Thursday, June 28, 2007

Empty Arms

Starting in the last few months of the 20th century, I began an every-other-year tradition of bringing new life into the Potter Palace. Rachel was the first in October 1999. Her sister Sara joined us two years later in October 2001. Gavin arrived nearly 20 months later in June 2003, and that did it for any additions of the human variety.

My husband loves to tell the story of how the obstetrician, quite, um, impressed, with how quickly I was delivering, remarked aloud, "This is Number Three, huh?" to which I wasted nary a second replying, "This is Number Last! How quickly can you TIE MY TUBES??"

I've wondered how that comment must have sounded to those in attendance at the blessed event. If it came across at all, even a tiny little bit, that I was unhappy about the arrival of our first and only son, well, let me just set the record straight right now and say that was certainly not the case at all. Rachel had begged mercilessly for months on end for a baby brother, and we were just thrilled beyond words that the Lord God Almighty had heard the prayers of that child and granted her heart's desire. It's just that I KNOW MY LIMITS. And I'm pretty sure it was TWO. Three was really pushing it, and at 35 I knew my baby-making days NEEDED to come to an end.

But, I digress. In 2005, the desire to nurture a little one overtook me once again, and I satisfied that need with Chloe, a newborn kitten who meowed for HOURS on end the first few nights we had her. In a sleep-deprived 2 a.m. moment of insanity, I finally moved her, bed, litter box and all, into my closet, placed a ticking clock next to her and threw a towel against the bottom of the closed door to contain any stray kitty anguish that might try to drift into the bedroom ... and finally slept, hopeful that the kitten would outgrow her need to cry all night faster than my babies had.

When another odd year began this past January, I braced myself for the familiar yearnings that I was sure would eventually come. I tried to tell myself that my life is full to overflowing: 1 husband + 3 kids under the age of 8 + 1 dog + 1 cat + 1 full-time job + far more hobbies and extracurricular activities than I have time to manage = INSANITY. The semiannual tradition I'd begun would simply HAVE to be laid to rest this year, I told myself.

But that was before I met Henry.

A few Sundays ago, Chief Potter called while he was out on patrol and announced that he was "bringing something home". Now if living with this man for nearly 12 years has taught me anything at all, it is that 99.9% of the time, the phrase "bringing something home" does NOT mean he's arranged takeout for dinner or that he's planning to surprise me with a new piece of jewelry. Nosiree Bob, it means he's found another stray, and I've got to get on the horn and do my best to find a home ... quickly.

I had only moments to prepare the children for the new puppy's arrival, and when Chief pulled into the driveway, I reminded them several times NOT to get attached, because "We're NOT keeping the puppy!"

He was the cutest little brown furrball ever, and within a couple of days, the puppy had been named twice. The kids called him Brownie, and I named him Henry. They finally agreed to call him Brown Henry which really suited him just fine. He was quite amenable to being carted around by kids (ours and the neighbors) all day long and didn't even seem to mind when they jumped with him on the trampoline. (I had a fit over that one, oh yes I did).

I was certain that someone was going to report him missing sooner or later and tried my best to NOT get attached, but somewhere around the third or fourth day, I had to admit that I was hopelessly in love with the little thing. I gave myself over to the desire to love something tiny and decided that maybe just one more pet wouldn't be such a bad thing. Just sitting and cradling him in my arms as I worked at my computer filled me with a joy I didn't even know I had missed.

Five days after Henry joined us, Chief took him to the vet for his first check up and shots, and he was declared to be in good health. That was on Friday.

Three days later, I came in from an outing with the girls, took one look at Chief and knew something was terribly wrong.

He shooed the girls from the room before whispering, "Something's wrong with Henry. Really wrong."

I stepped out onto the deck and there was my little guy shaking, lethargic, and his nose dripping mucus. We called the emergency vet hospital to get their advice and briefly considered taking him in that evening. After watching him for a little while, we decided that he could wait to see the regular vet the following morning.

At the crack of dawn the next day, I quickly got kids dressed and loaded in the car with little baggies of cereal thrown together for a breakfast-on-the run, and we drove over to the vet clinic. Who knows what prompted me to leave the kids in the car (something I NEVER do unless I am just going in some place very quickly and will be able to keep my eyes on the car the entire time), but on this particular morning I did exactly that. They had their cereal and juice to keep them occupied for a few minutes, and I figured I would just drop Henry off and come back later to pick him up.

He shivered in my arms as we waited in the reception area. Whether it was fear or the illness I wasn't sure, but I held him a little closer and told him everything was going to be okay.

An assistant came out and took Henry to an exam room where the vet checked him out privately for a few minutes while I paced and prayed. I was finally summoned to join him, and when I saw him on the exam table, I suddenly knew why I'd felt so strongly about leaving the children in the truck: Henry wouldn't be going home with us. Not that day. Not ever. He was one very sick puppy. And that was a sight my three youngsters did not need to witness.

As we waited for the doctor to come back into the room, I watched Henry's eyes start to roll backward and his body stiffen. The seizures came every few minutes or so, and I would hold him closely and speak softly until they passed.

The vet confirmed what Chiefand I had suspected: Distemper. He was reluctant to tell me that I needed to have Henry euthanized, but when I asked him what he would do in my situation, he finally admitted that there was only a very slim chance that the little guy could pull through and that putting him to sleep was the most humane choice.

I was given a few last moments to love on him during which time one office assistent brought in a box of Kleenex and another stuck her head in to see if I needed anything. When the moment came and the needle was gently placed under his skin, I cradled his soft brown head in my hands and whispered my thanks into his ear. "Thank you for picking us. Thank you for the last 10 days. Thank you for the love you showed us and for what you would have meant to our family if things had worked out differently. I'm really sorry that they didn't." And with that, the shaking stopped and his eyes closed for the last time. I removed his little red collar and kissed him on top of his furry brown head one more time before heading to the car.

"Where's Henry?" a chorus of voices piped from the back seat.

"He's staying here for awhile," I answered. Not altogether a lie, I told myself.

I'd been through enough trauma for one day. The Chief could handle it from here.


Lisa said...

oh my, you got me crying. Im sorry about Brown Henry. He sounded like a sweetie.
((hugs)) to you and the kids.

The Elementary Writing Chef said...

Wow...what a tear jerker! I am so sorry! That is about as sad as it gets...reminds me of the time Catie Lou stepped on the baby guinea pig and literally squashed the life out of the poor little thing. We all cried and dad did a little funeral and buried it with the kids....because it was just too much for me (grin!) I enjoyed the post! Love ya!!

Mica said...

Hi Sheryl -

Now that I have Sam, I totally understand how hard it was to lose Brown Henry - I'm sure he was adorable! Hope all the Potters are having a great summer nonetheless ...


Carrie said...

I'm so sorry. It hurts so much to lose a pet- Huge hugs to you and your family.