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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pretty Penny


Was it just this morning that I wrote a pithy little post about how we as writers tap into the darkest horrors of our hearts? Yes. But a lifetime has come and gone since then. And a life.

This day was awash in premonition of the heartbreaking variety. I knew somewhere in the deepest part of me that I was to lose something important. Something irreplaceable. I had a very weepy, panic-inducing day with work and my boyfriend. Unsure. Uneasy. 

When work ended with only minimal upset, and my boyfriend assured me all was well, I still cried. Unable to articulate this anxiety, except to tell him “I feel like I’ve dodged a fatal car accident.” 

Not two hours later, I walked across the parking lot of my apartment complex to retrieve our laundry. The screen didn’t latch properly. I didn’t know this until I heard a small bark. Saw the tiny figure of my beloved Penny—my rare and beautiful Chihuahua bestowed as a gift two years ago by a dear friend--dart into the dark street to find me. 

The driver of the car could never have hoped to see her little black body. 

She was not able to dodge the fatal car accident that had gripped my heart all day.

I watched it unfold as if in slow motion, like some horrific nightmare. I was stuck, unable to move.
Penny screamed.

The car stopped.

I ran. 

Darkness Comes

She lay on the ground twitching. My daughter Bella cried. I picked her up and held her. Head lolling to the side at an unnatural angle. Her dark, soulful eyes still penetrating. Heart racing. 

Then. Spasms. Heart slowing. A skipped beat. Then. The last beat her heart would make in this life, this form. The eyes that held such wisdom glazed over with the sorrowful absence of Death.

She was gone.

I've seen the aftermath of Death's visit. But not until tonight have I felt life slip away under my fingers. The last heart beat. 

And so, after the many tears of three little girls and arrangements with a vet to handle her body, I sit alone in my room, eyes red and swollen, crying for this little being who brought so much love into my life.

How do you judge the value of a life?

Penny taught me unconditional love. She loved me with loyalty and single-mindedness, no matter how impatient or distracted I became. Her deepest desire was to just be near me, loving me and receiving my love.

That’s it. So uncomplicated and beautiful. 

And I too often took that love for granted. 

Penny wasn’t a yippy, high maintenance dog. She just liked to cuddle. To sleep under my blanket at night, curled up on me. To squeeze her small frame into the space between me and the side of my chair as I read or wrote. 

All she ever wanted was to be close to me. And she died in that pursuit. 

I cannot handle any more pain.

I wonder how much the Universe really thinks I can take. We obviously have different ideas about my limitations. 

From the Mouths of Babes

Penny & Madelynne
My children, they are handling this much better than me. They offer back to me the wisdom I have tried to teach them. 

“Her soul cannot be hurt by death,” my 8 year old Madelynne tells me. Madelynne, who just celebrated her 8th birthday yesterday.

Birth. Death. Cycles.
 
“She is finding a new body,” my 4 year old Lexie informs me. And so they consider what body Penny might choose for her next incarnation. 

While I sob. Inconsolable. My boyfriend tells me to breathe. He sounds vaguely fearful that I will stop altogether and forget to start again.

And all through this, I write her story in my mind. Because as a writer, I cannot seem to process the events of my life without putting them to story. 

The words pull the pain out of me and give if form and meaning. The words quiet the demons, at least for a time. 

And I think of Bella, who wanted so desperately to write an alternate ending to this sad story. 

“I wish I’d been there and had grabbed her.” “I wish this was a movie and Penny was still alive.” “I wish we could make it different so she was still with us.”

And I wish.
 
I wish I’d chosen a different time to get my laundry.

I wish I’d latched the door.

I wish I’d done 100 little things differently, anything that would have led to her being under my covers right now, while I wrote a blog on dating younger men as originally planned. 

I wish. 

And yet.

My boyfriend’s wisdom has kept this longing in check. “If we could keep going back to fix our lives, we'd never go forward,” he tells me. And he is right, as is so often the case. We have only one setting. Play. There is no Universal Remote that can rewind or fast-forward. I cannot zoom myself out of this pain, or beam myself back to that moment before the car crushed my puppy. I can only keep walking forward.

It’s all any of us can do.

In life, Penny taught me about Love.

In her death, Penny has taught me about Life. 

She was only 2 ½ years old. She should’ve had many more years with us. A freak accident changed that fate. Life is unpredictable and full of challenges. There is pain and joy so blended together it’s hard to tell them apart. But I have learned tonight never to take anything for granted. 

If I had known last night was the last time I would feel Penny curled up in bed with me, how would it have shaped my experience of that moment?

I don’t know what the next moment holds for me. But I know that I need to be more conscious of staying in this moment. Giving and receiving love. Being happy. 

Writers tap into the darkest horrors of the heart. But through the words we use, we can transmute those horrors into beauty. 

Thank you Penny, for the Love, Life and Laughter you brought to our home. You will be missed.


Pretty Penny
April 15, 2008 to November 1, 2010

"Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud..."
— Yann Martel (Life of Pi)