Saying Good-Bye to Man’s Best Friend

I was in the 6th grade when my mother thought it might be fun to browse the local pet shop. Even though we were really on a rather mundane quest to acquire a new harness for our escape-artist of an Irish Terrier, and even though I had really wanted a pony, as an 11 year-old-girl, I was easily satisfied with the more realistic prospect of a new puppy. I was game for the adventure.

Jessie always knew she was short. The dining room table offered a better view

I can’t say we picked Jessie.  As soon as she saw us enter the puppy-pen area, she climbed up her cage, hovering dangerously over the edge of the crate, and woofed at us. She was a muddy-looking, scrawny Carin Terrier that suffered from the ugly duckling syndrome and a general refusal to stay caged up. I was originally eying the fluffy lasso-apso, but when my mother said “what about that one,” my attention was immediately diverted. We took her into the “puppy play room.” She pounced on the rope and brought it to me for a tugging game. She chased the ball, brought it back, and dropped it in my hand. She understood games were better with playmates. We already had a dog, a female who was a territorial Irish fighter, and we were afraid how she’d handle a puppy. So the little Carin went grudgingly back in the cage. But that wouldn’t do. She climbed right back out and ran to us. We had no choice. My father’s firm refusal to get another pet had to be ignored — Jessie wasn’t going to let us leave without her.

It’s not fair. We make the decision to add a pet to the family, and from the day we name them become the dictators of their fate. They become a part of the family and then one day, they have to go, and we have to play God.

Jessie playing her favorite ring game, being chased by a puppy-version of Korrie, her winggirl

Jessie was a consummate playmate — she’d play Frisbee with you until she collapsed. She was the ring-leader of our three terriers, dragging the other two into trouble or putting them firmly in their place. She was our morning alarm clock and weather forecaster (whenever a thunderstorm was approaching she hid under the couch). She greeted us when we came home and followed us to bed in the evening. For the last 13 years, the scruffy, bright-eyed, emotive eared, joyful Carin has been the Recklings’ best friend. For 13 years, the majority of my life, Jessie was the most loyal little fighter. But on Thursday, we took her to the vet — she hadn’t been herself the last few weeks — and by Sunday, we let her go. Her immune system had gone haywire and there was no getting it under control.

I made the decision to stay with Jessie as they euthanized her. “Euthanize” — they make it sound so peaceful, so innocuous, so humane. My father held her, and I scratched her favorite spot. She had refused to let us leave the pet store without her, and I refused to let her leave this world with out us beside her. As her breath stopped, the room fell silent. It was as if cotton had been stuffed in my ears — for the first time in 3 hours, I couldn’t hear the cars whizzing by outside. And then her heart stopped, and with it mine. A numbness set is that I just haven’t been able to shake. When it was absolutely all over, my father left the room. I wouldn’t leave  until they came to take her. I stood there, holding her, apologizing, weeping into her matted fur. Her eyes were still so bright. I felt I’d betrayed her. As Maugham’s character Larry Darnell said, “the dead look so terribly dead when they’re dead.”

When it’s not their pet, people are always willing to tell you that when they’re this sick you have to put the animal down, that it’s cruel to let her suffer, that it’s the right thing to do.  Jessie never got to tell us that she was ready to die, she never got to say whether or not she wanted another transfusion, or that she was willing, if it worked, to go on with a life on meds. We had to decide that for her.

“You don’t want her to suffer do you?” Good God, I hate the people the say that.

You’ll never make me wholeheartedly believe that I, or we, because really it was a we, made the right decision. I’m not even sure you’ll make me even halfheartedly believe it. To put her down may have been the most reasonable decision, but I can’t ever say it was the right decision.

After they whisked her away, I thanked the staff at the emergency vet clinic for being so kind — they had donated their own dogs’ blood for the transfusions that had kept Jessie alive over the last two days. I wiped my tears, rinsed my face and put on my “strong” demeanor before joining my mother in the parking lot. I wrapped my arms around her and reassured her that we had done all that we could. The vet agreed that “helping Jessie along” was the best thing to do.

The sky had been gray and threatening all day, but only then did the raindrops start to fall. They mingled with tears as they hit the pavement. Such salty puddles.

Woes of the temporarily uninsured

So get this — as of May 20th, 2009, I am no longer a student. In July, I had Swine Flu (woooot!). My student health insurance expired on August 31. So this means that for the last 11 days, I’ve been uninsured. Last night at fencing practice, a foil slipped up under my mask and hit me in the side of the head. No blood, no scrape, no concussion. Phew. Dodged that bullet. 15 minutes later? Ankle gets caught on strip, rolls one way then the other. Cracks 3 times. Walks it off. Or so I thought… while I was walking to locker room about two hours later, after a lesson, two more cracks, pain shoots up leg. Okay, just a passing thing? Hmm… maybe not. During the commute home, excruciating pain shooting up leg, can’t move toes, can’t touch foot without squealing. Fuck. I’M UNINSURED and I THINK MY FOOT IS BROKEN.

I’m writhing in the front passenger seat of the car, contemplating pulling into the ER, but I decide to hightail it home. I don’t have health insurance and my bill from the Swine Flu incident included an x-ray and had totaled at $2,600. Now, there are a lot of stairs between my car and my bedroom and I can’t put any weight on my left leg, which has turned into a kankle (this is a technical term for super swollen ankle). So I hop… on one leg…up 3 stairs to the walkway, 12 stairs to the house, 20 steps to my bedroom. I hop into the shower, literally. I hop out of the shower. I fall over putting on my PJs. I scream. Even after icing and 6 advil, sleeping is a chore. Every time I turn, my foot catches on the blanket and pain shoots up my shin. fuck.

The first thing I do when I wake up? enroll in the continuation plan option on my expired health insurance. Next? Go to doctor.

Verdict on foot? No broken bones. phew.
Total cost: $25 co-pay + $6,111 for health insurance = $6,136.
Wallet? Empty.
Doctor asks if I have a rich boyfriend yet. Answer is still no, though one is now definitely needed.

Artwork of the week for Aug. 10, 2009

street dresden

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Street, Dresden (1908, dated 1907)

(better late than never)
The jarring colors and densely-packed figures of Kirchner’s “Street, Dresden” capture the cacophony and claustrophobia of modern urban life. People dressed in somber black blur into one another as they move through the city, pressing into and out of street cars. Yet, despite the throngs, Kirchner’s canvas conveys a sense of solitude and isolation. Despite the numbers, a city is a lonely, alienating place.

I’ve always been interested in the women in this painting, in particular, in the central placement of the female child. Throughout the history of western art, women have been the object of the male viewer. Urban living allowed women to leave the home. No longer confined to the domestic, the city streets and department stores put women in the public sphere, where they at once exercised new independence and further became the object of the masculine gaze. Look closely at the painting — the few men whose faces are visible stare directly at the women marching unemotionally toward us.

“Street, Dresdan,” part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, was the subject of my first independent art-history research project in college. This week, after months of waiting, I found out I had won a coveted internship at MoMA (1,000 people applied for approx 20 appointments). Woot! I couldn’t think of a more appropriate Artwork of the week than the painting that launched me into academic art history

A Few Important Insights to Why I’m Me

Why I’m so happy in the kitchen:
Besides a life long love of food, my mother gave me my first cookbook (appropriately entitled “My First Cook Book: A life-sized Guide to Making Fun Things to Eat” with equally appropriate 1990s food styling) in 1990, when I was 5 years old. I don’t recall ever making anything in the book… I started watching the food network non-stop when I was about 8. My favorite show was “how to boil water.” These days I prefer “Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery” and Michael Chiarello’s “Napa Style” (when he’s not on Top CHef Masters).

Why I’m an art historian:
As an only child I had to keep myself amused often. I had a lot of coloring books and sketchbooks and colored pencils and prismacolor markers — all of which went with me everywhere, even out to restaurants. My favorite coloring book was called “Color Your Own Degas.” My motto was “you can never have enough crayons.”

Why I have a shoe problem:

As a toddler, my mother used to take me to The Merry-Go-Round, a children’s shoe store in Hartsdale. All my shoes came from France. I also blame The Wizard of Oz. It was my favorite movie and of course, those ruby pumps were a pretty integral part of the plot development. I continue to have an unhealthy obsession with red patent.

The underappreciated dangers of gardening

a field of poison ivy on Prince Edward island... remarkably similar to my backyard gardens

a field of poison ivy on Prince Edward island... remarkably similar to my backyard gardens

There’s a strange patch of shiny green leaves growing under the window. I lean in closer and begin to reach with a gloved hand. NO! Don’t touch! The clusters of 3 leaves tells me this is no ordinary weed patch. This is poison ivy, and like most gardeners, I am very, very allergic to it. I pull back and scan the wall under the window. It’s all poison ivy. In fact, it’s a poison ivy farm. My top soil won’t grow a single daisy, and my herb garden is miserable at breeding basil, but my yard is ideal for weeds that cause red, bumpy, itchy rashes.

The first time I went to Paris, when I was 15, my mother was plagued with poison ivy. As we walked the streets of the City of Light, she had to stop every few meters to scratch, sneaker to calf. Finally, she’d had enough. There we were in the Louvre, in the famous Salon Carre, and there was my mum sitting on a bench, ignoring the art and tending to her afflicted left calf. Back at the hotel, we sent for a doctor — a well dressed Frenchman, sporting a beautiful suit, silk tie, and antique leather medical bag. “Oh yes, I know dis ivy. we put it in zee salades.” No, sir, I think you’re confused. An antihistamine was administered via a needle, and since then “poison ivy” has struck fear into the heart of the Reckling women.

There are a lot of other hazards in a garden. Like thorns. And flying insects. I have a serious problem with flying insects. Usually, they swarm me. First it starts with one fly, then a fly and a herd of gnats, then a fly a herd of gnats and some mosquitoes. It’s like they know I don’t like them and that I’m allergic to their bites and they like to torment me. I drop the clippers or spade. The next thing you know, I start dodging, like I’m Neo dodging Smith’s bullets, and swathing and running in a serpentine pattern. But it’s all in vain. They won’t go away. I’m the type of person who will be at a picnic with 5 other people and by the time we’ve packed our blanket, I have a dozen welts on me from mosquito bites. My companions will be untouched. If you plan to go into a buggy area, take me with you — I’m better than any insect repellent you can buy.

Highway Companion: Songs for Driving Cross Country

150,000+ — that’s the number of miles I’ve racked up driving around North America. me drive

I’ve driven home to New York from Sacramento, CA. From New York to Jasper, CAN and back. From home to Prince Edward Island, CAN. From Westchester to South Beach, FL and back (twice). Then there’s all the times I’ve driven to Atlanta, Richmond, Louisville, Columbus, Charlotte, Boston, Philadelphia and Kansas City. Yes, my Land Rover Discovery and I have been North and South, East and West many a time together. Tomorrow, I load up the car again and begin a three day drive to Grapevine, TX. WOOOT.

No road trip is complete, or even possible without a proper soundtrack. So what will I be cranking up over the next few days to keep me trucking from sun-up to sun-down in my favorite 4×4? A little classic Rock n’ Roll, a little acid rock, a lot of Tom Petty, a lil country and a lot of great guitar. Here’s my top 26…

1. Tom Petty — American Girl
2. Lynard Skynard — Sweet Home Alabama
3. Keith Anderson — Pickin’ Wildflowers
4. Jimi Hendrix — Voodoo Child
5. Mudcrutch — Shady Grove
6. Sheryl Crow — All I wanna Do
7. Alanis Morrisette — Not the Doctor
8. Tom Petty — Running Down a Dream
9. The Beatles — Come Together
10. Neil Young — Ohio
11. The Beatles — I am the Walrus
12. Johnny Cash — Big River
13. Sheryl Crow — Steve McQueen
14. Hair — Hair
15. Jimi Hendrix — All Along the Watchtower
16. 13th Floor Elevators — You’re Gonna Miss Me
17. Jefferson Airplane — Plastic Fantastic Lover
18. The Pretenders — The Wait
19. Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues
20. Jason Aldean — She’s Country
21. Jefferson Airplane — Somebody to Love
22. Bob Dylan — Highway 61
23. John Denver — Rocky Mountain High
24. Gordon Lightfoot — The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald
25. The Animals — Get me out of this Place
26. Steppenwolf — Born to be Wild

I thought I recognized you!

a blast from the past -- my last sports banquet as a high school student with my fellow award winners

a blast from the past -- my last sports banquet as a high school student with my fellow award winners, (R-L) Richard, Alex, Julia & Me

I just attended my 10th AHS sports banquet — my 6th as a varsity coach for my high school alma mater. As both an athlete and a coach, it was always a part of the season I dreaded. Never shorter than 3 hours, always catered badly and always one of the most tragic displays of teenage feminine fashion sensibilities (since when did spandex qualify as formal wear?) it was something I would have paid to miss. Yet, I admit, there was always something nice about it — catching up with the kids, many of whom are heading off to college next year, seeing old teachers who moonlight as bowling coaches, having the opportunity to break in my new 3-in summer wedges, and seeing the looks of surprise and gratitude on the faces of the kids we recognize with MVP and Coaches’ awards. As I sat through my 10th banquet tonight, and for the 10th time said no thanks to the chicken parm, I thought back to when I was in high school, when fencing was new to me and I believed anything was possible for me in the sport. College felt far away in those days. I had no idea I’d be back for another 6 seasons as a coach while I worked my way through Columbia, twice.

The College Roundup writer for our local quad village newspaper found me a few minutes before the ceremonies began. He introduced me to another coach, clearly near my age. “This is Kathleen” he said to the young man in a red shirt. “I know,” he replied. “She was a year above me.”

Oh, no. Awwwwkward! I scanned my brain for fellow Panthers. Nothing. He had a vague air of familiarity, but his name was totally new to me. Worse was that he was reasonably good looking. This guy went to Ardsley? Surely, that’s not possible. I had no choice; so I did what anyone would do: feigned recognition and shook his hand.

I always figured I went through high school as someone relatively unnoticed. I had won the big sports awards in my senior year, but I spent little time fraternizing with the kids at my school during off hours. So while I would expect my classmates to recognize me, the last thing I expected was to have an underclassman, who wasn’t a fencer, recognize me 6 years after I graduated.

I felt moderately embarrassed, somewhat flattered (they remembered me!) but mostly grateful for our athletic director’s request that we take our seats.

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