Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I can remember when my family used to get along and we'd string our jugs on a piece of thirty pound fishing line that reached all the way down to the darkest and dampest depths of our cellar. I can still hear Roo's shrill calls for food, or play, or attention or just out of sheer, crepuscular boredom. We kept him on a chain because this was years before I knew anything of empathy. But he taught me the real meaning of empathy when he broke free from his ceiling-hung moorings and drank his weight in anti-freeze. Painfully, over the course of two days, his innards crystallized and hardened as that poison sucked dry every drop of warm blood in his entire body. When it became too much for my mother to handle, she had me pick him up and carry him outside - an act she couldn't perform herself due to Roo's large size. His coat, which was usually surprisingly soft and thick, felt like the dry, dusty grass beneath a large, dying pine tree, crawling with ants and bleeding sap. His soft, warm palms which once held grapes in curiously familiar delight were cold and callused with anxiety, and when I picked him up, his weight was already spilling out on its own whims, no longer held together with the rigid attentiveness which any living thing typically has when picked up and carried without its consent. He lay almost entirely limp in my arms. Not at all like when he was just a cub, still feeding from a bottle of milk and wrestling with the cats, already dwarfing most of them. And when I reached the summit of the outside basement steps and saw Roo's large, aluminum tub sitting beside Xena's house, I swear I felt him breathe a sigh of relief. He seemed to let go of the last bit of stoic reserve he was clinging to, probably only to appease all of us who couldn't quite bear letting him go yet. But still holding him in my arms, I dropped him level to Xena and they touched noses and said good-bye to one another in their own universal animal way. I could see that it was hard on Xena as she whimpered and ran around nervously, but when Roo reached the rim of the tub, she sat still and my mother - crying and kissing the center of his masked face, now more gray than ever - said good-bye as well. I lowered him slowly into the cool water, shattering the bright noon sun shining placidly on its still surface and, when he was all the way at the bottom, I kept my hand submerged and rubbed his neck until the heaving stopped.