VERNON COUNTY - I never used to be frightened during thunderstorms, but I’m deathly afraid of them now. This seems odd because my hearing isn’t all that good, nor is my eyesight. But I can sense when a storm is coming, and lately that’s been in the evening when everyone is tucked in for the night. Everyone except me, that is.
I just about fall out of bed from the loud BOOM! of thunder. The house shakes and my ears and eyes go on high alert. Flashes of lightning illuminate my bedroom as rain pelts loudly on the skylight above my head. I’m sitting up now, listening as hard as I can to hear him above the noises of the storm
I try to stand up but my back legs aren’t working well, and what’s worse, my front legs are also starting to give out. It takes me two tries. but I painfully push myself up and limp over to the bottom of the staircase. My eyes, clouded over with cataracts, gaze frantically toward the top of the stairs, willing her to wake up. My whole body is trembling with fear.
I throw my legs over the side of the bed and reach down for my pajama top as another clap of thunder rings through the thin walls of my attic bedroom. I pull the shirt over my head, feeling dizzy from the flickers of lightning that keep flashing throughout the dark room, making it look like an ’80s dance floor. I stand up, slip my PJ bottoms on, and do a quick head count. One dog is snoring under the covers. Another is squished under the clothes in my makeshift closet—she is panting but doing okay. I turn on the lights over the stairwell and creep down one step at a time, holding the railing tightly so as not to slip.
There she is! I knew she’d come. I hobble to my mom’s side as she reaches the bottom step. My legs fail and I lean too hard against her, nearly causing her to topple over. With one hand, she presses my head snug against her leg, and guides us over to the couch, where she sits down. Shamelessly, I stick my head between her legs while she rubs my head and my ears and says, “Shhhh, it’ll be okay. I’m here. I’ll sleep with you.”
I arrange my pillow and blankets on the couch while the storm rages on. If I time my movements just right, I don’t need to turn on a light—the lightning shows me everything I need to see. The living room has two walls with windows. I decided long ago that I didn’t want or need drapes, since no one lives near me. But tonight, for Raime’s sake, I wish I had them. The storm outside is scaring him. And the storm of aging that has begun to play havoc with his body and his senses is scaring me.
She has her blanket and pillow with her! That means she’ll sleep on the couch and keep one hand on me. She’ll pet me and talk softly to me until I collapse from exhaustion, lying on the floor next to her. I want to stop trembling, but I can’t seem to control my body nowadays. Sometimes I even have an accident in the house. It’s so embarrassing. She never seems to get mad, just says, “Oops, something dropped,” and goes to get a Kleenex. It’s awful getting old and feeble. As a border collie I’ve hardly had a single day where I wasn’t working from sunup to sundown. But that’s been changing for a while now.
Every time my eyes start to close and I think Raime is beginning to relax, another round of booms and bangs makes him push his head further into my side, seeking comfort. I think of all the nights I’ve spent sleeping near him on the couch—when he first came to live with me 14 years ago, whenever he’s been sick, and since he started to be afraid of storms. I eventually lose count and thankfully drift off to sleep.
I’m outside running! I can run fast and jump over the creek in a single bound. I’m Raime, superdog, and Mom teases me about tying a Superman cape around my neck. I feel invincible! I can keep my eyes on the donkeys so they don’t get out of the pasture, while I’m watching the ducks and geese to make sure they don’t go too far down the creek. I can even take two minutes, when one of those darn cats comes sashaying over near me, to chase it back up toward the house. I’m Busy with a capital B and I love it!
I feel horrible waking him up. He’s sleeping so peacefully. I sit watching his legs twitch and I could swear he’s smiling. I’m glad to see that the storm outside has ended. But I know the storm inside his body rages on. I can see how hard it is for him to stand, and it breaks my heart. Raime, the dog who never stops working, the dog who is always busy. The dog who loves to be petted, who comes when he’s called, and never needs to be on a leash.
I startle when my mom’s leg touches me as she pushes herself off the couch. I must have finally fallen asleep and was dreaming. For a second, I thought I was young and carefree again. The living room is light and that means morning. It also means breakfast—not that I’m hungry. Before trying to get up I glance behind me, hoping I haven’t left any surprises for Mom this morning. She’s smiling and petting my head, but she still looks tired. It takes everything I’ve got to stand up when she does and follow her to the door. I trip twice and I can hear my mom catch her breath. She worries about me and I know it hurts her to see me hurting. I put on my bravest face and soldier on, so as not to worry her any more than I already have.
Oh no, he can barely get up off the floor. He’s walking like he’s drunk...listing first to one side and then the other.
I go outside and I see Mom watching from the door. She wants to see if I’ll use the ramp they built for me. I look at the ramp but instead take a flying leap off the steps. My front legs give out and I nearly fall flat on my face, but I’m able to maneuver my weak back legs to steady myself. I glance over my shoulder and my eyes lock into Mom’s. She knows I’m hurting—I can’t hide it from her. In fact, I know my body isn’t fit for this world anymore—but I haven’t told her yet. I will when I’m ready. I’m not ready to let go yet.
His body just isn’t fit for this world anymore. He’s in pain all the time now. I can tell. I don’t know what to do. I can’t bear to see him suffer. I will wait and watch. I will trust that he will tell me when he’s ready to let go.
I never used to be afraid of thunderstorms, or of life, but I am now. I’d better talk to Mom soon. I’m so tired. I need to let go.