Garth Stein! You made a grown man cry.
Patty and I just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, the book by Garth Stein. The bastard made Patty and me both cry.
It’s not a tragic story at all. It’s a story of life, tender and sweet. It is told through the eyes and ‘voice’ of Enzo, Denny’s dog. Denny is Enzo’s master. Denny also races cars. And Enzo narrates the story that evolves around him, Eve, Denny’s wife and Zoe, their daughter.
It’s a fairly quick read. Nice short chapters. Laugh-out-loud moments, and choke-you-up moments too. It’s such a loving story of a dog that adores his master.
Throughout the book, Enzo talks about a dog’s afterlife. During the final chapters, Enzo discusses death, and what a dog has to look forward with a new, healthy body that works again. Flashbacks of my own experience with my own very first dog came rushing back to my memory as we read the last chapter.
My yellow lab was named Becky. I remember Old Yeller from an old Disney movie. And a neighbor girl on my street had a lab when I was growing up. That dog followed her everywhere she went. When we played kick the can after supper, that dog was with her. When we sat on her front porch and talked kid talk, that dog was there. When I grew up, I wanted a yellow lab.
Becky was everything. The best dog ever. We exercised together. We ran the blocks in the neighborhood together. She laid at my feet when we watched movies. My kids would wrap themselves up her legs and hug her all afternoon. She’d just lay there and let them hold her. She chased the ball. She rode in the car to the store. She and I did everything together.
Then one day, when the kids were kicking the ball in the street, a pickup truck was inching its way along, looking at gas meters, or power lines or something. The kids cleared off to the sides of the street, but Becky didn’t. I don’t know if she didn’t hear it, or figured it was going slow enough that it would pass around her, but it didn’t. The driver never saw her still in the street. He drove right over her – not squishing her under the tires, but knocking her down under the engine and hitting her head on the transmission bell housing.
She came up dazed. The driver was horrified that he’d hit her. I screamed, but didn’t hold the driver responsible. I should have had Becky on a leash, or called her to move out of the street. It was my fault.
Becky got up and made her way to the front yard but that was about all she could do. No broken bones, but most likely, a hard blow to her head gave her a good concussion. She went into a coma and never recovered.
I fed her water with a turkey baster, but she couldn’t swallow. I blended up food, but it just ran out of her mouth when I fed her. The trip to the vet didn’t do any good either. She was 11 years old, and there probably wasn’t much we could do for her but, heaven forbid, perhaps decide to put her out of her misery and put her down.
I had never been faced with anything like that before. I didn’t grow up on a farm. We didn’t have pets that died at home. They’d just disappear and not return home. Now, in the middle of watching a faithful family member fail, I talked with my wife about having to put her down.
We took Becky to the vet again. I carried her in, all 50+ pounds of her, limp in my arms. I laid her on the table and stroked her muzzle, her neck and her sides. I ran my fingers through the rough pads of her paws. She lay there without moving a muscle, just her chest filling with air, then exhaling.
The vet prepared the needle, made the injection, then left us alone with Becky. Oh how awful! To think that I had the right or the arrogance to take a life. But here we were, convinced we were doing the right thing and ending Becky’s suffering in a humane way.
Just who did I think I was? God?!
Becky sucked in a breath and whimpered. She quivered once, then exhaled for the last time. Becky had passed, right there under our hands. I cried then, and I cried for the rest of the day, and again the next.
That kind of thing makes you question everything in your life. Why love, if it’s going to hurt that much? Just who do I think I am?!!? Deciding when it’s time to end a life. She was still breathing! Shame! Shame on me for thinking I was doing something noble and righteous. Shame on me. She was my dog, my companion, my best friend. She loved me. I put an end to her life. What an awful time that was.
This morning, when we finished this book, I sat there and cried. All choked up and struggling to read the last few pages, my wonderful lab, Becky, came to visit me one last time. I saw happy times. Times when she ran, and made me laugh, and came to push against my leg so I’d pet her.
That damn book made a grown man cry.
Damn I loved that dog.