Goodbyes are not easy for me.
I wasn't sure how long it is I was supposed to hold her before cracking the door of the exam room to let the vet know that I was ready. I mean, I've been getting to "ready" for a little while, because we've all seen Fifi suffering a little here and there, and some days, a lot. Her little Papillon frame, so small, hunched over in cramps and pain, running to the door, crying out sharp yelps of pain. Neighbors have come over, one today wearing just a robe, concerned at the sound of her out in the yard, trying to go to the bathroom.
This is no way for a girl like Fifi to live. Fifi thought she was a princess, you see.
When she was tiny, she had a whole day where she was named Coco Chanel. (That was my doing.) Lia, at five, told me that wasn't a good name, so we changed it to Fifi.
Fifi rode in the car with me to work at my nail salon. Certain clients loved Fifi very much, and she would often be found sleeping on their laps. One woman walked half-sitting, so as not to disturb Fifi when it was time for her appointment, as she tiptoed quietly from the waiting area to my table. Other clients didn't care for Fifi, and I think Fifi could tell, because she would stand square in the middle of the floor, ears sticking straight out to the side, tail tucked under, sort of glaring. "Shannon, your dog is giving me dirty looks," one such client announced. (She was right. It was true.)
Fifi had a bark that would take you out of your seat. It wasn't lovely at all. She was a yapping, tiny dog who I believe, thought she was a cat. If I was reading a magazine, Fifi would stand on it. When we had a couch with a cushier back, Fifi would walk along the back of the sofa. Not a day of my life went by when Fifi's yapping didn't cause me to say, "Good grief, Fifi, shut up." Until my two-year old started saying, "Shut up, Fifi." Then I began to say, "Quiet!" But Fifi was never quiet.
My husband fell in love with me despite Fifi. She sort of came with the package. When he first met us, Fifi wore faux fur vests (even though she has real fur), and she often had painted toenails. Once, he had to drop me off briefly at the store, and he and Eli, who was then 4, went to the McDonald's drive-thru. Fifi was parked in Selden's lap at the window. He wasn't sure what to say about this little dog wearing a Barbie-brand denim vest with butterflies embroidered on it, except, "Um, she's not actually mine." Sure, buddy, that's why she's sitting in your lap. They've always had a love-hate relationship. That could have well been the end of Fifi's vest-wearing days.
When Sage came home from the hospital, Fifi refused to come when I called her. I thought she was having an attitude about the baby. I was wrong. She was sitting next to where Sage was lying. Fifi's expression was fully alert, like she was looking after the baby.
Summer vacation weeks, Fifi came with us to my Dad's. She rode out on the front of the paddle boat while Eli went fishing. She sunned herself on the dock. She went out in the bass boat with Selden and strained to see the ripples in the water where the fish were leaping. When he caught one, she would come close to falling out of the boat to get a first peek. (He may not have really liked her, but he let her fish with him, so I think underneath the tough exterior, Selden had a soft spot for Fifi..... Although he would probably beg to differ.)
In the summer, we sprayed streams of water from the hose, and Fifi ran circles to chase it, sometimes getting too close to the hose, and then sneezing out nostrils full of water. You've never seen a worse looking sight than a drenched Papillon. Ever. It's not pretty.
My mother provided "foster care" for Fifi for a few months a couple years ago. She noticed Fifi would bring each individual piece of food up to the couch to chew it, so she set (literally set) Fifi a place on the sofa. Placemat, bowls... it was elegant. And Fifi didn't have to run back and forth between bites. Grandparents really know how to spoil a dog.
One year, my mom bought Fifi a lobster suit. It was a scream to see her wearing this thing, with claws and antennae. Fifi skulked. Though she did expect to be the center of attention, she was certainly not sure a lobster suit was quite dignified enough for her. The next year my mom bought her a peacock suit. Fifi wore it, seemingly happy. Until I noticed later that it smelled like pee. That dog had a passive-aggressive moment and wriggled out of the suit and peed on it! And I didn't notice until later, when I was holding her in my lap... Nice, Fifi. Really nice.
For the past month, though, Fifi has not been herself. Sure, she's yapped and barked. She's run like a fool all over the house. But she hasn't been feeling well. Her walking became labored. Her sitting down, tentative. It was clear she was hurting.
So, the doctor brought her in to me in a pink towel. I held her like a baby, which I realized I'd not done enough in recent months, what with life so crazy and things so busy. I put my face in her fur, and a tear fell onto her head. I wasn't sure what to say to this dog who's driven me nuts and made me smile. Mostly, I looked at her, felt the tiny weight of her all bundled up and cozy in my arms. I thought my goodbyes quietly. Memories flipped through my mind like slides.
Walking to the door, I opened it and said quietly to the vet, "We're ready."
Fifi whimpered just a little at the solution the doctor injected. "You're a good girl, Fif," I said. "I love you. You're a good girl." And she was still.