Goodbye, Little Girl

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Warning: this post rambles and contains very little science fiction content.

In my previous post, I inadvertently gave people the impression that I would quit blogging. The post was actually about the end of my latest career and my move from Catfish City, where I put up with backstabbing, theft, and fraud for three years.

Barring any further personal tragedies, future posts will be more on-topic. I plan to review works by fellow wordpress bloggers Justine Allen, Nicholas Rossis, and Kal Spriggs. I also plan to write some more settings and blurb doctor articles, review a few random short stories, and read a sequel by Misha Burnett and a short story collection by Luther Siler.

Although this post expresses a lot of sadness, I’m not writing it so people will feel sorry for me. I have a great family. We used to argue constantly when I was younger, but both they and I have changed for the better over the years, and we rarely argue now. I also have a wonderful wife. If a genie popped out of a magic lamp and told me he could change three things about her, I’d have to tell him to go away; I wouldn’t be able to think of anything.

Three years ago, when I left the USA for Catfish City, I left my golden retriever behind. This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but my family has always made very little distinction between human and canine family members; she was like a daughter to me. I could have never left her, except I knew she would be happy staying with my parents; she loved them and they had a large yard that she enjoyed playing in when the weather was nice. When I was planning to return from Catfish City, the thing I was most looking forward to was being with her again, but shortly before my return, we learned that she had cancer and wouldn’t live long. I was unable to get an earlier flight to the USA, and was terribly upset that I might not see her again. She ended up surviving for about 24 hours after I arrived, literally dying in my arms. My parents are convinced that she knew I was coming home (maybe she heard them talking about me in the days before my return?) and that she held on for me.

I dug my little girl’s grave. I started to dig in the dark, wearing a headlamp to see. The hard clay soil was impervious to shovels; it had to be chipped away with a pick. Tree roots stood in my way every few inches, but I cut through them with my trusty axe. After 10 hours of swinging the pick and axe, I had only dug 3 feet of my 4 foot depth goal. For the last couple of hours, I screamed in pain every time I swung the pick (try banging a baseball bat into a steel beam for 8 hours if you’d like to simulate this). I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the grave, so I decided it was time to get serious. I would solve this problem the American way, by calling a friend from south of the border. He dug the remaining foot of depth in just an hour or two; I’m telling myself that it was better tools, not a better man.

I had a lot of time to think while waiting to fly home, on my multiple international flights, and later while digging. Of course, I thought about my little girl and how wonderful she was. She was so full of love and so intelligent. I don’t think she caused a single problem in her entire life. When the two of us lived alone in apartments, she learned almost immediately not to bark when strangers walked by the front door (something I had encouraged her to do when we lived in a house), and although she slept in the bed with me, she never woke me up, despite a rotating schedule that had me in the lab at 7AM some mornings and staying until 11PM on other days. I remember once another person was shocked that I left a steak dinner on a coffee table (right at my little girl’s head level) and left the room for several minutes; it never occurred to me that she would eat my steak, and apparently she never considered it either. Whenever I would lie down on the sofa, she would traditionally lie on my feet. One time, I came home after a surgery to reattach one of my toes, and there was a stabilizing pin sticking out of its end which was not to be disturbed. I thought it would be difficult to keep her off my foot, but I didn’t even have to say a word to her; I have no idea whether she knew to stay off my foot by smell or by watching me limp or something even more mysterious. Similarly, she was always careful never to bump into my elderly grandmother, even while affectionately leaning and rubbing against everyone else. I could keep writing about how wonderful she was until my last remaining reader nods off, but I think I’ll stop here.

Every once in a while, I read an article by a so-called scientist who tries to explain the relationship between dogs and humans by saying that dogs only want to be with us because we provide them with food and shelter. Any pet owner will recognize this as complete nonsense. When I was home for a visit and I brought out my suitcase to return to Catfish City, my little girl would become depressed, even though she knew my parents would continue to feed and shelter her. She would often refuse to eat for several days after I left. Neither of those behaviors make sense if her motivation was food; it’s clear she truly loved me. To those of you who are religious or spiritual, I’ll suggest that dogs’ purpose in being here may be to show us that it is possible to love without demanding anything in return.

I also had time to think about the choices I’ve made in my life. I’ve had to leave two careers (maybe more depending on how you subcategorize things) despite working hard at both. I stayed up late at night, worked weekends and holidays, ate poorly, skipped exercise, commuted long distances, and most recently neglected my wife. I spent years thinking that after I finished this computer program or that scientific paper, things would get easier. I feel guilty about all those weekends spent in front of the computer, which should have been set aside for walks in the park with my little girl.

Looking back as objectively as I can, I don’t think there was any way I could have predicted any of the problems I encountered in my careers given the information I had at the time, but in every case, there was a point when I knew I’d hit a brick wall, but kept trying to press forward, wasting months or years of my life. I guess I was raised with an ethic that said if you work harder and think smarter, you can break through any barrier. Unfortunately, there were things which I could not overcome: the structure of an industry, or people in key positions who had personality disorders or ulterior motives.

Now, I wish I’d come home from Catfish City a year earlier, when I knew my efforts were doomed. I could have spent my little girl’s last year with her. I could have spared my wife another year of seeing me angry and depressed about the way I was being treated, and another year of weekends spent watching me work on the computer instead of out seeing the world. This is one reason I decided to write this post; I’m hoping someone will read it and decide to make better choices than I have. A real crisis can, and will, happen at any place of employment, but if you feel like you deal with one crisis just in time for the next one to start, then maybe you should think about changing jobs, or even careers. Maybe you’re a researcher who’s on the brink of discovering the cure for a fatal disease, or you’re a police officer who takes killers off the streets, but for most of us, continual crisis mode is just a response to bad behavior by bosses or coworkers, business partners or customers.

I’m not saying any of the above to give someone an excuse to half-ass their job. I’ve never half-assed anything, and it makes me mad when other people do it. In Catfish City, I had to invent the term quarter-ass, because there were people who needed to double their efforts to get to half-ass. If you’re half-assing it, you should quit your job and find something you can do right. Otherwise, you’re just causing damage to the people who work with you, the people you work for, and your self-respect.

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22 comments

  1. I’ve been in both places: I had to dig a grave for a four-legged family member – twice. Once in snow. Believe me, I know what you mean about crying out in pain with every strike of that pickax.

    And I left a job that had me jumping from one crisis to the next, to continue my day job as self-employed web developer – and author.

    A particularly relevant post for me – and not just because I was surprised to see my name in it! 🙂

    1. I’m sorry you had to deal with similar experiences. Lets hope that both of us have smoother career futures, and that our future pets have long and happy lives.

  2. Tajima Jenkins · · Reply

    Nice picture of your little girl standing watch!

    1. I chose that picture because she looks so beautiful, and I liked the heavenly clouds in the background.

  3. I can relate to this post on entirely too many levels.

    When I moved from one coast to the other, I wasn’t able to bring my own dog with me. Great friends with a huge yard and dogs of their own adopted her. I knew my own little girl would be fine, and she was, quickly becoming “queen of the pack” there. I still missed the hell out of her, and dealt with guilt for having to “abandon” her even though she was loved and taken care of and I had exhausted every possible way to bring her along given the situation I was going to. I always thought I would have the chance to see her again, too, but too many career and other “life events” got in the way. Five years later, I got the call that it was time for her. So I understand what you’re going through, but also know how lucky you were to have at least those last 24 hours with her.

    Our dog now is a golden retriever as well. She just like you describe your girl. So I also know first-hand how lucky you were to have her for those earlier years.

    Anyone who things our dogs have no emotional life beyond wanting food and shelter just isn’t paying attention. Especially with golden retrievers.

    1. Yes, if I’d been prevented from seeing her one last time, I’d have even more of a grudge against Catfish City.

      I’m glad you and a golden have each other now, goldens are so friendly and love their people so much.

  4. NyanNyan Sensei · · Reply

    I understand how you felt and I believe there are better days ahead for you. I think a new puppy will cheer you up :):).

    1. I’m sure I’ll have another best friend soon, for now I’m walking around the neighborhood and petting the neighbors’ dogs.

  5. What a beautiful post, very sad but also touching. So glad to hear you haven’t left blogging entirely (that was how I took your previous post). Best of luck going forward.

    1. Thanks, Sean. I’ve slowed down, but I’m still going forward.

  6. I did think you had given up on writing the Sci-Fi blog – glad to hear you are continuing,

    Regarding your loss of a dear pet – I can only say that each loss has made me reflect on my skills as a pet owner and what I can or can’t do for any in my care afterwards. The beauty of animals is they are in the moment – love those who love them and keep their judging to a minimum. Being a pet owner is a huge responsibility and we need to work on our end. They do their best.
    My pets have been a big help to me through many of my own crisis – their presence speaks of delight in the everyday, steadfastness, endurance and living in the moment. We tend to lose sight of those things and spiral out of control – building layers of quilt, anger, want etc – all sorts of foolishness. May your pet give you pause on the important things and their example of trustworthiness do so too.

    1. I’m glad to see so many people here who really care about and take good care of their pets.

  7. Hi PDC. Living with two elderly dogs, I can really relate to your story. I’ll be devastated when they go, but I have the luxury of spoiling them for their remaining time. As for work, good on you for breaking away from a toxic situation. I have yet to meet anyone who regretted such a move after a long time in angst!

    1. I hope your dogs will be with you for a long time.

      I wish I’d done more listening to my wife, I might have gotten out of my situation sooner.

  8. That was a beautiful and moving post. I have been there both in losing a dog and being in a bad job. I hope everything works out for you.

    1. Thank you. I hope everything will go well for you also.

  9. I promise, I will start making better choices. I am facing crisis after crisis, just as you described, and it is just now dawning on me that I can fix that.

    1. For me, so many of the crises were artificial, and often created intentionally. Technical and natural problems can usually be solved with enough effort, but when coworkers and bosses are actively working against you, what can you do?

      I hope your situation isn’t quite as bad as mine was, and that you can get yourself out of it more easily than I did.

      1. Thanks. I hope so to.

  10. I am sick to hell of losing beloved animals and having to do the dusk to midnight digging thing. I hate it. But never enough hate to refrain from allowing pets to steal away my heart, though I know the ending of the story. I’m sorry for your loss… I would have helped ya dig.

    1. Yes, I’m sure I’ll have another pet; I’ve been walking down the street every day, petting all of the neighbors’ dogs.

  11. I love this post! There are so many things about our supposedly ‘contract’ or ‘mutual benefit’ relationships with pets that materialism just can’t explain! I lost my little affectionate buddy a month back, this post means much to me!

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