In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”
Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.
I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.
I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.
I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.
I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.
“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.
It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life. The speaker isn’t trying to determine their own feelings about staying or going, but is instead wanting to know the feelings of another, their darling:
“Darling you’ve got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here until the end of time”
I was never, as I thought all those years ago, the speaker. I was the darling, the one who didn’t know which clothes even fit him. I never stayed with any boy until the end of time. I couldn’t, even when I wanted to. And the speaker wasn’t exercising agency, but was instead giving it away.
We so often ignore what doesn’t fit the narrative we’re writing in our head, don’t we?
Which has nothing to do with the dog, not really. Except, it sort of has everything to do with the dog. And coronavirus and retirement and faith. (But not potatoes or mangoes or garlic.)
On Wednesday morning, he threw up three or four times. He passed runny stools a few times, too. When he was done expelling fluids and I was done cleaning them up, I held him like a baby, giving the day away to him as I’d given the previous one to migraine: without any real choice.
We like to think we have choices but we often don’t. Or, we don’t have the ones we think we do.
I held him and I cried, afraid to call the vet, afraid not to. I cried because when I lose him I will lose another piece of my children’s childhood, and there are almost none left. I cried because my daughter can’t be where she wants to be, but also because when she can I will, in important ways, lose her all over again. I cried because I’m losing too many of these days with her to pain of one kind or another. I cried because my Marine son looks so tired in the photos he sends me, and because the father of a Marine likely killed for a bounty still supports the President who doesn’t really care about any of our sons. I cried because I can’t go see my parents because if I do they can’t see my brother, living in a group home that cannot risk infection. I cried because, unlike some of my colleagues who say they will not return to school in the fall unless it is safe, I will have to go, regardless. (Until, of course, I really can’t, for one reason or another. And then I will probably cry because I didn’t make a different choice when I might have.) I cried because of all the lost days, past, present and future, until the end of time.
That guy in the song? He knew he didn’t have a choice to make, either. (I’m the one who misunderstood his question.) The choice was his darling’s. And he knew the answer was trouble, regardless of what his darling said or he did. Isn’t that how it so often is?
(I can hear my mother’s voice asking me: What kind of hard do you want?)
I called the vet. (You knew I would. I did, too, even as I held the dog’s trembling body in my arms and tortured myself with thinking I had to choose.) She gave the dog fluids and medicine. She gave me handouts on how to know when it’s time. It’s not yet, but it will be, soon. She told me I’ll probably know when it is, and that often there’s no one right answer to that question.
I’m writing these words listening to my daughter talking to the young man she loves. He is translating into English a story she has written in Swedish, telling her which parts do and don’t make sense to him, helping her brain (that is past the point at which language acquisition comes easily) learn his language.
They will do what they have to do to transcend borders and bans. My son will do what he has to do, too, as will my parents. As will I. As will we all.
The things for which I will remain until the end of time are not the things I once thought they would be. But I have them. I surely do. Which makes me fortunate.
(I write these words with the dog sitting in my lap, his head resting on my arm. He’s doing better today.)
I type in “what is the meaning of” and Google gives me these options:
of the song hallelujah
of life the universe and everything
I don’t need Google to tell me what I already know.