Paul and Misha
I've already mentioned that when I began participating in ILink Writers, Paul Moor's writing caught my eye as one among many in that group who wrote exceptionally well. One particular story about his love for his dog, Misha, moved me. The other day, I asked whether he still had a copy of that message and just this afternoon it arrived in my inbox. I present it here as an example of his writing..
November 6, 1992
Misha My Love
From the very beginning, my little fawn-colored, nubbin-tailed French bulldog Misha had an almost preternatural ability to divine any intentions I might possibly have about going out. He detected the slightest deviation from my customary workaday routine, and switched on his considerable charm to persuade me I really did need him, indispensably, to go along. The destination didn't interest him, just as long as he could come along and stay with me.
My taking the keys out of the inside lock on the front door would then galvanize him, but he waited - huge brown eyes spotlighting me, bat-ears erect, little black goblin face optimistic and eager - frozen in alert position for my decision. A dog-biscuit treat from me (thank you, Prof. Pavlov) meant he had to resign himself to stay behind, but if I did reach for his collar and leash he erupted, almost violently, his joy utterly unconfined. Usually he punctuated the few seconds before I finally opened the door with an impatient little dance step or two, bouncing up and down on his stubby little forelegs.
On October 29th, Misha turned twelve. My first French bulldog, Charlie, had died in Berlin at eleven. His successor Orje, who accompanied me when I moved to San Francisco, made it to twelve, when a stroke cruelly disabled and almost killed him. The day before Misha's twelfth birthday last Thursday, I noticed his unusual panting when we came home from his third, early evening walk. On his birthday itself (in celebration of which I laced his dry Science Diet Light with a quarter-pound of ground round), I paid careful attention, and thought I noticed a new rapidity and shallowness in his breathing. During the election news that evening - turning on the TV always also turned Misha into a lapdog - he couldn't seem to come to rest. As bedtime approached, his breathing sounded asthmatic. His temperature proved normal, though, so I decided against the impersonality of the Emergency Animal Hospital, but when Misha's regular vet arrived to open his office at eight last Friday morning, he found us waiting for him.
Dr. Harris took blood and made chest X-rays, then diagnosed pulmonary edema and gave me two kinds of pills; the results of the blood analysis would decide whether he'd add an antibiotic. He wanted to see him again in a week - yesterday - for more X-rays. Misha responded encouragingly to the medicine, but he continued to pant, and during his four daily walks he took to scrutinizing and sniffing even the most minuscule diverting object down on his level, so that his walks turned into a plod, and finally into a trudge. He sometimes wheezed, and sometimes coughed. Sometimes an indefinable vocal sound accompanied every rapid, shallow breath. It developed very rapidly.
Yesterday, the morning of the second X-rays, Dr. Harris said his radiologist would come in late in the afternoon and he'd phone me that evening. Around 7:30 came the definitive diagnosis: "multiple malignant masses - everywhere" in the lungs. It had grown and spread - and would continue to grow and spread -just as fast as it already had. Cancer restricted to lung tissue causes no pain, but I heard from Jim Harris that Misha's cancer would go on confiscating his lungs' still available breathing space - more, and more, and more. . . .
I'd learned something fundamentally important about love - not Eros, in Grecian terms, but Agape, non-erotic love - from an incident involving Orje, Misha's Berlin predecessor. Everyone knows the old cliché about loving someone so much you'd be willing to die for them. Walking Orje one day, I saw an unleashed German shepherd the size of a locomotive charging towards us with the speed of an express train, unmistakable murder in his eye. Without even a split second to think, I instantaneously dropped to the ground and completely covered Orje with my own body. The attacker, thank God, found only Orje interesting as victim: he barked furiously, canicidally, but ignored me personally. A chance observer pointed out just what might well have happened to me under slightly different circumstances. My spontaneous protection of Orje made it clear I hadn't really cared.
And I loved Misha even more than I'd loved Orje.
Perhaps only the old and lonely comprehend the unique status of a really beloved pet. When Charlie sickened and died in Berlin during the scope of a single hour, his death meant in fact the extermination of my entire family, and at one single stroke. The death of Orje, in San Francisco, repeated that same ordeal.
Dog shows, prizes, and the like have never seriously interested me, but I always welcomed any opportunity to brag about Misha, and he did have plenty to brag about. The owners of the Clovis, California kennel where he'd entered this vale of tears spotted him immediately as "an exceptionally elegant pup", and kept him to raise as a show dog. His rejecting dam, unimpressed, refused to nurse Misha and his only surviving sibling, so he bonded abnormally early with humans. The rejected orphan Misha and the house cat adopted each other, and from then on he never encountered a cat he didn't try - with the utmost tact and diplomacy - to buddy up with and cuddle up to. At the age of five, soon after Orje's death, Misha came to bless my life. As long as he lived, he had an almost panic anxiety he'd find himself abandoned again.
His owners' prescience had proved justified: Misha became an American Kennel Club champion before his first birthday, and at two he won the official A.K.C. rating as the second-finest French bulldog in the whole USA. I prized him not for that but for his inexhaustible, never-failing, frequently comical - even hilarious - sweetness; that little tough-guy mug of his camouflaged a heart of solid marshmallow. I've never seen any animal match Misha when it came to attracting spontaneous affection from strangers; during one single walk one record day, four different people stopped us and wound up down on the ground, cooing, fondling his ears. He accepted such obeisance graciously, as a matter of course, with a meaningful glance upward in my direction to make sure I saw it and took it in, but he never did become really blasé about it.
Before taking him to the vet this afternoon, I emptied his water pan and feed dish and put them out of sight, along with his prized Nylon bones, to avoid them as reminders when I would come home alone; I also dropped his two new medicines into the trash.
When Dr. Harris applied the tourniquet to Misha's right foreleg, to make the blood vessels bulge more accommodatingly, he said that in only twenty-four hours his peripheral circulation and blood pressure had deteriorated noticeably, and he might have to resort to a catheter - but then he did find a blood vessel adequate for the hypodermic syringe's merciful needle. He assured me I'd done the humane thing by not waiting any longer.
Around 1985, when Orje had received his own lethal injection, his body had reacted by inflating his little lungs to the bursting point - what medical people call "the agonal gasp" - and then expelling that air in an unearthly, outraged howl I can still hear, and probably always will. Misha, thank God, gave up his own little ghost with the same quiet gentleness that characterized everything about him. With him standing on the examination table, me holding him in both my arms, my face buried in the fur on the back of his neck, his husky, muscular little body suddenly relaxed, then his legs gave way, and then we laid him -- gently, gently - on his side, and I closed those enormous, glistening, dark brown eyes for him. Oh, my little love.
. . . And so, after a few minutes of unhurried leave-taking, I left with Jim Harris the thirty pounds or so of physical residuum my beloved, departed Misha had discarded and left behind him this afternoon, and came back to an apartment now of abysmal, aching emptiness. When I replaced the keys in the inside lock of the front door, that cyclic act forced me to think back only an hour or so to how Misha had reacted when I'd removed them. He'd looked as eager and optimistic as ever, uninterested in our destination as long as he could come along and stay with me, and when I'd reached for his collar and leash he'd reacted, as always, with that familiar little dance of his, bouncing up and down on those stubby little forelegs.
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