I kept saying he was eleven, but he’s actually thirteen, and I’ve lived with him for the better part of ten years. Strictly speaking, he’s my girlfriend’s dog, and I knew I was in love when I asked his name.
“It’s a literary name,” she told me. We were talking on the phone, and I heard something crash, and she cursed in the way that she used to curse when she was living there, with a two-year old. “Ding-A-Ling-It!” she shouted.
“What? What? Are you ok?”
“Yeah, it’s nothing. Sorry. What was I saying?”
“You were telling me how Buddy was a literary name.”
She laughed. “It’s from Truman Capote. A Christmas Story – ‘It’s fruitcake weather, buddy.’ Remember?”
I lied, but I almost remembered it too, even though I’d never read the story. “Yeah, that’s great.” Or maybe I had read the story. Who knows. Everything she said seemed familiar.
“It’s fruitcake weather, Buddy,” she said again. “It was November when I got him, he was tiny, so little. He used to sit up on my knees while I worked.”
He still did that, and would do it still. Largest lapdog I’ve ever met. He’s one of those animals who’s never quite been convinced that they should be, in fact, on the ground, and faces the world with perpetual disappointment at everything that should be that just ain’t so. We call him “Uncle Buddy” because he’s like someone’s elderly relation, sitting in the rocking chair and spitting. Sometimes he’ll look at the paper, but more often than not he’ll just stare into the distance waiting for traffic.
When I picked him up this afternoon, he smelled of disinfectant and was wearing a cone around his head to keep him from sucking at his stapled-together belly. One sign of how much he’d come through was that he didn’t even seem to notice the cone. He gave me a quick up-and-down look, as if to confirm that it was me and not some grim impostor. Then a satisfied sneeze, and impatiently out to the car. Let’s get a move on.
There’s something about tumors that makes you want to bring out something else to compare them to – about the size of a tangerine, say – but also fascinating and terrible. Because they move, they change. This one, say. It changed. It started with a dark spot, then popped up – like a pea – then larger. Then, wonderfully, smaller again. Then, quickly – overnight, so quickly that you could almost see it growing – large again. And changing shapes, changing forms. We took pictures. And more pictures. That we can’t bear to look at.
Taking it off is probably nothing but palliative care. That means that it won’t help, not in any medical way. He’s still got cancer. He’s still going to die. But it does help, if it helps him live more peacefully. I think. I could probably be convinced otherwise, without a lot of effort. But we talk to who we talk to – we talk to surgeons, who explain what they know how to do; we talk to oncologists, who explain what they know how to do. We hear them all say, We don’t really know, but we can do this. We think it will do this for him. If it were my dog, I would do this.
Maybe there should be another advocate in the office. A person who sits in a comfortable chair on the side of the room, and reads books until she’s asked. “I’m not a doctor,” she would say. “But I’ve loved animals my whole life. I’ve watched hundreds of dogs come and go from this room, and watched hundreds more stay home. I’ve listened to the dogs when they don’t know anyone’s there, and they can’t even agree among themselves. ”
And we’d lean forward, because she’s going to tell us now. She’s going to tell us what we should do, what others have done, what’s best and right and loving.
But she’s not there. There isn’t even a chair. And all we can hear is the vet tech on the phone, and the phone ringing again and again and again.