The only reason I am including Christmas at all is because the first moments of the morning encapsulated, for me, the true Christmas spirit. First, the girls slept in until 6:45 or some luxurious time. It was so late that I woke ahead of them, wondering what had happened. Usually, when they wake up, they cry, but Christmas morning, I heard bits of happy noise and then quiet and then more happy noise and then quiet. Finally, Manny got up and insisted we get Glory and Elena so he could go see what was under the tree. When we opened the girls' door, they both were jumping up and down in their cribs in their completely dark room and laughing hysterically. It was magical and totally unprecedented. I don't know what prompted their joyous outburst, but it was as if they understood what a mysterious miracle Christmas is and how it, in concert, with all that followed makes all the difference, even in a world where unimaginable losses are sustained in lands that have already endured far too much. Who can hold all that? It is bleak and then there's Christmas.
On January 14, we said goodbye to Aslan, the golden retriever we brought home from the appropriately named Humptulips, Washington, just one month after we were married in 1999. He was the best dog I ever knew. As I drove past the Aurora Animal Hospital today, I remembered that I took him there for some care in his first few months and that I had given myself a headache suppressing sobs in front of the vet because I did not feel like I could care for him, like I didn't want to do the hard work required to care for him. I really wanted to give him back. He was a puppy and puppies are high maintenance. And he bit me ALL THE TIME, at least for a few weeks, which then, felt like the biggest, most worst thing ever. What did I know? The ironic part is that we became a family with Aslan, until he got downgraded to furniture status when Glory and Elena entered the picture. He also had to endure a number of episodes where I screamed, "Don't touch me!" repeatedly like a crazy person because I was that close to the edge and he was the only one to whom I could behave that way. As the girls have gotten older, I have gotten better and stopped wishing that, once again, I could give Aslan back. And then, gone. Too sudden. Too soon. I thought we would have more time and I realize now that I liked Aslan so much more than most people. I was just never responsible for all those said people's care. I wish we could have had him forever. I wish he had the lifespan of a chimpanzee or a sea turtle, so he could have sat by us as we laid down one last time. He was so much more of a faithful friend to me than I ever was to him and I am grateful for the last time he jumped on the bed after Sam got up with the kids, which he stopped doing long ago. And I am grateful for his last moments at home, as he patiently laid still (this time he had no choice) and allowed Elena to sit on his back while Glory put the baby sunglasses on him, exclaiming "glasses!" and the toy pot on his head- "Hat!" And I am grateful for the morning in early January when I found Manny on the floor next to Aslan. I asked him if he wanted to get back in bed and he said, "no. I'm going to lay here with Aslan." And I am grateful for his last smile, perhaps morphine induced, but a big smile anyway and that he let me lay myself upon him in thankfulness and regret for all the years we had and for all the ones we sort of missed while we were going through the painful process of becoming better than we are. He got the worst of us. But at least we were together and hopefully the chaos around him brought some untold joy...or annoyance. Either way, at least he is not stuck in dog pergatory, like a silly poem suggested that the animal hospital mailed us. I like to think Aslan is running with Grandpa Hal or Jesus or both, but I certainly don't like to think of him being stuck in some smallish meadow with a bunch of other dogs until Sam or I dies and comes to take him across the rainbow bridge to heaven. That actually wouldn't be pergatory for Aslan. It would be HELL. Anyone who knew Aslan knew he never met a person he didn't like and he NEVER met a dog he did like.
There has been all kinds of wonder since that day. Outpourings of kindness from friends and family who loved Aslan. Manny's imagination has taken off and every moment is a new opportunity for the creation of story or just for a passionate exclamation. Yesterday, on our way back from Trader Joe's, there was a jet flying overhead and Manny started to yell and point, "THIS IS MANNY'S HOUSE! THIS IS MANNY'S HOUSE!" It was brilliant. But around every corner, I expect to see Aslan and it makes me terribly sad. I wish I could also say it made my house terribly cleaner, but this is doubly untrue since the vacuum broke and Aslan apparently ate pounds of food every day that the children scattered all over the house. He did a good job. He was a good dog. This experience with him has taught me so much. I now understand why people have hallways crammed with framed pictures of their children from infancy through graduation. We need those visual reminders of who our loved ones have been to us, or when things get hard, we run the risk of forgetting. We must live in the moment, yes. But we best live in the moment when we allow ourselves to be decorated in all that we have known before. That is what makes us the most lovely. Our story. And lip gloss.