Dog Daze of Summer

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The days leading up to a book's release are, for me, filled with excitement and panic. Excitement that the book is finally out of my hands, out to the public; panicked that people will not only like it, but buy it.

On most days, my dog, Marge - a 10-year-old, 85-pound APA mutt, whose mother - considering Marge's make-up (greyhound's legs, a hound's face, Husky markings) - was obviously a bit of a whore - will lie on my feet, look up at me and sigh. She helps keep me centered in the midst of my mental panic. In all honesty, this dog - this goofy, damn dog - helps keep me centered in life. And I teeter on the brink constantly.

In my fairly new life as a writer in the woods, Marge - along with a few wild turkeys - has become my primary work colleague, my lunch companion, my creative collaborator. I write, she sleeps. I scream, she kisses. I sleep, she sleeps. I have taken this simple tango - man and man's best friend - for granted. I have mistakenly thought that she - like my parents, or my grandparents, or my partner, Gary - would live forever.

And then one recent summer evening, as Gary and I were petting Marge as she lay between us in bed, we discovered a lump over the base of her tail. A few days later, the lump was the size of a kiwi. The next day, Marge was at the vet.

My baby had cancer.

Laser surgery removed the encapsulated lump, and, we hope, all the cancerous cells around it, but the cancer was - the biopsy revealed - fairly aggressive, and prone to return.

Marge returned home after surgery resembling a "Frankenpuppy" - a shaved, stitched tail that couldn't wag, and an ear chock full of Swiss cheese holes (her ear had also undergone surgery to relieve a small blood clot). While Gary and I nursed her back to health, I began to retrieve old photos of Marge: Pictures from her "puppy shower," when we welcomed her to our home (Hey, it was our only chance to get baby gifts); Marge swimming in the creek at my parents' cabin; Marge unwrapping gifts at Christmas; Marge eating corn on the cob. I began to hold these old pictures beside her current head, which was now thinner, greyer, undeniably older.

I would cry uncontrollably, unexpectedly, and hug her until her neck was soaked.

She had always, seemingly, been there. Been with me. Been with us.

For the last 10 years, she has always been by my side, greeting me after another hated day at work, riding beside me in the car as we moved to Michigan, laying on me feet as I wrote.

She was, quite literally, always by my side. Marge could ease my tension, make me take a break and run with her through our woods - as fast as our legs could carry us - until my panic was gone, any fears forgotten - and then we would fall into a field painted orange by orange Indian paint brush to lie on our backs, catch our breaths and watch the clouds paint pictures over our head, just like they did when we were younger.

What would I do without her?

What will I do without her?

Life is so short. And I, we, take it too often for granted. We let days slip by, months pass, years fade. Are we enjoying life? Are we doing everything in our power to make our mark during our short stay? Are we happy?

I hope to make my mark with my writing. I will be on tour (blogging about it here), promoting my latest memoir, "Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler," this fall. Gary will be along for the ride, as will Marge (who is looking at me right now, sighing contentedly, smiling, catching up on her sleep), just like she always has been.

And that's all I can ask for right now.

I have vowed not to take any of this life "stuff" - from the gigantic moments to the tiniest tidbits - for granted any more. Because I am blessed. And my feet are warm.

Stay tune for more from "Wade's Walden."