My son, Theo, just began to write a "memoir" in his school notebook as part of an on-going class exercise. I call it an essay, and we fight about that. But for the sake of here, since he'll read this, we'll call it a memoir. His topic is naturally about China. The dog and sister he's known since day zero. And being that her passing was a very dramatic, intense, close-knit, and quick ordeal that affected me like a child at 42, he in turn made his age of 10 look as mature and wise as I still aspire to at 42. And the angle he chose to write about, of "looking death in the eye" sounds years ahead of his time, as he is, and I'll explain later when touching on the actual moment. He's reached out for help in polishing it and making it a better and more "meaningful and powerful" piece. It's powerful as is and raw and needs a little help to sound like it came out of a well seasoned writer, but not much. I take great pride in that. And maybe one day, he'll chose to share his piece publicly with his audience, and maybe mine. But that'll be his deal. I've got mine.
China has had 6 Acts to her life. Act I - born somewhere unknown in LA and given up on the streets at 5 weeks by a young guy that was gonna get kicked out of his apartment. Taken in temporarily by a Yoga studio owner in Larchmont Village. Act II - Orit goes in to drop off promo's and leaves with a puppy for me to meet and of course adopted by us the following day. Begin what turned out to be a long life as a Harpaz. We live in West Hollywood. Act III - We move up to the West Hollywood hills to a small guesthouse. China is 8 months old. This Act deserves a paragraph of it's own.
Within days of living there, standing outside I hear from over the fence, "po---tty, potty, potty, potty" and then again, "po---tty, potty, potty, potty." and I couldn't see but had to ask... and I think I scared her when I said hi... And that was the day I met Chelsea, who was trying to command her puppy Newton to poop unknowing she was within a new neighbors earshot. And so the love affair of China and Newton (who was a girl) began. And our unique little corner of Hollywood and Queens up in the hills made for a most enchanting life for two dogs who fully took advantage of complete ownership of both homes and their inhabiting families. Mark had a doggy door made in the adjoining fence between the two properties. It was always open and wide enough for us to squeeze through if need be too, so that pretty much tells the story of what was to come. Mark and Chelsea had the pool and the terraced land for the pups to run, do their chasing and ferocious battles as all pups should. When the cover was on the pool it was a stomping ground and trampoline for the two. Cover off and China turned into a can't get enough leaping/flying/diving fetcher of whatever you would throw in there for however you were willing to do so. To the verge of drowning from fatigue, she just couldn't get enough. She was like that in the ocean too. They alternated their quiet moments either with us or with them, but always together. Getting comfortable on either one of the two homes furnishings, dog beds, beds, or people. Actively engaging one another or comfortable in their quiet moments. We went to dog parks and hikes and beaches taking Newton with us and they vice versa. Trips were never a concern as we could always rely on one another. The two dogs needn't ever concern themselves over anything. Not a worry in their doggy world. 4 years we lived there. I enjoyed my life then as a human on this earth. But, this was certainly a dogs life and I wish I was living theirs of that moment in time forever (if Orit could have been Newton and I China, naturally). Theo was born right there in that home, into that setting. China was was right there trying to get at his crowning head first. She witnessed the miracle of birth and life and him taking his first breath. She watched over him thereafter. He's grown up hearing the stories and slightly remembering little vignettes of that time. Newton, who later was named NuNu by Theo as he discovered speech, was not present at the birth but was an active participant of our family life within hours of it, which in turn prepared her for her own future role on the other side of the fence.
Act IV began when the sad day came that the Harpaz family had to move on to a larger dwelling. On the one hand we moved not far away (naively thinking that made a difference) with a large yard and much more space. On the other we lost our community. Our village. Our special place and situation. And China lost her pal. And that was sad. And like the circle of life, we had to press on and figure it out. So...
Act V - enter Roody. We got her another pal. Not a replacement for NuNu, as that just couldn't be. But yes a replacement. Someone different and new to hang through the next stages of life (as btw, NuNu gets a new pal too once we leave). And for the following almost 9 years, so it went. China was a human stuck in a dogs body. She understood full sentences, recognized voices over the phone, watched Animal Planet and spoke back. You could actually talk to her and she would get you. She was strong and athletic and beautiful. Her eyes were gentle and features lady-like and soft. Always independent of affection, yet affectionately present to touch on her terms. She was a special dog as every individual is. She was just ours and a part of us. And true to the nature of a dog, she got to understand us and adapt to our world. This Human world they all live in. We were totally exposed to her as she to us. She knew everything there is to know about us. And we of her. So much, yet so little. They are still and after all, bewildering beasts. What you get is a combination of what you put in and natures luck. And nature is powerful. You roll with that and call it your own. That's what family is. This was the longest and main Act of this play. The one that included the majority of life through exciting times and the mundane. The nitty gritty every day by day.
Which brings us to the final Act VI - the unfortunate end. As in humans there's a long middle age period where one doesn't really change much and then suddenly they're old and look old and act old. China went through that. Last year we started to notice that she got old. Her hearing was going. Her interest and listening to us seemed less attentive. The old lady that did things more slowly and on her own terms. We sort of settled into that and got used to it too. Albeit, while beginning the discussions of an end to come sooner than later. And you can talk and talk and think you'll be prepared and ready for that day. And then it comes and knocks you down cold. I'll spare the details of her very quick demise from stroke to death within 24hrs. Chelsea (NuNu's mom) came over along with our friend Sky who had her own relationship with China, and spent time with her and us in those last moments before the end. That was meaningful to all of us. I try not to re-live it in my mind unsuccessfully but the images don't leave. I don't think I want to try to put into words. It was tough. It happened. The process was quick and whatever it did to her brain, her body quickly followed from back to front. China was not the kind of dog you could pick up easily. Besides her 63lbs Pit/Rhodesian/Boxer build, she'd struggle to free her self with every attempt to be picked up. This time I scooped her up and lifted her without fight. She had nothing left in her. The walk to the car with her limp body in my arms was the most gut wrenching type of pain I've ever experienced. Only to immediately repeat it one last time walking into the veterinary hospital. The drive was quiet and surreal with constant checks to see if she was still breathing. Within minutes of our arrival we were told the brutally honest diagnosis that she was not gonna come out of this. And so it was time to say goodbye. Right there and then as a family and as individuals. We held her. Theo pressed his face to hers. Eyes to eyes, right there two inches apart. And as the injection was taking place, he was telling her that she was the first to see him take his first breath and he was there to see her last. And that was intense. She gave one last cry, her heart stopped and it was over in the physical sense. And the emotional senses completely took over. We took our time alone with her as a family and then on my own. And then we drove back home, quietly and again, surreal. Her pillow empty in the rear view mirror.
Do I know that we provided her a great life and lots of love? Yes. Do I know that there were moments of comfort and laziness in making the efforts to make her world always great? Yes. That's life and that's family and we're human. Sometimes we hurt those we love the most. Because we can. Do I know that she knew we were all there till the very last moment? No. I really hope so. I'd like to think somewhere past that thing that so brutally took over her mind and body and took her someplace else, that she recognized our touch, voices and tears. But i'm also realistic enough to not know. Because everything I knew about this being was gone in those last moments. So I'll never really know. As I never really knew what was going on in that head of hers, really. As much as I'd like to think I did, she was much more complicated than that. And that was the beauty of our relationship. And the beauty of family. And why it hurts so. You take these little creatures in and they become family and you get comfortable with each others quirks and needs and good traits and bad traits and you love as they love, regardless. And then, one day it's all gone. And for those of us that remain behind, all that's left are memories. Memories that need to be dealt with while reality tick tocks on. And Roody remains in this family and has his own Acts to follow. And that's where we're at. One day at a time. Missing China.