Our Dog Maya

This story I wrote the day after Maya died.  I didn’t post it because I wasn’t sure.  I hope you enjoy it.  If not… I don’t really care.  It needed to be told.  Thank you.

Our dog died Sunday, 28 October, 2018.

She was twelve and a half.

Even though she had recently been diagnosed with heart disease and a heart murmur she was going strong until the final day. In fact, she and I had just completed our nightly walk when the pain hit her like a cannonball to the stomach. I won’t soon forget, watching her go for a drink of water as I was briefing my wife, her mother, on the details of our walk, when she nearly collapsed. I raced to her and helped her to the ground. The pain was obviously debilitating because our dog could take pain. Water on the lungs? No problem. Ruptured knee tendons? 2 in a calendar year. No problem. Battle wounds from doggy daycare? She must have had 40 stitches in her life, all from “playing” at daycare. They never bothered her or deterred her from going back. She loved her time at daycare. No, this pain she couldn’t handle and so she laid down, augured in and in true Maya fashion, she took the pain.

It only took a minute or two to realize this was serious. Lisa and I started combing the Internet for things to relieve the pain. You see, it was a Saturday night so we didn’t think we had many options. Finally, struggling to find options, we called our animal clinic and via outgoing message, I was told that if it were an emergency I could call the doctor direct, so I did. He was on his anniversary dinner so he gave me a quick remedy and told me that if we couldn’t find any emergency care call him back. Bottom line, we ended up driving to him after his meal. He took great care to find out what was ailing our baby, but after a couple tests and x-rays, he couldn’t determine anything. The look on his face said it all. He was scared and he had no idea what could cause this kind of pain this fast. He gave her a shot of pain killer that he said would “probably knock her out” and it did. We returned home only to watch her struggle with the pain. The vet had told us that if the shot didn’t relieve some of the pain to give her a huge dose of more pain meds, which we did. It was the saddest night of my life, rivaling only the last night I was with my father, but this was different because my father had been slowly dying for years and when the end came there was relief. This was sudden. Abrupt. It was horrible.

She was finally able to fall asleep so the next morning we headed to Louisville, Kentucky, determined to help her. It was not to be.

Our vet had called ahead so the team at Blue Pearl was ready. They ran a battery of tests, ranging from simple blood work to x-rays and ultrasounds. It was the ultrasound that finally revealed what had been hiding from view. Our dog Maya had tumors in her liver. Not on her liver… in her liver. One for sure and a possible second. The doctor also said she had fluid in her stomach which looked like blood so it was at this time I thought the worst and Lisa asked, “wait! Are we not going home with our dog?” The doctor suggested that her issues had been developing for some time and that something on her last walk must have triggered things to get worse. They ran a few more test to determine if there were tumors in her lungs, which they didn’t find but the damage had been done. The issue, in the end, became the blood in her stomach, potential complications of surgery and her age. Our choices came down to a final three.

One, have surgery. Open her up and try to remove the tumor but first they had to determine if the blood was old or new which would, if new, meant potential internal bleeding. If internal bleeding was present they would have to stop the bleeding before or during surgery. The doctor also said that, very often, when they open up dogs with similar symptoms it may be worse than the ultrasound showed in which case the doctor would be forced to euthanize on the operating table. It wasn’t a pleasant prognosis. Two, take her home on palliative care. Manage the pain and try to let her enjoy her final days at home but Lisa and I both thought that sounded selfish and was only benefiting our grieving while Maya suffered, so that option was quickly eliminated. As stated earlier, she already had other health issues that may have made surgery harder. We couldn’t let her suffer so we went with the final option. Three, euthanasia.

It was an easy choice but the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I know Lisa would agree. To make matters worse, they brought her in to see us so we could say goodbye and she seemed like she might be OK. Of course, that was because of the host of drugs in her system, which you could clearly see in her eyes. She was in the room with us but she wasn’t “there”. She was like a zombie. I mean, she was all over the room and even ate a little food that had been brought in for her but her eyes were already gone. We laid her on the floor with me on one side and Lisa on the other and the doctor came in to finally relieve her pain. As the doctor injected her with the drug that would put her to sleep before stopping her heart, Maya turned and looked at me, straight in my eyes and I can only hope she was looking to reassure me that this was the right decision and that she was thanking us for getting rid of her pain. I will not forget that look as long as I live. In that instant I saw our life together. It was just a flash but I saw it all.

Maya was given to me, already named and a bit high strung to put it mildly. A family had found her tethered to a tree. They were a young family so when the hyper pup came home she was a bit more than they could handle. She was a jumper and a biter. Not a vicious biter, she would naw on arms as a way to determine who you were. She did it her entire life but only to those she really knew, like me and Lisa and even my brother-in-law, Josh. Anyway, the first year went fast. I had just moved into a new home and so we spent our time exploring our new neighborhood and getting to know each other. We had our fights. She was as stubborn as I was but we learned each other and a bond was formed. Things were really good. We spent all of our free time together. That second year things didn’t go so well, for me. I received the call to go to war so Maya had her world shaken again when she was forced to live with my parents, which turned out to be the best thing for her.

I say “forced” which is true but my parents’ house is a fantastic place for a dog. Ranch style home so there was only one step to climb. A big backyard with a chain-link fence for 365 degrees of sight-line. She loved that. She could see everything yet she was safe behind the wire. They also had a pool which she hated but that pool brought visitors and visitors she loved, and they loved her. It was that pool, while I was deployed, that really began the socialization of Maya. By the end, Maya was one of the most social dogs I’ve ever known. She wanted to say “hi” to everyone but then she would be on her way to the next thing. Other dogs never were of much interest. I mean, there was an initial interest, a quick sniff, but then it was on to the next thing. Maya was the perfect dog.

I eventually came home and Maya and I were back together, only now she was more relaxed, which after a deployment was amazingly soothing for me. She knew when I was anxious and she knew when I was calm. She would sleep in bed with me when I struggled but she would sleep on her own bed on the nights that I slept well. Looking back now, I hadn’t realized what she was doing. She was my compassion dog. She was my friend. She was my “everything” and she knew it before I did. We spent the next three years in relative peace and harmony, living life. The “ups” and the “downs” all the while becoming a dynamic team, although I often worried about her solitude. I’d hurry home after work. I’d stay in on the weekends. Not every night, I wasn’t a saint but I was very aware that she was home alone. Often I would send her down the street to stay with my sisters. She loved that and developed very special bonds with our nieces and nephews. They meant the world to her and I know that she would have loved to say goodbye. I’m sure of it. She loved those kids. No matter how many times she had to stay somewhere else or no matter what time I would come home at night she would be just as excited to see me as the previous time. That trait never faltered and never failed to bring a smile to my face. It’s an amazing thing, a dog. They don’t ask for anything, really. All they want is to be appreciated. They don’t hold grudges. They don’t judge. Their love is unconditional and Maya was the best at all of it. She was soon to take on her most important role.

In 2012 we met Lisa, me in November and Maya in December. That was the game changer. Maya and I went from a bachelor and his dog to a family, almost overnight. Where I had saved Maya, Maya had saved me and Lisa, she saved us all. She probably wouldn’t agree with that statement but it’s true. Maya now had another friend. Someone to go to when she wasn’t sure of my mood. Someone else to love because she had love to give and Lisa and I both needed it. Again, Maya had taken care of us before we even knew we needed it. Lisa told me when we met that she wasn’t a dog person and she still isn’t. What she will tell you is that she’s not a dog person, she’s a Maya person. I always liked that statement. Maya didn’t do anything special, she was simply herself and that was enough.

For the next 6 years we were one happy family. Well, when it came to Maya, we were one happy family. Lisa and I have been and will continue to learn how to live together but there was rarely a dispute when it was about Maya. She was central to our universe. After all, we don’t have any children so Maya was it and she loved her role as “queen”. We both spoiled her. We had to. As she aged we changed her diet several times and by the time she passed she was eating better than any dog I’ve ever heard of and better than most people. She deserved it all. During her last six years, Maya was everywhere we were. It was just assumed in our family that if you invited us to an event, we were bringing our “plus one” every time.

Maya was so good at reading us and our personalities, she knew how we felt before we did. She was integral in helping Lisa through several “events” and constantly helped me with my anxiety, without me even realizing. She just made everything better.

Last Sunday, lying on that floor with her, we couldn’t make anything better and it hurt. We felt like we had been punched in the gut. We were helpless to help her and that’s an awful feeling.

When her eyes met mine in that final moment I hope she saw our life together with the same happiness and joy that I saw when I look back now. I loved that dog. Lisa loved that dog. She helped me live life the best I could during a time of struggle. She helped my wife not only deal with me but also enjoy a part of life that she hadn’t experienced before.

I’ve been thinking, since she passed, does the pain I feel now make me regret any decisions I made with Maya or does the pain of her passing change anything about our time with her? Would I do it again? Would I take in a young dog who was too aggressive for the rest of the world?   Would we buy an eleven year old dog two new knees within the same calendar year? Would we pay hundreds of dollars a month to keep her healthy as she was aging? Would we walk hundreds of miles in all manner of weather just so she could get her exercise? Would we drive hundreds of miles just to ensure she wouldn’t be alone when we had to leave for a day or a month? Would we spend thousands of dollars for tests in an attempt to ease the pain?

YOU BET YOUR ASS! All of it. I would do it all again. Hopefully I would do it a little better but I would absolutely do it again. Was her last 24 hours miserable and painful to watch? Yes. I’ve cried many times over the last couple days. I can only hope that her last vision wasn’t just of me, but of all the fun times we all had together and I hope…I hope she enjoyed her time in this world. She made my life better. She made Lisa’s life better. She brought a little joy to every life she encountered along her journey. I am going to do my best to take part of her memory and wear it daily. Everything she did was to make us happy. We should all be so lucky to live that kind of life, making others happy.

In the end, she took the pain, just like she always had and she went out like she came in, fighting to survive. As a pup I was able to take her in and ease her pain, her sense of abandonment. At the end, Lisa and I were finally able to ease the pain coursing through her and send her on her final journey, to that big field in the sky.

I can see it now, a wide open field with plenty of other critters to chase, a creek to cool off in and the sun, eternally frozen just above the horizon, as it sets. I hope that every time she looks over her shoulder she sees the silhouette of a tall, goofy guy in a fedora holding the hand of a beautiful woman with a long scarf blowing in the breeze, waiting for her to come home. We love you Maya. Thanks for everything. God bless you.

Forever, your parents

Matt & Lisa

Dinner With Friends

Tonight, the wife and I had dinner with some dear friends.  I have just retired from the military after a quarter of a century.  Wow, saying it like that makes it seem like a eternity and in truth, it has been.  I joined the Army in 1993 and finished yesterday.  My final duty station has been in Jasper, Indiana and to be honest, I had no idea what to expect.  Tonight’s dinner was a celebration of my military career and a celebration of new friendships.

Southern Indiana was a mystery to me and certainly to my Canadian wife.  We didn’t know what to expect.  One of the most pleasant things that has happened to us has been developing a relationship with new friends.  Without question Peter and George have become our dearest friends and without them we wouldn’t have been able to assimilate into the small community of French Lick.

Let me explain, I worked in Jasper, Indiana but my wife found us a beautiful home in the small resort town of French Lick.  Look it up on the inter-webs and you’ll soon see why French Lick is a resort town.  It’s a gem nestled in the Hoosier National Forest and well worth the trip.  So, that’s why we’re here.  Now, how did we meet Peter and George?  In an attempt to immerse into the community my wife volunteered at the local museum in addition to managing events at the resort, and it just so happened our friends Peter and George are pretty big deal at the museum and the rest is developing into a great friendship.  Who are these two wonderful gentlemen?  Well, let me explain.

Peter and George are partners and have been sharing life experiences for a long time.  They have stories that could easily become Hollywood blockbusters (I mean, Shirley McClaine would be jealous of their stories).  They have seen and done it all.  Peter actually went to college with my father and they knew each other, which I think is amazing.  I love that part of our story with these two.  My favorite part of our friendship with these fantastic guys is that, we’re just friends.  That’s it.  They are successful retired guys who don’t want for anything and simply want to be friends.  We are equally interested in finding friends who only want to be friends.  No pretense.  No agenda.  Just people who enjoy each others company.  We have other friends like this but many of them live far away.  Of course, they treat us like their children which makes it hard to pay bill.  Every meal is a fight to determine who pays but they are incredibly creative in getting their credit cards to the waitress before we can.  It’s like dealing with Gandalf which isn’t easy.  We love these two and are lucky to consider ourselves their friends.

Now, back to dinner.  Ballard’s at the West Baden Resort is a great place to dine mid-week. It’s casual with a hint of sophistication and it provides a great opportunity to enjoy the atrium of this world-class resort.  Peter and I had the steak and frites while my wife enjoyed the salmon salad and George chose the airline chicken, worst name for a meal ever.  I mean, who associates good food with air travel and George was sure to let the server know, as well as the risotto.  Risotto in the Midwest can’t compare to the dish served in Italy and since George lived there for years as a model (I’m telling you, these guys have some amazing stories which I may get into in future blog posts, with their permission, of course). The evening was fantastic.  The food was very good and the desserts, decadent.  There were stories told, laughs had and plans for future travel, discussed.  Personally, I haven’t laughed and enjoyed my time that much in quite some time and I think my wife would agree.  Honestly and a bit selfishly, we needed this night.

Thank you to our friends and we look forward to many more nights like this and we hope to add some adventure to our story with these two great men.

I’m a lucky guy.  I have a fantastic wife and some really good friends.  Raise a glass and toast the future.  It’s going to be fun.

The Struggle is Real

Haven’t had a day off in quite some time and I’m beginning to feel the anxiety associated with transitioning out of the army.  Non-military folks don’t get it.  All of my civilian friends talk about “job placement” and how easy it’s going to be to find a new job when I retire, but the truth is, it isn’t.  Nothing about retirement from the army is easy.  Sure I’ll receive a check every month for the rest of my life and sure that’ll cover a home and some expenses associated with a home but it won’t keep me where I’m at, financially speaking.  That’s the scary part.  I have no idea how to proceed and because I’m retiring from the Indiana National Guard all of my retirement/transition help is located about an hour and half away at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Fort Knox is responsible for assisting separating soldiers in every aspect, from medical to transportation and they do a good, efficient job but if you live far away they’re not much help.  In their defense, it’s not their job to find me a new life.  I learned long ago. No one cares about you in this world.  I mean, your family, hopefully cares, but in the grand scheme of life you’re on your own and I think, that’s the scary part.  My entire adult life has been taken care of by Uncle Sam.  All I had to do was, wake up in the morning and my day was laid out for me.  I’d accomplish my daily task and leave.  Everyday has been the same.  The tasks are almost always different and sometimes the “leave” part may be several days or months a part, but the format is the same.  Without this structure, I’m not sure which way I’m supposed to proceed.  I feel a bit like Brooks, the librarian in “Shawshank Redemption”, although my mental state is a lot better than his turned out to be.  That being said, I do feel the anxiety that he seemed to have upon his release from the big house.

A little dramatic?  Yes. But, I made a promise to myself that when I retired, my family wouldn’t have to go through any sort of financial lull while I tried to get my civilian footing.  This is proving harder than I thought.

Working on my resume is ridiculously brutal, in that, everything I write looks bad and/or poorly written even though I’ve done some pretty substantial work in my time with the army.  Every time I think it looks good, I re-read it and it’s pure shit.  I’ve sent it out to friends that have provided great input and I’ve adjusted accordingly but it still doesn’t read the way I want it to and the clock is ticking.

This entire process would be a lot easier if I had any idea of what I wanted to be when I grow up.  My friends that have retired from the army recently all have a plan.  Either they just want something slow and easy that gets them back to their “break even” number financially or they have a passion that they will enjoy upon retirement.  I don’t have any obvious passions and I’d still like to make some money in my life.  Funny thing about that last comment is that, yes, I want to make some money in my life but at the end of the day, I’d like to have the money in order to give it away.

Seeing people genuinely happy is something I love to see.  Unfortunately, because of the way I deal with things, I outwardly project that I am always disgruntled and mean.  That’s a shame because I’m usually in pretty good mood although I struggle with “dumb.”  When I see people doing dumb things just because they aren’t paying attention or are so self-involved that they fail to realize that there are other people affected by their actions, I become frustrated.  I often have to explain to my wife, who I love dearly, that I’m not mad or frustrated with her but I am mad and frustrated with a situation, usually caused by some outlying variable.

That came out wrong.  My wife is brilliant.  She is an aggressive go-getter and the only reason she is struggling now is because she blindly followed me down to Southern Indiana because she’s an amazing person , that only wants the people around her to be happy.  Something I desperately need to be more in tune with.  She’s my rock and I owe it to her to have something lined up in order to support her and to ensure she doesn’t notice a financial dip in our lifestyle.  And so, the struggle is real.


Memorial Day and Hemingway

It’s Memorial Day weekend, 2018 and I find myself alone. Not alone in the Papa Hemingway and a twelve gauge, kind of alone but alone nevertheless. You see my wife is working. She’s a pretty big deal at a local organization that is responsible for entertaining the masses and holiday weekends take president.

She’s judging at a local beauty pageant and then back to her regularly scheduled duties of entertaining the masses. Me on the other hand, well, I’m doing homework. Yup, homework. Let this be a lesson to all you youngsters out there that are thinking about taking a break from school to get out into the “real world.” The real world doesn’t want you unless you have a college degree. True story. I though I could work around the whole college thing but after a quarter of a century in the Military, I am learning that there is no “work around” when it comes to college.

And so, now I sit in my dining room researching Ernest Hemingway, arguably the most prominent face in the battle of depression and despair. Hemingway put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger when he was 63 after a lifetime of success’ to include a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize. His experiences throughout life finally caught up with him and unable to figure out how to escape them anymore, he used the last resort. The result was for all-time. There would be no more Ernest Hemmingway and all of those characters, so carefully created, would be silenced forever.

How does someone, so big and so powerful, get to the point in their life where “meaning” seems to disappear? Hell, most of us never get to that level in anything we do and yet most people struggle through a lifetime of living without thoughts of ending it early. So, again, I ask. How does someone, so big and so powerful, get to the point in life where “meaning” seems to disappear?

Another Shooting

Today, as I sit in my “cube” counting the days until my retirement from the US Military I can’t help but think, “what the hell is next?”  A friend of mine is blowing up my phone with text messages about a new job that he’s been offered by the post office.  $17.78 an hour with very little supervision and an easy schedule and route.  That’s like, $35,000 a year, which is fine for him.  With his retirement check from Uncle Sam and his disability from time served, he’ll have a nice little life.  There’s only one problem with that.  That’s not the life I want.

I’m in a similar position.  I will be retiring with a disability rating but the money I will receive each month won’t maintain the life I’m used to and, more importantly, $35,000 wouldn’t supplement me enough to live the way I want, my wife and I, to live.  So, how do I land that next career?  What are my passions?  What would I like to do, that wouldn’t seem like a job?  I HAVE NO IDEA!

In other news, some disturbed teen opened fire into a school out in Texas.  So far the death count is under ten but it’s still ten and that’s to many.  What’s wrong with people?  Life isn’t that hard.  It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but what are the alternatives?  Most of us aren’t born into a wildly wealthy lifestyle like Prince Harry, but even he has put in work and earned the respect of the people by serving.  Most of us are on the grind, everyday, every moment of our lives, once we step out of the shadow’s of our parents, although less than 1% serve in the Military but that’s a topic for another story.  For me, I left the shelter and security of my parents about 25 years ago and sadly, I haven’t grown that much since then.  I mean, I’m married to an amazing woman who is way to good for me (SHHH, don’t tell her), I have had a good career in the military that has spanned a quarter of a century.  Financially, I’m fine, I mean, not having children helps with the financial strain and I’ll speak to that, a little bit, later in this post.  Problem is, that financial security will disappear on day one of my retirement (t-70).

I’ve promised my wife that once I retire I will do whatever she would like, and I would.  After all, she has put up with every cockamamie plan or change of plan the military has put on us since we first met.  So far, she has said that she wants to stay where we are, gain a little more experience at her current position and start a family.  Her first request is easy, stay put, it’s her second request that I am failing at and that is starting to bother me and affect my confidence.  Question is, how do I fix that?  I know the simple answer is, “have some sex,” but I’m afraid it isn’t that easy.

With all these things going on, I still work for the Military and my first line leader is a toxic, idiot.  He’s about the same age and he out-ranks me but his experience is virtually the same and I would argue I’ve challenged myself as much, if not more, than he has in our careers.  That being said, I don’t want to get into a whole thing about who’s better but I do want to express my displeasure with the way he treats us here in the office.  It’s a, “do what I say, not what I do” culture and it sucks.  I’m at the point in a soldiers career where we set it to cruise (I have less than 2 months) and help where we can but primarily work on the next step.  The military has an entire organization designed for transitioning soldiers and they encourage retirees to start to fade away in order to give the organization we are leaving the opportunity to move forward without us and it gives us the chance to try to get ahead of the game as we move to our next life.

I often say that I feel like Brooks from the film, “Shawshank Redemption.”  The elderly, librarian who has spent nearly his entire life in prison when suddenly he is granted parole and set out onto the streets of the free world for the fist time in a long time.  He feels scared and alone and more importantly, he has no idea which way to go.  He’s lost and after a short time of struggle, Brooks gives up and takes his life.  Now, that’s a bit drastic but I certainly see how someone can become institutionalized after spending their life living a certain way, having their life managed for them.  It’s scary and I’m feeling it but I’ll sort it out.

I better get back to work before any of my bosses start to circle like a shark that smells fresh blood.  I’ve been doing this to long to have these feelings.  I’ve done it right for a long time, fuck these incompetent turds.  Let me retire and get on with my life.  I’m supposed to be doing something big.  I know it.



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