I’m at Donna's, sitting on one of the two beds that are available for my use. I can see Danish, the reason I am to remain here most of every day, lying on her bed in the corner. She lays on her right side so that the cantalope-sized bump on her left hip remains untouched, and although I can’t see it, I know the growth on the right side of her face is against the softness of her bed. Like a fine-toothed comb, the growth is hard and bumpy. Yellow vet-wrap is wound over her shoulders and up over her chest; on her back lies an open wound that will not close, and should I not change the wrap every day, or should I leave it to air out too long, the maggots will fester.
But the most striking visual feature about Danish (and most are visual, because she is very quiet and can hardly move) are her ribs. Her legs are toward me, and her ribs stick up through her fur, thin like a kid’s keyboard or a box of ribbon lasagna--laid out in a line. She breathes slowly, and sleeps with her eyes open. I hope she’s sleeping. I hope her eyes aren’t open because she’s lying there, suffering and miserable and unable to do anything about it.
Danish is a 14 year old Foxhound (I think). I have been hired to watch she and another dog, four cats, two horses, and a couple of bunnies for two weeks while Donna takes her four adopted children on a road trip across the country.
At 5:00 it’s feeding time. It will be a frenzy, no doubt. I’ll need to feed pretty much everyone but the bunnies, check all waters, and prepare the horses 8:00 treat which needs to “soak” for a few hours. I don’t think that Donna realizes the amount of work she does every day here: simply pushing a full wheelbarrow the 200 or 300 feet across the yard to dump it sounds easy, until you add a some hills, a bunch of toys (including a dilapidated wooden wagon), long grass, a fence line to lift up and go under, a bunch of bushes to shove your way through, and then you get to find a great patch of poison ivy on which to dump.
I’m so angry all the time. I don’t know how not to be. Every time I’m angry I get hurt. For instance: I walked down the driveway (it’s steep--my Saturn can’t make it up during the winter) to the neighbor’s house. The guy there is paying me to fill his wild bird feeders. Simple, right? He has an envelope on which is written all the other stuff: water the garden, put an orange up, toss the old one in the bushes (specifically the Lilac bushes), rinse and keep the bird baths full. I was mad that the directions appeared to have a new instruction: water the garden twice. I assumed this meant twice daily. I was so mad that after filling the feeders out front I took the orange out back and tried slicing it in half on my hand. Yeah, I cut my finger open. Stupid. Later I realized he’d told me to water the garden twice--as in, twice while he’s gone.
I hadn’t mucked the stalls yet, so I needed a bandage. I put it on and spent 45 minutes or so mucking the two stalls. Even with my IPOD playing I couldn’t get beyond my anger. It isn’t just the pay or the work, it’s me, and the fact that I can’t whip a stall clean in five minutes, that drives me crazy. It’s not like I have anything else to do, there is no need to rush, especially since I’m trapped here all day. So then I start blaming things. I blame the shavings; they’re too thick. The pitchfork is like a Devil’s rake, as it's metal and the damn prongs are so bent that the only way to get any manure no larger than a baseball is to get it on the left side and let it roll down into the mitt, if you will. In order to try dissipating my insatiable rage, I try to admire that Donna does this every day: she feeds all ten animals, cleans all their litter/shavings, etc., bandages the deteriorating dog, mucks the stalls and paddock, and still manages to work and take care of her kids.
But it’s hard to admire someone whose dog wakes me up five times during the night. Especially when after only an hour and a half of sleep she keeps wandering around the kitchen, barking in agony whenever she slips and gets stuck under the piano bench or in the laundry room amid the junk on the floor. So I put up the broken gate so that the dog can’t wander throughout my entire attempt at sleep, but the cats keep knocking the damn thing down and making us both jump. And after all of this, I was unable to fall asleep until 3 or 4 in the morning, having been woken at half past midnight. I woke up soon after from a nightmare. The birds started there screeching around 5 a.m., so I had to shut the windows in the room. Around 6:00, the cats jumped on me, played with my books, and wouldn’t be quiet. Finally I got up to let the dog out, feed the horses, put Danish’s bandage on while she took a shit on the living room floor, cleaned it up, and washed my flipflops. I hope my parents never get this old. Her stomach must be bruised--it’s the only place to really help her up whenever she falls.
After pushing the wheelbarrow into the weeds down by the poison ivy, I tried lifting it up (getting all the manure out isn’t always very easy), was still thinking about how dumb I was for accidentally cutting my finger open, and dropped the heavy metal edge of the barrel on my foot. Bloody hell, I thought to myself.
I keep thinking that maybe I’m so angry because I’m sick of working with animals, but I don’t think that’s true: I get angry a lot. Whenever I feel that someone is walking all over me, whenever I have to suck up to someone, whenever I hold my tongue, whenever someone makes me feel inferior, whenever I feel inferior on my own, I get angry. So what is the root of this misery?
Talking to James has calmed me down a lot. I tried going to sleep at 8:00 so I could get some sleep before Danish needed to go out at 11, but all the noises were driving me crazy. As soon as I laid down Danish wanted to go out. When she came back in she kept making noise, like scratching herself and licking, and getting up then lying back down. When she finally left the room, a cat began eating loudly in the bathroom. Before all this, I could hear Ann, Donna's oldest child, laughing on the phone in the other room, so I had attempted my headphones: Incubus. To no avail. I did not fall asleep. So here I am: Pissed off, exhausted, and determined to not even bother trying to sleep until I can’t stay awake anymore. She got herself into the kitchen, promptly fell on the floor, and pissed herself. I had to put my hands under her belly and pull up until she got those damaged legs down and under her.
I cried while washing the floor. I wanted to take off and drive home to James, home to comfort and relative cleanliness.
My tears are spent for now, but my eyes are crusty, the shadows beneath deepening with every breath.
James reassures me that maybe she’ll die tonight. I pray that he is right. Ann says that her mom doesn’t believe in killing. I don’t think that’s the accurate word for what death would do for ancient Danish. She thinks, as her mother does, that “Dan-y” is happy. I think Danish is long gone, and in her place is this skeleton with weeping wounds and balloon-like projections all over her body. It hurts to watch her try to walk, to see her tipping backward on weak hips and hope that she will somehow counter-balance, because I can’t catch her every time she decides to walk.
I have no peace from this dog. She is the purpose of my being here. She is the reason I will abandon pet-sitting for the rest of my life when this 13-day-hell is over. That’s what this is: Hell. I’m not sure which circle, or why I ended up here, but I’m probably supposed to learn patience, because this is the primary virtue of which I am direly in need. And this is the one place I need so much of it for.
June 25, 2010
I was mucking stalls in the barn last night when Donna called. We started talking and she told me that she and the kids were in Wisconsin and that they’d seen a tornado and other exciting things, when at the end I asked a question. “So…you will be back by the fourth of July, right?”
A few weeks ago, James had invited me to join him and his friends in New Hampshire. I was very excited about this prospect, since I haven’t done much with his friends lately and chances are that they will be a big part of our lives…so I kind of need to. And doing anything with other people on holidays is important for me. There have been many miserable New Years--each one involving loneliness and tears--and all this before I was even 22. James abandoned me for our first New Year, but he had made plans months before he even knew me. So spending a fourth of July minus my parents seemed like a grand plan.
“Oh yeah, we have to be back by then. I don’t have any choice. I have to get back to work.”
“Oh good,” I said emphatically, “because my boyfriend’s friends are having a pig roast up in New Hampshire.” I had never heard of a pig roast in modern life and felt very intellectual whenever I said it. I told everyone it was a pig roast, but as soon as I said it to Donna I knew that I’d done wrong. I was taking care of her ten animals, she wouldn’t kill the dying dog, and there were veggie-burgers in the fridge. Oh shit, I thought.
“Oh Artemis, that’s awful!” My mind began scrambling. How could I fix what I‘d said? “Do you know what they do at one of those?”
“Eat…pig?” I said anxiously.
“They put it on a stick and they cook it. It’ll be seared into your mind forever. You shouldn’t go to one of those.” I imagined what she might have been imagining: a band of unruly young men and women, slaughtering a harmless piggy, her piglets whimpering in the corner as her blood covered the hands and faces of the murderers. I imagined she saw them wiping the blood around their eyes and licking it from their fingers. I imagined the pig with a stick going into its mouth and out the other end, and even I started to get a little nauseous.
“I’m sure they won’t do that.” I said, “why, what do they do at a pig roast?” I didn’t want her to tell me anymore, but I didn‘t know what else to say. My own imagination was getting the better of me. I could see James wearing the skin around his body like a coat to get laughter from his friends.
“Oh honey, they slice its throat.”
“…I’m sure they won’t do that,” I said again, at a loss for new words. “I think it’s just a barbecue. I think James just called it a pig roast. I mean, half of them are vegetarian.” I didn’t know if this last bit was true, but I knew that a few of his friends liked Thai food, and to me that meant they didn’t like a lot of meat. If they did, they’d eat Chinese instead.
“I really hope they don’t.”
It was an awkward conversation to end with, and I began to worry that, like she does with the “martyr” dog, she would try to do what was right, in her mind, for me: she would intentionally show up the day after July 4th to save me from the awfulness of the animal-slaughterers.
I continued mucking the stall, intent on calling James a little later and demanding to know just what this pig roast really was. And maybe I’d celebrate another holiday alone instead of having this one seared forever into my memory.