Read Part One here. Read Part Two here. Read Part Three here. Read Part Four here. Read Part Five here. Read Part Six here.Read Part Seven here. Read Part Eight here.
After Sara left, our house got quiet. toby wanted to be with me all the time. he stuck to my side, laboring up the stairs in pursuit, even when i told him to stay, i was just going up to get my book. he'd struggle to the top, breathing hard, and give me an exasperated and stricken look when it became clear that he now had to go right back down again.
i started putting the baby gate up at the bottom of the stairs, to block him. he could no longer jump up onto the bed at night, so i hauled the futon downstairs and slept with him on the living room floor. except that he couldn't sleep. i remember as a child, when i had the flu, i always got sicker at night. my fever spiked, i hallucinated, i was bathed in sweat. when the sun rose, my fever broke, and i slept.
toby, too, got sicker at night. i lay in the dark, trying to sleep, and he tottered up next to me and stood by my head, breathing hard. "toby, lie down," i told him. sometimes he would, and his poor old bones made a great clattering noise on the wooden floor. sometimes he'd meander away and i could hear him panting in the dark, in the kitchen or on the front porch.
i do not know how long this went on, these long sleepless nights. it felt like months, but i think it was only a few weeks. toby's body showed the stress he was under--he was so thin his ribs showed, but his abdomen was swollen and hung like a balloon underneath him, testament to the fluid he was building up again, despite the Lasix.
in the mornings, with the sun, he'd lie down on the futon and fall asleep.
i did not know what to do. i knew it was my responsibility to end his pain, but i didn't know how to make the decision. he still had joy in his life--he met me at the door, he wagged his tail. sometimes--though not often--he ate with gusto, sometimes he still brought us the tennis ball and dropped it at our feet. how would i know when it was time?
you'll know, my friends said. you'll know, said my little sister, who had put her beloved 18-year-old cat to sleep just the year before. toby will let you know, they said.
i was not so sure.
boscoe and toby spent a lot of time quietly lying next to each other. doug said that toby was having a talk with boscoe, explaining things to him. and i think that's right. of course they don't talk; i'm not that sentimental. but through scent and observation, i do think that boscoe came to understand, on some level, what was going on.
my fatigue and worry followed me to work, where i yawned my way through the afternoons. more than once, i packed up and left early, desperate for a nap. in the golden october afternoons, toby and i slept together on the living room floor.
doug's sister came over every day to stay with toby while we were at work. she coaxed him to eat, she let him out when he needed to pee, she talked baby talk to him in the high, sweet voice that he loved.
and so it went on, night after night, day after day.
but the night of october 13 was different. toby did not sleep all night. he breathed so hard his whole body trembled. he fell over twice in the night. and in the morning, when the sun came up, he did not lie down, and he did not sleep. he looked at me, and in his eyes was exhaustion.
"i'm not putting him through another night like that," i said to doug. "i can't. it's time."
october 14 was a sunday, and dr. j's clinic was closed. this was just as well. i didn't want him to do it. i wanted a stranger, someone completely impersonal, someone who did not know me and did not know toby and would not feel much for us. that was the only way i was going to get through it.
i called the U and made an appointment. when i hung up the phone, i threw myself on the bed and sobbed and sobbed. when i looked at toby, i felt like i was playing god. all i could think was, at 3 p.m., toby, you will die. i was an executioner. his fate--his life--was in my hands.
after a while i composed myself. i blew my nose. i went to find doug, but he was gone--not on the porch, not in the kitchen, not in the yard. the dogs were in the house and the back door was open, so i knew he couldn't have gone far, but when i called his name he didn't answer. i went down the basement, and there he was. he was sitting in the old rust-colored easy chair that boscoe had slept in as a puppy, and he was crying.
in mid-afternoon, we lifted toby into the truck. boscoe hopped in beside him, just like always. and we drove over to the park. toby stood in the grass for a while, and breathed in the fresh october air. it was my brother's birthday, a glorious time of year. the sun was bright, the air was crisp, it was a wonderful afternoon in the park. but it was the saddest day of my life.
when we got to the U, doug said he couldn't go in. actually, he said, "i'll wait here with boscoe." but i knew that meant he couldn't do it. and i knew that i could. all i wanted was for toby to be able to breathe again, even if it was only for a second.
toby and i walked in. when i tried to talk to the receptionist, my voice choked. "we have an appointment," i said.
i was grateful that she didn't ask me what it was for.
they put me in a room and took toby away to insert a catheter into his leg, to make the injection easier. and then they brought him back and left us alone for a long time. toby stood in the chilly room, breathing hard, looking confused and agitated. i crouched at his side and stroked him, but i was agitated, too. i did not want final minutes there, in that cold exam room. i had had my final minutes with toby. now was the time to let him go.
i finally walked back down the hall and flagged the receptionist. my voice broke again. "could you please get somebody?" i said. "this is hard enough without having to wait."
the doctor came quickly. he looked very young, and i think he was still a student. he looked nervous. "are you ready?" he said. "yes," i said.
i cradled toby's head in my arms. he looked at me. the vet slid the needle in, and toby relaxed. he took two long free breaths--no panting, no agitation, no struggle. just two long free breaths. and that was all i wanted, all i could have hoped for for him.
and then he stopped. but those two breaths, those two easy breaths, were everything.
the doctor was just as impersonal and nervous as i had hoped. he did not say anything sympathetic, and for that i was grateful. i stood. i did not look back at toby; i did not want to remember him that way. "what happens next?" i asked.
the doctor looked at me nervously. "well, we'll put him in a refrigerator overnight--" he began.
whenever i tell this story, i laugh at this moment. it is so ludicrous, and so painful. it is the essence of Too Much Information.
"no, no," i said, interrupting. i didn't want to hear all the gruesome details. "i mean, should i take his collar? when will i get his--um--ashes?"
the doctor unbuckled toby's red collar and handed it to me. "we'll call you, and you can pick them up," he said, and i thanked him and left.
doug and boscoe were waiting outside. they both looked worried. i hugged them. "it was ok," i said, and i was telling the truth.
... TO BE CONCLUDED ....