I had, I thought, been handling Chienne's blindness fairly well. I canceled my business trip, made her an eye appointment and greeted my parents (who'd been on their way before I decided not to travel) and argued only mildly when they removed fluid from the right eye with a needle. I guided my girl down stairs and to the grass outside. We placed my box spring and mattress on the floor, easing the height of the leap atop or the accidental tumble downward.
It was on our third trip to the vet in 24 hours that I blinked at my mother as she cried.
We'd left Chienne this time - only for about an hour - having taken her back and forth from home to vet in favor of a kennel at the office. We were tired, having not slept well the night before, all three of us offering comfort and coaxing Chienne to rest. She was even invited to sleep with Dad, an alarming departure from normalcy - I wasn't aware his sympathy extended that far.
So when I handed Mom a tissue and stared at her as we sat in the oven-hot car, she shook her head and asked for a minute. "She's just so brave and happy," she explained. "Wagging her tail as they took her back for another needle in her poor eye."
"I'm hungry," I said after a moment. "I haven't eaten and there's a burger place just down the street. Could we eat?"
And so went denial - I acknowledged that she was without sight, but it wasn't a big deal. I had prepared! The house was ready - curtains and smells and sounds and all sorts of non-visual cues. I knew this was coming and the warning a couple weeks ago enabled me to focus on next steps rather than being sad.
I'd wince when she tripped or bumped her head. I'd wait patiently while she stood still, nose twitching and ears perked as she took in the smells and sounds to orient herself. And I ran up the steps when she cried, finding her as she sat still and unable to find her way.
"Come on, love," I'd murmur, placing my hand on her side. And our commands have gone from 'sit' and 'look' to 'wait' and 'careful.' "You're OK," I told her and guided her until we reached the curtain at the top of the steps. She tends to rest there - nose at that curtain - so she knows where she is.
But it was fine. Right? She was adjusting. She'd eat when you gently touched her muzzle, gently taking morsels from our hands. She'd drink when brought water. Potty when taken outside and encouraged. And she's continued to improve. She gets confused less and less. Now bumps into soft cushions I've placed rather than hard walls or furniture. She's eating from her dish and drinking from her bowl. We're OK.
But I wanted a bottle of water last night and Dad had extinguished all the downstairs lights before coming up to the guest room. So instead of the dimly lit main level I expected, all was black. And confusing. And a little scary. So I put both hands out, tracing the walls with my fingertips and moving slowly and carefully down the steps.
And upon realizing this was now Chienne's life - my ever-happy, slightly-silly, pretty-prettiest girl - slow and a little scary and unendingly dark, I sank down on the steps there in the darkness and couldn't breathe past the ache of regret and sadness.
So I curl up with her on the floor. Give extra treats and offer lots of kisses. And try to forget when she was so sick after surgery that she wouldn't acknowledge me at all that night - eye grotesquely swollen and gouged and sore - and she turned her face from me, finally rising from her ball of blankets and facing the other direction.
We're doing better. Now I get kisses and she wags her tail and cuddles as usual. But I'm sad. And know I don't want kids - this is far too hard, even with a pretty puppers.