A little dog lives on a shelf near my kitchen window, the rectangle of glass that I stand in front of while I wait. Waiting for coffee to drip, food to cook and often be eaten at the sink underneath. The main window where I quietly watch some of the world pass on by and think or try not to.
Coffee cups, Calendars and Pictures are some of the Pop Culture commercial products that turn into gifts when you walk down the path of life with a pet.
Before Sarrah’s first Christmas She was given her own ornament.
Initially I thought this odd little white dog with black spots, beige and brown wings, a gold wire halo and string to hang it was strange, a dog ornament for a dog.
As newness of these trinkets wears off, they blend into cupboards, shelves, walls and some boxes along with the rest of a person’s possessions. Quietly these items are not really even noticed for a few years and then they become souvenirs of a life.
The little Angel Dog that I once thought odd came out for Christmas 2010 and never went back.
Where do I go from here?
The Tohono O’odham people cherish the symbol of I’ITOI, the Man in the Maze. I have seen this symbolic artwork many times on trips to southern Arizona. It is of a man standing at the top of a circular tribal looking maze. However, it wasn’t until my daughter Heather sent me a postcard from there did I possess one nor know the meaning (thanks to the brief explanation on the card). Basically the symbol depicts a life; starting at the top following the path, acquiring knowledge, strength and understanding, nearer the middle one reflects back on wisdom gained as they move closer to the end in the center. Initially she and in turn me were attracted to this one because the symbol is black on a white card, (I have long favored the illusion and absence of color).
I saved it and a couple of years later, while writing my story of Life with Sarrah more of the meaning found me. Keeping it in the binder, I look at it often.
I had heard of memorial tattoos in the past, typically those emblazoned with names and dates. More recently with the evolution of the art form, portrait types have become popular. I had even heard something about a more extreme commitment, using a little cremation ashes in the ink.
I have collected a few tattoos over the years, prior to their current popularity. They are mostly personalized designs; with no special meaning attached other than being decades’ old souvenirs of simpler times. So the idea and realities of inked skin was not new to me. I pondered the idea, with my twist. The thought of replicating some of Sarrah’s favored spots around what I already had, seemed appealing to me.
I went to a tattoo convention January Twenty Second, Two Thousand Eleven, in Marysville. This in itself was an interesting and distracting new experience that I found to be mostly tailored to the kind of artwork that I already had. Out of all of the colorful artists I found a few potentials and let my mind work further. If I decided to have this done, I wanted the right vibe to be part of the experience, in some kind of appropriate atmosphere, where the intent of meaning could be felt. I did some internet surfing of these possibilities, viewed more of their artworks and refined my search.
I visited the Hidden Hand tattoo parlor in the unique neighborhood of Fremont, tucked under a building; interestingly just down the street from where Sarrah had gone for acupuncture and ultimately her last trip. I met with the artist Roni, who combined with the atmosphere and locale, seemed right. I gave her artistic freedom with photos of Sarrah and tracings of my foot. My initial reaction to her emailed design was, “Wow, that’s bigger than I had envisioned” but I kept it to myself to live with the idea. And like Sarrah, the artwork quickly grew on me. I decided that a design to honor my best friend, deserved Big.
The unedited work of art with some of Sarrah’s ashes in the black ink was done June Seventeenth, Two Thousand Eleven; on what would have been her 13th birthday. Now, she can walk with me… for the rest of my journey.
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I am not promoting tattoo’s in any way (I actually liked them more before the herds gravitated), but to my un-expecting open mindset, I did feel some relief in the pain of it. The artwork healed nicely and serves me with a little visual solace, which most likely only I understand, making it better.
I live in a damaged body that cannot, will not, forgive the pain. There is an ancient Asian philosophical analogy pertaining to dealing with chronic pain known as “Chasing the Dragon’s Tail”. Basically, as therapy improves one area of a body, the pain moves on to another area (or becomes more noticeable), and another, and… therefore one is chasing the tail of a dragon. The Dragon that followed me home primarily Lingers low in my back, Crawls… along… my spine and occasionally Jumps up, into my neck. Through a few tough turns and some rough life choices, my body had become older than it appeared. Then in the fall of Two Thousand Five, a few weeks before my fortieth birthday, a Car Crash due to the negligence of another became an exclamation point! at the end of that statement. This vehicular fiasco: damaged my spine, jaded my mind and changed life. Fortunately for All, Sarrah was not along.
My daily window for working out in the morning had been broken by another, becoming a dark cold opening for my painful routine that I have referred to as “Slow Dancing with My Bitch” (Bitch as in Dragon, not Dog), turning my basement home gym into a dungeon where I now commune with my Dragon.
Around four in the morning my day slowly starts. Typically consisting of at least one pot of strong coffee, a coating of my new menthol based “signature scent” from my growing collection of varied pain ointments, balms, gels, creams or crème and stretching in attempts to break ‘the rust’ loose and prepare for yet another day. My stretching is an evolving routine from old wrestling and martial arts prep, physical therapy, yoga and some other assorted contortions as recommended from my various therapists’ (often simply laying in repose with my back flat on the floor listening to the old mechanical clock tick, paying homage to my Dragon, while waiting for the mix to ‘kick in’). On my worst days I’d mostly just lay on the floor, Sarrah would often forego her bed and lay next to me in a quiet kind of solidarity. She would lie still on her side, pressing her back up against me as if to share some energy. Whether or not Sarrah knew this would help or if she was simply bonding with me, I believe that these moments were proof that she knew that I needed her. Then around seven o’clock, my work beckons, whether I feel up for it or not.
Shopping for and finding a replacement vehicle, one that met the needs of an injured driver (with a dragon), was not easy. Financially times were good so affording a new Sport Utility Vehicle with a smoother ride was possible and appeared to be the best choice. I got a better one that exceeded all needs and even came with a few luxuries. One of the best sought out and included options being a rear area climate control feature, for Sarrah and passengers. I could now accommodate the back by heating it without breaking a sweat up front or cool her without getting frostbite. I added a remote start with a built in shutoff timer which allowed for bringing Sarrah on the severe weather trips, the kind that she previously couldn’t safely participate in. These options and along with a significantly larger rear cargo area, were immediately noticed and greatly appreciated by my copilot.
Due to the damage, my new inability to sit semi-comfortably for more than an hour requires frequent stops, along the way. When going to the beach, we utilized all of our frequent places and then some. Sarrah unwittingly delighted in this, so I chose to think of it as making these breaks for her.
Through the first year I had three to five sessions of therapy (physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and a variety of torture treatment done by my neurologist) every week. Each typically one hour long, with an average drive time of another hour. In the second and third years I continued with one to three sessions of therapy per week. From the fourth year on I typically feel best if I have one session of therapy per week. All of this displaced work time, which in turn stole from my free time. Sarrah’s presence and daily needs kept me getting out of bed and walking, despite how I felt, which was undoubtedly the best therapy of all.
Sarrah went to all but a few of the nastiest (where I could not drive myself) therapy sessions with me. She was always up for “a ride in the car”; to her they were all just another potential for adventure. My cohort would patiently wait in our vehicle, bark at those who were deemed a threat and mostly just snooze on her fixture ‘car dog bed’. Before or afterward we always found a park, path or grounds worthy of a dog’s curiosity to check out the local ‘hood and walk off the day.
After acupuncture we would walk around Anderson Park, across the street in Redmond. I had visited this park a few times over thirty years ago, as a kid with my Grandparents who lived in Fall City, the next town down the road. This was a sort of hybrid gift: a stroll back in time, a therapy walk off and simply some good sniffing in return for waiting. Now walking this park has another dimension to my mental time travels.
When Johnny Cash covered the song “Hurt” I had an instant connection with much of it, particularly the line “…I hurt myself, today, to see if I still feel…” and the somber vibe that he delivered it with. Soon after, I started playing it on the return trips after acupuncture and any other form of therapy that hurt.
In the third or fourth year after this crash, I wrote something and kept it in my mostly semi-scientific “pain journal” (a record that I keep to track what works, what does not, et cetera), this entry was on a loose undated page. My brain dropping was “When you’re done wrestling with all of the emotions and embrace the reality that you’ll never feel ‘good’ again, clarity returns”. Apparently frustration from unrealistic positive thinking, gave way to acceptance of realistic thinking. Or perhaps accepting my Dragon, instead of trying to kill it, made it become a better companion.
After almost five years of treatments and the best efforts toward “soft tissue” healing the final “Official Medical Evaluation” of my body after this misadventure was “Thirteen Percent Impairment of a Whole Person.” As much as I wished for this to stop, for my body to bounce back, that some trained professional would have the answer, a magical cure. Or that time would befriend me and just lead my dragon away. This was it, the black and white summation of a chapter in my life, with an affected future shadowed between the lines.
Through the first five plus years of this “slow dancing meditation” Sarrah was always there to give me a daily boost with a cold nose and a gentle forehead nudge to my neck as if to say “Come-on Buddy”, which usually worked and eventually we would go for a walk.
Another theft came in the form of diminished energy and tolerance, for almost anything. It consumes a lot of energy to keep pain in check and function, trying to do what you once took for granted. While digging for something positive in all of this and hopefully gain anything to hold onto. I suppose a small seed might be a touch of understanding and more compassion for those who live with relentless pain, like Leah’s grandmother.
It is my casual understanding that meditation comes in a variety of forms in addition to the traditional seated pose. Walking, even cleaning, yard work and gardening are a few. I believe the basic essential components are peaceful surroundings and a stillness of mind. I would like to add (if it is not commonly believed already) spending mellow time with a special animal to the list of accepted forms of meditation. Now, in Sarrah’s physical absence, I find myself drawn more to the other forms in which I participate. My need for quiet time has significantly grown, despite the frequent hollow ache, I seem to crave silence.
My aging Dragon is heavier and cantankerous! It does not like the cold, loathes an erratic barometer and has become a little unpredictable. It can actually be quiet and leave me alone or more often Grab me by the throat. One thing is certain; she is my mine and will be with me, forever… feeding on my Qi.