19 May 2013

The young forest where the ship rests high up in a tree.

Before we go to the nursing home, all the dogs have an early run in the forest. So early there's no rooster crows from across the gulch. We walked up to where there's an old piece of ship hidden high in the trees. Someone can climb up there, but none of us. It must have washed up there long ago, when the ocean was as high as the mountain. As forests go, this one is young, trees that sprung up on their own after the mountain was wiped clean in the 1850's.

In dog years, that's still pretty old, old enough for trees to get plenty tall. and have more than 150 birthday candles. In tree years, 150 is nothing. 150 is spindly and young. 150 years old and being a baby, still not knowing your fate. 5 years from now there could be a road here. 5 years from now and this whole forest could be burned up in a fast moving blaze. 5 years from now and it could still look pretty much like it does today.

I've been taking Gustavo to visit at the same nursing home for 5 years now. Gustavo is 6, going on 7, the middle of his life for a little dog, but old enough to not have any teeth. His official title is therapy dog. It's a pretty easy job, within a specialized sector of employment. He's qualified for the position but he'd probably rather be doing something else. Isn't that how most of us feel?

His whole job to be cute, sweet, and like to sit on laps. He tolerates being smashed on tight against ancient, sagging breasts and being clawed by hands rolled up into permanent fists. When they start to squeeze hard enough to pop out his eyeballs, I grab him back and present the grand finale fancy trick show. Sit. Lie Down. Roll. On a good day, he can lay on a bed with someone, and relax and ride it out until quitting time.

By the end of an hour, he looks pretty much like he does mid way through a long day at a dog show. Wiped beyond belief. It's distressing. Kind of panty, eyes glazing over, and like he'd rather be anywhere else. Starts moving slowly and gazing into some distance we can't see. He can run for hours in the forest, and never once look like this. Situations that require brain power run out his battery alarmingly fast.

We always visit our old friend last. I'll call him Abe. He's a lifer, been there as long as we've been visiting. The lifers live in their own quadrant, a cell block where the rambling and paranoid roll themselves slowly down the hall. Don't show them the dog.

When we first started coming, Abe would stumble through some dance steps with me, and show me old photo albums. Quite a dancer he was, in the old days, with Mexican boots and big white cowboy hat. Now he's only in a wheelchair, and can't get any words out. He has one sound like baaaaaa. That's his only voice to say everything. Big, thick glasses, and wears actual pants with a plaid shirt. Everyone at this nursing home is usually pretty clean, but can be dressed in ensembles ranging from open back hospital gown to cat decorated polyester sweat suit with stacks of mardi gras beads. Abe stands out.

I'm always happy to see him, even though he squeezes me until almost my eyeballs pop out. In a vaguely inappropriate manner. I keep my distance and send air kisses through the industrially clean scented air. I guess he's happy that he's been able to stay alive. That's a privilege, right? The whole point? Making it so far, even though all you've made it to is a mechanical bed with more old guys in the same boat on the other side of a curtain.

I don't know how many years he has left, in that tiny third of a hospital room. Would 5 years like that go by quick, like in dog years? Or like tree years. A drop in a bucket, with many more, just like the year before, still left ahead to slowly wait for what comes next.


Elf said...

The closer I get to being there, the more empathy I have for people who are already there. Thanks to you and Gustavo for helping to make being alive more special.

Jimboomba Vet said...

So impressed at how the dogs behave. Love seeing them.