The drive to my mother’s ranch felt a lot longer than the usual forty minutes. Every minute I passed through was painful. I pictured myself back at rehab telling a group that my dog dying was a trigger.
We named him Ozzy after our love of Black Sabbath and the singer Ozzy Osbourne but I often told people I named him after Ozymandias, the King of Kings, from the Shelley poem.
He loved to watch the horses in the field.
I took a nap that day and woke up twice with terror in my heart at what was to come.
I waited with Jeff, who has become a father to me, and my mom, for the vet to arrive. Jeff and I talked about hockey in hushed tones.
We had five or six hours alone with Ozzy. We shot him up with dope to ease his pain, his transition. He wouldn't stop panting. Only laying down on his side once the drugs cooled his pain, whatever his pain was. Mila was tender and quiet, no barking, no stealing socks. She laid next to Ozzy on his bed and kissed his face, Ozzy opening his mouth to accept the love.
The vet arrived and I sobbed hard. They did an ultrasound, found nothing, and I sobbed hard, she said there aren’t many options and we all sang as a chorus “we know.”
After he had passed his tongue hung gently out his mouth and it made me smile.
I cried into his fur all day. Cried with my mother. Walked outside and cried into my hands. Watched my step dad leave the room to cry in the bathroom, to cry in the pasture. Me and my mother were more open about our sadness but Jeff, the Stoic, felt more comfortable alone with his grief.
It's not a big thing to lose a pet, it's part of the deal, the contract when you first bring them home.
It’s self-inflicted. When his hips started to get sore and he tore his ACL I started to mourn him. I knew the time was coming where I’d be alive without him and so each time I spent a moment with him I made sure to be 100% present and to store it away in some secret part of my brain that contains my most cherished memories. Even just laying on the floor with him and scratching his head became a Moment for me.
The first death one experiences is clean, light, of course it carries its own brutality with it but it is new. Then, they start to pile up so when I started to lose more the single losses hurt more, they all showed up when one would leave. Ozzy was about Ozzy but also about Dad, Jim, Jordan, etc. It’s a haunting now, each loss.
How to express that the sobs emitted from my gut were the deepest I've ever felt? I couldn't help but wail, something I’ve never done before. I had to walk out of the rooms of the house into the pasture or the patio and let it overtake my heaving and shaking body and my mind reeling that no this cannot be happening.
Ozzy came home when I was twenty years old. I had a small drug habit of pills and weed, no job, and failing school. I spent most days high on the couch with puppy Ozzy feeding him candy and teaching him how to drink Capri Suns. I took him on long walks, blissed out on Codeine, and let him smell the neighborhood.
He loved to hunt us in the backyard, he’d hide behind the wooden pillars and peek an eye out and I’d get down low and creep towards him as he lowered himself and he’d pounce on me, biting at my clothes. I have many torn garments that I wear with love. To calm him, all I had to do was get to one knee and say its okay and he’d turn around and put his butt in my face so I could scratch it for him and he’d sit down on my feet. That’s a thing common amongst Rottweiler's, the need to always be touching someone and it’s usually with their rear end. I had to warn some people about Ozzy and his creeping tendencies but others didn’t need to be warned, either he treated them gently or they instinctively knew how to play and how to calm him.
He was so dehydrated the vet had to shave a little hair off his arm to find a vein and still she had trouble. I scooped the hair up and put it in a clear ziploc bag.
For eleven years he had been my best friend, seen me through rehab three times, the suicide of my father, my breakup with Elizabeth, my overdose/seizure and always he was strong for me, letting me sob into his fur. He kept me company when I was coming off dope and I was sick as fuck, he cuddled up close to me and heavy sighed.
I stayed in the room after he had passed and we all said goodbye. My mother was in the kitchen with the cat, Manny. I stood next to my stepfather and watched them flip his limp and heavy corpse onto a sheet. My mother came walking down the hallway and I stopped her and said “you don't want to see this.” I knew it would bother her, the way his arms were outstretched and how rough they had to be with his body to get it on the sheet. But they were as gentle as they could be with 125 pounds of dead weight. Literally dead weight. They covered him up and took him out to their car. Watching his limp body get flopped like that reminded me of Jim’s corpse and how disconnected the idea of a person, or a dog, is from their actual body once they are dead. I do not believe in souls but when faced with corpses it is hard to deny their existence.
I felt strong in my sobriety. I had a year after my overdose and subsequent seizure. Things scared me still, I thought about death often. What will I do when my mother dies? What will I do when my sister dies? I faced these thoughts daily and wished for my own demise on depressing nights. But I feared the most Ozzy dying. And here it was. I have often lived through my worst nightmares but not been strong and I break eventually. I wonder, when will I break again?
The last time I broke was my overdose, almost two years ago.
The vet and her assistant were soft with him, gentle, as if he were their own pet. I am forever grateful for the way in which they treated my sick boy. At the end of it all, after all the IV’s and sonograms the Vet sat up on her knees and confidently said “I don't know what is wrong with him.” She shrugged, said it could be cancer, could have slipped a disc. But there isn’t much we can do” We all knew this, before she brought out the machines to look at his insides we all knew the score, that Ozzy was done, he wanted out.
A week before my overdose, I was watching my moms house in the country. It was raining all weekend and I had a bag of coke all to myself. Ozzy slept most of the day away and I only left the bed to chop up lines on the bathroom sink. He laid so close to me then that he almost knocked me off the bed a couple times. His body was warm and I was sweating from the blow. I remember thinking I wanted to die with him, at that very moment, high and comfortable with my boy.
People have been telling me since I was fifteen that it will get better. That time will lessen the pain. Grief does not work like that. It is a labyrinth and some days you end up at the entrance where the wounds are raw and freshly bleeding. The longer I live in this world without Ozzy, the more it sometimes hurts, the more I live without him the more I miss his presence. I don’t want any more memories without him.
Sometimes I wonder if I am substituting my suffering, exchanging a digestible version instead of the complicated. Is all this pain I center on Ozzy’s death actually about my father, about Jim, about Elizabeth, about my own actions? I hurt, simply put, and I don’t necessarily need to pinpoint the genesis. Suffering and pain only change shape, sharpen edges and rounded out sides, it never gets better.