Because of our combined (and thusly strengthened) proclivities towards emotional disconnection, I was vastly unprepared for my parents’ next attempt to help me cope. Several months prior to my eleventh birthday, my parents piled Sam and me into the car and started driving. After completely ignoring our demands for information, while exchanging smirky sideways glances and several completely transparent cough cover-ups, Sam exploded,
“A DOG!!! We’re getting a dog, it’s a dog, a dog, a dog!!!”
Sam and I had only been whining about our lack of dog since our fetal conditions expired. The likelihood of us ever getting a dog had, to Sam and me, long since become close to nil, but the whining and begging and bargaining were like old pajamas that were too threadbare to keep you warm, yet too symbolic of sweet dreams to be thrown out. I stared at Mom and Dad for a split second, during which I fully grasped their happily caught expressions, and joined Sam in blissfully unfettered shrieking all the way to the SPCA.
We spent less than 15 minutes visiting all the dogs at the shelter. There were dozens of animals, but the second I saw the black and white spotted Lhasa Apso mix with his happy, curled tail, silky black ears, and sweet, gentle, eyes, the audition was over. Sam was still so completely in ‘I can’t believe we actually get a dog’ shock, that he let me name our dog without even flinching. I thought for a moment, and came up with the one character in all the books I’d read, all the music I’d heard, all the movies I’d seen, that could never be angry. I named him Papageno, after the goofy, feathered, character from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which happened to be my favorite piece of music of all time, but, you know, moving on). The name was just long enough to be funny for such a small dog. His feathery fur, awkward gait, and obnoxiously gentle nature tied him to his namesake forever.
I hadn’t felt so light and at peace in a long time. While my parents stood at the counter, signing papers and paying for Papageno, I held the little furry in my arms right behind them and let him rest his head on my shoulder. As my dad turned to attach his leash to his collar, I heard my mom ask how old he was.
The lady behind the counter said, “Well let’s see, he was born on October 19th, 2011. So that makes him…about one and a half?”
As soon as I heard that, I lost my fragile grip on peace. October 19th, 2011. The date I was diagnosed. I put Papageno down and backed away from him. I could feel the muscles in my face go slack, and my chest hitched with the weight of my returning anger and resentment. I glowered at the dog (who was sitting in front of me, wagging that long, furry, tail, waiting for me to pick him up again), and hated him for having been brought into this world on a day when my freedom and independence had been stolen from me. I hated that he had been happy his entire life – a life which, from its very start to this very second, encompassed all of my misery. I turned my head away, ignoring my parents’ dismayed eyes, and went to wait for them by the car.
We rode home in lopsided silence: I gazed stonily through the window glass while Sam cooed and burbled noises at Papageno, who bounced up and down in his crate, occasionally unleashing little happy yip sounds that made my entire back recoil. Mom and Dad were quiet, holding hands across the divide in between their seats. As we neared our neighborhood, Mom turned over her shoulder and said to me,
“At least you can-“
And I lost it. I punched the car door with my fist and shrieked, “At least NOTHING! NOTHING, Mom! Nothing takes any of this away! Nothing makes this better! Why would you ever even understand ANYTHING?”
Mom hid her sad, scared, eyes from mine while Papageno whimpered and crawled under the blanket in his crate. Mom finally looked back at me again, her face flat and hopeless, and said,
“You can’t clean a permanent stain with just water, Asa.” Then she turned around and nothing more was said. Even Sam was silent the rest of the way home.
I spent the next few months ignoring Papageno. He would wait for me every afternoon by the front door, wagging his tail and jumping on me the moment I opened the door. I would push past him, trudge into the dining room, check my sugar, get a snack, bolus (give myself insulin), and sit sulkily at the table eating, while Papageno positioned himself at my feet. He slept on my bed every night; I curled up in a little ball so no part of me was touching him. He waited for me outside the bathroom door every time; I stepped over him. He sat next to me on the couch when I did my homework, he greeted me every morning with a giant sloppy lick on my face, he cried when I left for school. I pretended he wasn’t there. His oblivious happiness was worse than perpetually bad blood sugars, and I didn’t need one more thing reminding me how everything sucked.
I did, however, find time to harp on my mom’s comment regarding the stain. First, what stain? Second, water??? Third, why did I get stuck with clean up? Wait, clean WHAT? I thought she might have been referring to the responsibilities of pet ownership. But poop washes out – I knew this due to several stomach-curdling experiences with a neighbor’s pet cat that I’d watched for a weekend. So, that was out. Then, I thought maybe she meant me being mad at Papageno…she was always saying how silly and regressive blame is (which was frustrating when, clearly, Sam had messed something up and needed to be held accountable), so I tried, for a while, to figure out how me blaming Papageno somehow stained something. It crossed my mind that maybe being angry at a dog was silly, but I didn’t let that inconvenient bit of clarity stop me.