Good Boy


Warning: this may be a really long post with lots of pictures

When Anthony was about two years old, the topic of getting him a dog/puppy came about. Admittedly, as the father of a toddler, I was hesitant to go through with it because Anthony was still so little and vulnerable. We had decided that if we did get a dog, it would be after he turned three years old.

Shortly after his third birthday in 2007, I got a message from Ann – it was a picture message that cost me money since back then we weren’t yet on a unlimited data plan. So I flipped open my phone (dating myself, no doubt) to see a picture of a tiny black puppy at the shelter, sitting calmly behind bars. At least that’s what I could make of it since camera technology in phones was poor at the time.

I looked at it and sighed. My reply: “No.”

But the family had other plans. Anthony was so excited about this little guy that it was almost impossible to say no, so that weekend we went to the shelter so that I could look at him to see how he interacted with all of us.

He went by the name of Arliss and while I don’t remember the story of how he ended up there, it didn’t matter at this point. He was a delightful little pup that was full of piss and vinegar and who, despite being mixed with the often misunderstood pit bull, couldn’t have behaved better.

He had us where he wanted us. So I put our name on the list to reserve him and a week later, we brought Arliss to his new forever home where Anthony had already been preparing for his arrival by getting him a comfy bed and chew toys.

03-30-07 007

03-30-07 009

This was, after all, his new best friend and if there’s anything a little boy needs, it’s a dog that they can grow up with and remember forever. After a long day of playing and running around with his boy, Arliss fell asleep in my arms that evening. Welcome to the family, little guy.

My trepidation was gone as Arliss was anything but aggressive. If anything, he was just a big, dopey goofball of a puppy that loved and protected all of us as he got older.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He also loved all of Anthony’s friends and again, was never aggressive toward any of them. He knew that if they were friends of Anthony, he didn’t need to do anything but be that little rapscallion he always was.

And oh, was he ever a rapscallion. Whenever Ann planted flowers in the backyard, Arliss would dig them up – then sleep in the dirt. Sometimes he would bypass digging them up and just lay right on top of them. He destroyed a brand new bed a day after we bought it. We could never leave food around the house because his nose would find it and his mouth would follow and one year for Christmas, we made the mistake of leaving Anthony’s gingerbread house on the kitchen table and came home to this.

1047938_10151918837449118_1307529625_o

He ate one wall and was working on the base (see that hole?). And to top it off, he failed obedience class.

P4280938

But none of that mattered. Arliss was family and we loved him no matter what.

And he loved us back, even when we made him do ridiculous things.

P5121084

Like when Anthony thought it would be funny to dress him in one of his old shirts.

[Olympus] 006

Or when he got a little too close to the action in the kitchen when we were making cookies.

012

He made us laugh and smile but most importantly, he loved his boy more than anyone else.

004

He was always there for him to brighten his day no matter what.

[Olympus] 012

Laurel and Hardy. Hall and Oates. Anthony and Arliss – all the same.

Photo May 31, 12 14 33 PM

As most dogs do, Arliss started to slow down as he got older but still had that twinkle in his eye as if he was ready to cause some trouble. He would still play for a little bit but nowhere near his old self.

Then just a few days ago, I had noticed that he really wasn’t himself. His eating habits changed dramatically and he was having trouble keeping his food down. He was also lethargic and having trouble getting up. Anthony tried to take him for a short walk in the hopes of boosting his appetite but it didn’t work.

I gathered the family and told them that he wasn’t doing well. I could feel his pain and it wasn’t going to get better. As much as it pained us to do it, I told them they need to talk to him and let him know we all love him very much and to possibly say goodbye. Anthony couldn’t find the words or quite understand that his buddy could be gone very soon.

We tried to walk him the next day. When he stumbled I knew something had to be done and unfortunately, I knew what that was going to be.

Anthony called his grandparents over to have them say goodbye because, like a good boy, he also loved when they visited. They came over right away and Anthony’s grandfather accompanied us to the vet.

Anthony took this picture on the way. It would be the last one any of us would take of Arliss.

Photo Dec 11, 12 02 39 AM

Upon examination, the vet told us of some of the options available. Scans, testing, blood work, the whole nine yards. In the end, it would have just prolonged his pain because he was in bad shape mostly because of his age. I left the decision with Anthony and he agreed: his best friend had to be put down.

The vet left us in the exam room while we said our final goodbyes. I can’t even tell you how difficult it was for me and Anthony to do this. While strong, Anthony chose not to be in the room when the euthanasia was administered and I’m glad he wasn’t. He didn’t need to see that.

Stumbling for one last time, Arliss was laid down and given the anesthesia. He slowly fell asleep as I stroked his hind leg and told him we all loved him. By the second dose, the vet checked his lungs and confirmed he has stopped breathing and offered her condolences.

I lost it. I couldn’t take it. I had put pets to sleep in the past but knowing the connection between Arliss and Anthony really made this one hurt like no other. The vet left me with Arliss once he was gone and I talked to and pet him, telling him he was always a good boy and we were never disappointed in him. I thanked him for being so good to Anthony and being by his side as he grew. I kissed his head, said goodbye for the last time, and left the room.

I immediately gave Anthony a hug and told him Arliss is no longer suffering or in pain. He’s free and happy and deserves to be. He sobbed as we hugged.

The family spent the night talking about everything that had just happened and by no means was it over.

For one, I had told Ann that Arliss had hung around long enough to see her fight cancer and be deemed cancer-free. During her recovery, he was always by her side except in the evening when he would want to sleep on the patio so as not to disturb us by having to go outside and relieve himself. Not really taking that into consideration, Ann started to sob and felt guilty in not thanking him for his help.

Then I felt something and froze. When this happens, I’m almost in a trance-like state and it kind of freaks out Ann. She asked what it was.

“He’s here,” I said. “Talk to him.”

She continued to talk about him in past tense.

“No. Tell him, Ann. He’s right there.” Arliss was beautiful, as shiny and new as he was when he was a puppy, and once again full of piss and vinegar. His stub – he had no tail – wagging uncontrollably.

She thanked him for everything.

Here he is cheering her up during her recovery. Once she was ready to return to work, he resumed sleeping inside.

41840039_10156060633164118_8013463042148794368_o

This has also affected the cats. The night we put Arliss down, Steve laid across from the spot where Arliss used to sleep and stared at it. And when I pick Steve up, I can almost see the sadness in his eyes – they are watery, as if he wants to cry.

Then there’s Monte who has not been in our bedroom for a few years and we have no idea why. We’ve tried to take him in there to sleep but he immediately runs out. But at about 2:30 am and with me having trouble sleeping, I heard Monte walk down the hall and stop at the doorway of the bedroom. He then meowed a few times, jumped on the bed, and laid on my chest and rubbed my chin with his, purring the whole time. I have been taking this especially hard, more so than the family, and Monte knew it. He purred and rubbed but got a bit too heavy for me, so I rolled over and held him in my arms until I fell asleep. It was about 4:30 am when I remember him leaving the room and went right back to sleep.

[Olympus] 014

There have been telltale signs that Arliss is still here. Feeling is presence is one thing but we’ve also heard things and last night while I bed discussing things with Ann, I had gotten a strong whiff of his dog food. We had already thrown all of it away and the windows were closed. Anthony has heard him scratching and while writing this, I heard him let out a deep breath as he often did while sleeping. He hasn’t left.

RE Camera

Being an empath can really drain you.

In 12 short years, Arliss watched his little boy go from preschool to high school. We couldn’t have made a better choice for him and while the family is showing signs of recovering, I can’t quite get there just yet and still having a hard time coming to grips with all of this.

[Kodak] 014

To say that Arliss was a great dog would be an understatement. He was the best dog anyone could ever have and I sometimes wonder why we got so lucky to end up with him. He was fun, loyal, and loved all of us to the bittersweet end.

DSC_1970

From the time he came home to the moment he left us, his love was unconditional.

Photo Dec 10, 12 52 25 PM

(This is one my favorite pictures of Arliss. I caught him mid-sneeze on Christmas.)

Thank you for being Anthony’s best friend and dealing with all of his nonsense, even the time he put a pair of his underwear on you. He will miss you more than you will ever know.

P6241915

Us stupid humans are simply not worthy of having such love bestowed upon us. We are mongers of war, harborers of hate, worshipers of money and destroyers of the environment.

And all a dog wants is to be loved. It’s just so unfair.

Photo Jun 27, 10 37 56 AM

In many cases, people are often quick to fill the void of a lost pet by adopting another. That’s not going to be case with Arliss. Anthony has already told us there’s no point in any of that. Arliss was his dog and he did his job for all of us. There simply will never be another dog in his life. Arliss was the only one he ever needed.

Arliss will be cremated and I will be giving his ashes to Anthony. We plan on making a memorial for him once we get them because that’s the least we can do for someone who brought so much joy and happiness into our lives.

03-31-07 035

And while he may be physically gone, I still feel his presence in the house and have told Ann that he doesn’t want to leave.

“He’s still watching us,” she said. “He doesn’t have to leave.”

She’s right, and I don’t want him to leave – ever.

DSC_0788

He always was, and always will be, a good boy.

Rest in peace, Arliss. You were the best and we love you.

arliss

Advertisements

RIP Stephen Hillenburg


I named my blog Holographic Meatloaf when I couldn’t think of anything else and because I’m a fan of SpongeBob SquarePants. The domain was available and I went for it.

Years later, even if I don’t blog as much as I used to, I keep it named to honor the show that made me laugh from its inception.

And today, the world got news that the creator of the show, Stephen Hillenburg, passed away at 57 after a battle with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

It’s a sad day for fans everywhere. While the show had to evolve with the times (HD and whatnot), the classic episodes will always be some of the funniest and craziest shit I’ve ever seen. Next to The Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants is the most quotable show that still has a daily impact on my life.

Ann and I started watching from the beginning in 1999 and when our son came along, he eventually began watching and still loves it — and the memes it has since spawned (he’s a teenager now).

And with a blog named after Plankton’s favorite (or not) meal, I would be remiss in not acknowledging the show’s creator.

Thank you, Stephen Hillenburg, for your gift to the world. You will be missed.

Part IV: In Vain


The fourth part of an ongoing series

A few notes before I start this post. I know it’s been a few months since I wrote anything so my apologies for that but things are finally starting to wind down for us and getting back to normal. I just haven’t had the drive to write lately and honestly, have been tired in the evening – the time I normally blog.

Second, this post will deal with the topic of religion and the role its played in my life, so the language may be a little too much to handle for some. But understand where I’m coming from and what we were going through. Thanks.

Going back to work after hearing word of the official diagnosis was tough, but I had to do it.

As I walked to my desk, a coworker asked how Ann was doing. I just looked at her and shook my head, then continued to my desk where I grabbed a tissue and wiped away tears that had started to form. The coworker stood there for a second then slowly walked away as if she regretted asking.

But sadness was just one of the emotions I was feeling at the time. I was also extremely upset and angry about how life was taking a really strange twist for us. Regardless of what I was feeling, I had to get myself back into work mode and take care of business.

Gina, whom I sit next to, showed up at her normal time and asked how everything was going. The two of us are close – she’s the person in the last story of this blog post and I find it easy to talk to her about almost anything. Although I had been giving her updates via text/Messenger, I still felt the need to talk to her about everything that was going on so we went outside and sat on the patio to chat.

And it was a good, therapeutic talk. She told me that her mom had the same procedure done years ago with the cancer was completely removed and after all her follow-up tests, she is still cancer-free. It then turned into a big, fat philosophical discussion that lead to personal beliefs which we share.

Basically, we’re spiritualists. We believe that doing good and being good do not require the shackles of religion and that any act of kindness can’t automatically be attributed to God or whatever. Goodness is ingrained in people. We do good things. No bible required.

Even so, I was having a difficult time with this.

“You know, sometimes it’s okay to believe in something bigger, whatever that might be. If that’s what helps pull you through then I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she said.

I hadn’t prayed in years. I left the Catholic church as an adult when I realized their teachings no longer aligned with the person I was becoming, so I wasn’t sure that her way of thinking would be right for me.

In any case, I thanked her for the time and gave her a big hug to show her my appreciation, then we went back to our desks and started working.

After the long day at the office was done and the kid was in bed for the night, I sat at my desk with a candle burning and got lost in some old pictures. I don’t know why I did this.

All of my photos are organized in folders by date and, if necessary, the event or place we visited. I have thousands of images saved on an external hard drive and DVD backup and could be here all night looking at them.

I guess that might have been my intention – and my mistake.

I kept opening folders. My eyes started to well up as I recalled all of the little things he did when he was an infant, his giggle, everything. And then I got to this picture from 2005 and it was all over.

02-18-05 kodak 020

I don’t know what it was about it; it could have been the first picture I came across with Ann and Anthony together. I stared at it for a minute and started to really cry.

My wife, the one I’m supposed to grow old with, the one I promised to give my life to, the mother to my only child, was lying in the living room asleep on the couch – and had cancer growing inside of her.

The world suddenly got smaller as I thought about Dad and how young he was when he had passed away and how unfair it was to everyone in my family. I thought about his funeral and the seven short years we had together. What kind of cruel creator would subject people to this kind of nonsense?

Crying turned to loud sobbing as I stared at that picture for even longer, my mind racing a mile a minute.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her. Why her? What the hell has she done?”

Thoughts turned into words as I looked to the sky and spoke up.

“SHE HAS NEVER HURT ANYONE IN HER LIFE AND DOES NOT DESERVE THIS. What, taking my dad at a young age wasn’t enough for you? Now you see it fit to give my own wife cancer? With all the evil in the world, this is your plan for her? She’s a mother, goddamnit! Can’t you see that? I mean, FUCK. Can you be more cruel?”

Everything was piling up on me. My heart was pounding and I had reached my breaking point. Finally I got up out of my chair and with both hands, flipped off the heavens and raised my voice.

“FUCK YOU, GOD! JUST…FUCK YOU! YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! AND FUCK YOUR PLAN.”

I sat back down and laid my head on the desk, crying uncontrollably. I had no regrets over what I had just said because I meant every single word.

And what little faith I had in God or a god was officially gone.

Part III: Confirmation


The third part of an ongoing series

A few days after being released from the hospital, it was time to visit the doctors who had been providing Ann’s care during her stay. First on the list was Dr. F, the oncologist.

At this point we weren’t quite sure why we were scheduled to see him. From all indications, and according to both doctors, the mass was not cancerous. Regardless, we kept the appointment.

This was the first time either of us had been to an oncologist. Fortunately, at least up until this point in our lives, the two of us have remained relatively healthy and free from any serious illnesses. With that in mind, let me tell you about an oncology office.

They are quite simply the most depressing places on earth. As we sat in the lobby waiting to be called, we could see beds beyond the reception area with IV bags hanging from shiny chrome stands next to them. Patients walking by with the stand receiving their chemotherapy with needles and tubes in different parts of their body. Relatives/spouses/children of patients walking out of the office in tears. Overhearing stories of what sort of therapy someone had to go through, then watching them slowly hobble out the door struggling to live whatever may be left of their lives.

It’s not an easy thing to see.

When Ann was called, we were directed to a room and waited for Dr. F. to arrive. Our room had a SpaceX poster autographed by Elon Musk. I stared at that longer than Dr. F.’s certifications that were hanging all over the walls.

Dr. F. finally arrived and greeted us. He brought along a laptop which had the results of all of the testing she had done at the hospital. He explained everything in detail but mentioned something specifically the needed attention.

“During the scan, we noticed these lesions on the left side near the hip,” he said as he turned the laptop to show us. “What we need to do is to determine exactly what those lesions are, which will require a biopsy.”

Ann’s bottom lip began to quiver as she held back tears. It wasn’t long before they started running down her cheek. Dr. F. handed her some tissue as he assured her that in most cases he had seen, the results are normally negative.

“We have to be sure it’s nothing. But based on what you feel and the location of the mass, I’m not convinced it’s anything to worry about.” In his professional opinion, the lesions were simply the result of arthritis.

We left Dr. F.’s office and walked back to the car. Ann couldn’t hold back anymore. She took a deep breath and looked at me. She had pretty much tuned out everything after the talk of the biopsy.

“So is it cancer?”

“From what he thinks, the lesions aren’t. But the mass on the kidney might be, which is why you need the biopsy to make sure the lesions aren’t.”

A few days later, we had a visit with Dr. P. Like Dr. F., his laptop was his window to Ann’s case and he went over his thoughts and how we were going to take care of it.

“The mass on the kidney is 5 cm. We could work to remove just the cancer itself but there’s no guarantee that it won’t return, so if you have no objections to it, I’d recommend removing the entire kidney which would ultimately remove the cancer as well.”

This was the first time we heard either doctor mention “cancer” during our conversations. Ann and I looked at each other and we both cried. Dr. P. immediately consoled us.

“Ann, I’m going to do everything I can to take care of this. The good thing is that kidney cancer is something that has a high survival rate once the kidney and cancer are removed.”

He then went over the procedure he would most likely be doing in order to remove it, complications, recovery time, etc. Any way you look at it, it was not a good day.

You always hear of other people getting some kind of cancer and you never think it will happen to you or someone you love. However, when it does, I can’t even begin to describe the emotions you go through.

Fear. Anger. Denial. Solitude. It will really mess with your mind.

When we got home, we all sat and talked about it. Despite the gloom and doom of the diagnosis of cancer, in the back of my mind I knew everything was going to be fine. It’s the only way to keep a sense of normalcy in your life after you get such shocking news.

But something happened to confirm this.

After the family talked things over, we got together and had a big family hug. We needed each other more than ever at this point. As we cried and talked about how we were going to be strong throughout all of this, I raised my head up to temporarily leave the discussion.

I sensed something strong in the room – a presence. It spoke to me and I smiled.

Ann looked up at me and asked what was going on. Still smiling, I answered.

“You’re going to be alright,” I said as I started to cry. “I just felt Uncle Lou tell me this. I saw him. He just stood there laughing, waved his hand and said ‘Bah, she’s going to be fine.’”

All you need to know about Uncle Lou can be read here. He was a great man and I miss him terribly.

Later that night, Ann asked why Uncle Lou would be the one to give me this news.

As I wrote in another blog post about him, “…he’ll just show up at your door unannounced. That’s not unusual until you consider that he lives in northern California, exact location unknown, and we’re in southern California.”

So for him to just show up the way he always did was nothing out of the ordinary. But being we rarely saw him, he hardly had the chance to get to know Ann and she was puzzled as to why I saw him and more importantly, why he would say she’d be fine.

Uncle Lou died on March 1, 2013. That’s just over 5 years ago.

Ann’s birthdate is March 1. The cancerous mass on her kidney is 5 cm.

It could have been anyone, but I’m not disappointed or surprised it was Uncle Lou. I can still see him and hear him saying those exact words.

Everything was going to be alright and there was no real reason to question it. Despite this, the next few days would be some of the worst I would ever experience when trying to deal with Ann’s diagnosis.

Part II: Hospital Stay


Part II of an ongoing series

With Ann staying the night in the hospital, I had to make some calls and send emails. First, I had to call her parents then send an email to the boss and my coworkers letting them know I would be absent at least for the day.

The latter was easy. The former, not so much.

Ann’s mom doesn’t speak to you in most cases. She questions you, and I was ready for a barrage of questions upon calling her. And that’s exactly what I got.

“Oh, so she’s staying? Well, why didn’t you take her to the ER in the first place? How long will she be there? Do they know what it is? Why do the have to keep her?”

The list can go on but I did my best to answer them all. Everything was still too fresh and I didn’t have all of the info to properly respond during my interro…conversation with her.

Ann lay in the triage waiting to be put in the queue for two different types of imaging: an ultrasound and CT scan. Apparently the ER is a rockin’ place for such things on a Thursday morning.

It would be hours before she was wheeled away for the ultrasound and I went along with her.

She was taken into a dark room and then went into the restroom where she donned her aforementioned hospital gown. The technician described what they were going to be doing and she was okay with it; nothing she hadn’t already experienced during her pregnancy.

I was watching the technician intently as she was doing the ultrasound and it looked all too familiar: zooming in on blobby imagery and taking measurements. In the case of pregnancy, that means they are measuring the size of the fetus but when you know it’s not there’s obviously some cause for concern. Right then I figured something wasn’t right.

Ann was then wheeled down another hallway into a room for her CT scan, one of many she would have over the duration of her hospital stay.

And hospitals are freaky places. Cold, freaky places that simply are not home sweet home. This was my takeaway as we followed nurse after nurse after technician down what seemed like endless hallways that all lead somewhere – really Twilight Zone-ish.

As I followed her and the technician down another hallway, we were greeted by a group of police officers who were standing at the doorway of a room. I’m not sure of the circumstances but they were all looking in the room at who I believe was a suspect of some kind. A female officer smiled and waved at Ann as we passed.

I wasn’t allowed in the room as the CT scan was performed which is understandable. I sat outside the room where my wife’s body was being bombarded with radiation, each flash of the “X-RAY IN PROGRESS” sign above the doorway letting me know when it was happening. After the scan, she was taken back to the triage where we waited for the results.

The day dragged on and Ann and I talked about what was happening. She told me she was scared and rightfully so. I held her hand and bowed my head thinking about just what in the world may have been going on. Finally, a doctor came by with some news.

“Looking at the ultrasound, there appears to be some kind of abnormality around the uterus. It’s hard to determine exactly what it might be at this stage but one possibility is an ectopic pregnancy.”

That news alone was a heart-wrenching. With an ectopic pregnancy, there’s no chance of survival for the fetus and it’s likely that the mother could suffer from internal bleeding which could kill her. It’s just a reminder of how many things can go wrong during a pregnancy, and how a pregnancy that produces a healthy baby truly is a miracle – women are indeed stronger than men.

As painful as it was to hear that news, we knew that a pregnancy was out of the question. We’re not exactly spring chickens anymore.

When the results of the CT scan came back, the abnormality shifted from the uterus to the adrenal gland and it now had a size: 5 cm. Now the course of action was to keep Ann at the hospital for blood work and a daily urine sample in order to check the hormone levels in her system. If the abnormality was on the adrenal gland, the hormone levels would be low.

I stayed with Ann as long as I could until she told me to go have dinner and get some sleep. We left Anthony at home and sent him updates as I found things out.

Her first night in the hospital was strange. The bed at home felt so empty. I felt so alone. After 25 years, this just didn’t feel right.

Her hormone levels remained acceptable her entire stay. The second day, she was visited by a urologist (Dr. P) and oncologist (Dr. F). Dr. P had a little more detail on things. I arrived in time to hear him speak.

“Looking further, it appears that the mass is on the outside of the kidney and not the adrenal gland as we had originally thought,” he said. At this point, the abnormality was just referred to as a mass but Ann was worried after a visit from Dr. F.

That’s because an oncologist studies cancer. He was called because the scan showed not only an abnormality but also what appeared to be lesions in her hip bone, so he needed to let her know there’s a possibility of something else going on inside her body.

As if, already scared, she needed something else to worry about.

“I will look at it and if it’s nothing to worry about, you won’t see me again,” Dr F. said as Ann lightly sobbed.

After Ann was released from her three-day hospital stay, we would be seeing both doctors within a week.

That nothing was something after all.