t conclusively make anything out. Cecil kept asking how all this happened. Don’t feel bad. I’m really good at hiding my health; most dogs are. All of a sudden, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Tuesday afternoon, I knew my time was pretty much done. I was waiting for Cecil the whole time, even though I was a bit groggy. He arrived at 5:30pm, and I was so glad to see him; I even wagged my tail a little, even though that was a little difficult. Those last few moments were pretty emotional. I didn’t have much energy left. Cecil had to lift my head into his arms. He spoke softly,even cried for a little bit. For once, I didn’t mind him being such a sap, because I was feeling sad as well. I guess I knew the inevitable even the night before. Cecil slept in the living room (which is really not that uncommon, but that’s another story). He left the lights on, and I could tell he didn’t sleep much. I’d lift my head a couple times and I could see him staring at me. We spent almost thirty minutes together before the doc came to give me a sedative. Once she stuck the sword in my ass, I was out in about fifteen minutes. Just so you know I wasn’t in any pain, just a little uncomfortable and extremely tired. I fell asleep in Cecil’s arms. It was good way to say good-bye. He left a little after 6:30pm.
Well, at least I’ll get to see Isabelle. Cecil said a lot of good things about her, even though I don’t remember ever meeting her. Of course, if I had back then, I probably would have taken a bite out of her. Nothing personal, hope she understands. But things will be different when we meet this time; we’ll be friends.
I did want to see everyone else before I moved on, but I was feeling like so much shit that I didn’t want them to see me this way. I knew I was going to feel better in just a short time. I wanted to give a special goodbye from the bottom of my heart. I would miss everyone – Mom and Dad, Les, Bess, even Mason and Foster who always bothered me, and even Kalib who was a big bully, and George, but most especially Cecil. He brought me to Chicago, and for a long while I felt so young again. He would take me to all these neat places. And later George came up, and when Cecil was too busy (he really did spend too much time working), he would take me out and feed me. George was really better at taking care of me; but I never told Cecil that. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I always had Cecil or George; and they were great to be around. I would usually hangout in the living room, or wherever they were, or the piece of bread or pizza was. Kalib would usually be off by himself, so I would have the two to myself. It was a great setup.
I’ve definitely left a few things behind. I left a permanent mark on George, one by which he’ll never forget me. I liked biting George. He’s a good guy, but he deserves to get bit sometimes. Of course, that big bully Kalib got me back a couple times by biting me. Ithurt sometimes, but I’m tough as nails. Les called me a warrior; and that’s a pretty high compliment. I didn’t win many (actually any) fights, but I always showed up. I don’t bite Cecil, though. He’s kind of a wimp, and I don’t want to make him cry. I bit his friends, instead. I liked to bite his friends. But he still made excuses for me.
Well, it may be a while, but I will see you all someday. Until then, enjoy your life, live it to the fullest and, most of all, love with all your heart… I know you won’t forget me… a special thanks and love to Cecil and George for not prolonging this decision…
– Always with you… love… Jacky-Boy (aka Helix aka JJ Fangs aka Sebastian aka a lot of other names, some of them I’m sure unprintable…)
Ps. if anyone has a copy of the email I sent a couple years back when I first moved in with Cecil, if you could email it to me that would be great. Cecil’s a sucker for my writing skills.”