Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My pacer in the Race of Life

In the spring of 1998, I went to the pound and picked out a dog. Well, in reality, I suppose she picked me out. I didn't like her at first with her multi-color eyes and big curly tail. But she loved me and my Memaw said that "a good dog picks you, you don't pick them." Dogs have a better intuition, afterall. They don't base their decision on all the silly things that we consider. I was picking out a dog for reasons different than most people. Sure, it was fun to get a puppy, but Roxy was destined to serve a much bigger purpose. She had a big job and my life and my future rested on her shoulders. I think she knew that.

When I was 14, my battle with anorexia began. I don't know exactly how it started or why it started. I am sure a psychologist could have fun blaming this or that and analyzing the various events leading up to it. But however it came to pass, it sucked me in and consumed my every thought. Looking back, it's a hard thing to explain. I wonder how I ever did it- how I played sports year round (and even excelled at them), how I covered it up, how people didn't shake me and scream and yell, how I could stand missing out on so many things. My memories of those years are very sparse and there are even periods of months that I cannot recall at all. I do remember the day I asked for help. I do remember that that day was actually just the beginning.

A year after I asked for help, my situation was worsening and my parents were at a complete loss. They covered for me when people asked and I suppose in a lot of ways it was pretty embarassing for them. Mostly, though, I think they felt like I was sliding through their fingers like the fine, soft sand on the beach. Pieces of me- my personality, my organs, my body parts- were being caught in the winds of time and carried away, never to be seen again. Desperation is what got me to the pound. Desperation is what made my dad agree to the nutritionist's suggestion of a puppy, a therapy dog. The hope was that I would feel the unconditional love of a puppy and regain a sense of purpose, a motherly instinct to survive and thrive to protect my baby. Even better, I would hopefully learn to gauge how much she needed to eat or not eat or exercise or not exercise and begin to apply those principles to my own life. It was a long shot, a very long shot.

The recovery rate for anorexia is not good. A very small percentage of those who enter the murky waters come away from them and never dip their feet back in. The day I picked Roxy up from the pound, the hard work began. We were inseperable, Roxy and I. She rode all over town with me. We went for walks and jogs and spent countless hours sleeping all curled up together. When I went to college, every bare wall was covered with pictures of her and I- reminders of my sweet angel dog.

I wish I could say I quickly gained back the weight and life was good. But I can't. I did gain back some; I had to because I was playing soccer at Florida Southern that year. My liver was not doing well and the doctor had serious concerns about other side effects of anorexia. I played that season, but I did not do well. No longer could shear will-power carry me through the tough workouts and long days. My body was tired and I was exhausted. After just one season, I moved back home. It was a huge loss for me. Soccer had been my sport. I loved the game and reveled in the physical execution. My body was failing me now and I couldn't pretend anymore.

Roxy was at home to greet me. She knew she was needed and stood by me every step of the way. She loved me and gave me purpose, even after I had lost my hopeful ambitions. The summer after I graduated from college, my weight had stabilized within a healthy range and I was considered "cured." I have never gone back. I've never stood on the banks of the murky waters and considered the temperature. I have never dipped a toe in or considered diving in to retrieve the lost memories. Not once. And Roxy has been there all along. She has walked by my side the whole way, a constant reminder that I am loved.

It's been eight years or so since I was officially "better." Roxy is laying beside me right now, snoring softly. She had a tumor removed from her face yesterday. The veterinarian couldn't get all of it and is not confident of any hopefulness for her. Her little face is swollen and bloodied and I can feel that she is in pain. I am afraid to lose her. I am afraid of procedures I cannot possibly afford. I can't even remember my life before her; she is eleven. I wonder to myself how can I look at her and tell her I can't save her? She came into a darkness that no one else could enter. She saw me, my heart, in a blackness where people saw loss and hopelessness. She never got mad or frustrated, she never gave up. She was my brave little puppy. She took my sickness.

The pathology came back and the tumor is indeed malignant. The cancer is s pretty horific one and the next weeks and months will be very tough for Roxy. :(

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