And The One That Didn't

November 12, 2010
Have you ever felt that if you had known what you were doing, you could have prevented a death? What if it was by preventing life in the first place? The day my mom woke me up early, telling me Annie was having her puppies, I had no idea I would feel this by the end of the day.

“Sarah?” my mom said quietly from the doorway, “Wake up.”

“What?” I mumbled, burrowing further under the warm covers. It was summer, and much too early to be concerned about anything, as I would soon be waking up this early and getting ready for school.

“It’s Annie,” she said, “I think she’s about to have her puppies.”

That woke me up, at least enough to get out of bed. “Right,” I sighed, “Right.” I was excited, but the sleep suppressed that, and as stood up I wondered if something was wrong. Stepping passed my mom, I headed for the coffee machine, my muscles numb form sleep. Cupping the glass in my cold fingers, I breathed in the rich steam. The simple smell woke me up a bit.

I sat in my mom’s bed; Annie curled up next to me, a shivering whimpering ball of grey fur. The sounds clawed at me insides as I stroked her steadily, wishing there was more I could do. My mom was getting ready for the day, and I guessed she had woken my sister up but she had chosen to stay in her own bed until the shower was available. So I was alone, other than the warm presence of Annie and the questioning whimper that meant Boomer wanted to sit with us too.

I patted the mattress somewhere near my knee, and boomer hopped easily onto the bed with a clatter of his collar. And we sat like that, in the dark, as I hadn’t bothered to turn on the light, me rhythmically petting the two small dogs beside me.

As drowsiness faded, worry quickly took its place. My mom planned to call the vet later on in the morning, because we guessed Annie would be having a complicated birth. My mom used a clear pink plastic bin and lined it with a soft blanket and some old towels. Setting Annie inside it, she placed her in the backseat. I told Boomer we’d be back soon, and we were down the road before the day had even begun.

The veterinarian’s office smelled like dog food and antiseptic. It was empty of costumers, but the vet and a few interns were their. Hey had come in early for us, or, more specifically, for Annie. They rushed us in, wasting no time taking an ultrasound of Annie’s belly.

The news; Annie needed a c-section. One of the puppy’s head had bent, not making for an easy birth. The other puppy, behind it, was significantly smaller. But, they said, they would see about that after the c-section.

Me and my sister waited in the room next door. We watched the clock tick form the old sofa, our stomachs rumbling as the smell of cold glazed doughnuts washed over us. It may not have been long, but it seemed like an eternity.

Finally, my mom peered around the empty doorframe, telling us that, if we wanted, we could come in now. We stood back, afraid of getting in the way of the people hovering around the little silver table. We saw the girl first. She was big, for a newborn, at least as long as my hand. She had that new-puppy smell; too sweet and just a little sour. Her eyes were puffy and closed, her ears sealed off from the world.

Her tail was like a dinosaur, I remember that clearly; long and surprisingly thick. And her paws, tiny and soft, little pink pads and miniscule white claws. Her fur was soft, softer than velvet, her little chest moving in and out as she breathed. She was adorable; still, the thing she most reminded me of was a potato. A small, black, furry potato.

Our attention was drawn to the other puppy, just brought in from the back room. He was small, much smaller than his sister. His head looked too big for his body, his back leg misshapen. Through all of that though, he wasn’t ugly. He was just too small, too weak. Underdeveloped, the vet said. He had trouble breathing, his lungs not yet ready for life. The workers were doing their best, using a suction bulb to help him breath, keeping him warm with heated water bottles. He seemed to be doing better, then worse. They must have been wondering, Was it worth it?

They worked for a full hour on him, and when he started breathing evenly they sent us home. In the car, the girl was with Annie in the pink tub, surrounded by water bottles, Annie still to drugged up to notice much. Me and Emily took turns holding the boy, keeping him warm and gently petting him, willing him to breathe.

I never knew that precise moment between life and death. I didn’t notice his last breath or heartbeat, but it must have happened. I remember slowly realizing he wasn’t breathing, wasn’t moving. I told them, and we all accepted this in silence. The car still moving down the road.

He was still warm, still soft. He still had that sweet-sour puppy smell. He could have been alive, except that we all knew he wasn’t.

In the backseat, settled between my sister and the door, his sister curled a little closer to Annie, her pink tongue hanging slightly out of her mouth. Her eyes closed, her chest slowly moving in and out.

Death is bad, right? But is it okay to leave it behind, focus on the good, or do you have to carry it with you? In a way, I will always have the memory of Annie’s first litter; the one that survived and the one that didn’t, but I can sit here and feel grateful for the strong healthy puppy. And knowing she’s happy makes all the difference.

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