PET STORY: “Circles” by Miguel Angel

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by Miguel Angel, San Diego, CA

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles.

Looking at the calendar I realize how close we are to the vernal equinox. Since Tita died last December, I have not taken a walk in my neighborhood. I just became aware of this; I have missed watching the trees at the end of Park Boulevard dance with the breeze, apparently unaware of their bareness, on this soon to end winter.

I have lived in University Heights for almost six years. Through all this time, Tita and I tried different routes on our daily walks but we always returned to the northernmost block of Park Boulevard. Tita loved being recognized and petted by the storekeepers along the street and I loved keeping track of the passage of the months by observing the trees lining the street. Those trees were the constant measure, the chart by which I knew the season we were in. Those trees marked consistently the perimeter of the circles in my life.

Whoever says we have no seasons in Southern California is not very observant. It doesn’t matter how much we humans wish to detach ourselves from nature, we possess an innate internal compass pointing toward it. This compass is not obvious to everyone. Most of us live life immersed in what we call “life and living;” our daily routines of ‘important’ jobs, superfluous diversions, inadequate nourishment for our physical survival, and a lack of awareness of who we are and what we are doing.

To keep it all in context, I wander through life watching the sun’s light change its hue, angle, and intensity; tracking the phases of the moon on the firmament; and absorbing the subtle changes around me. One thing I have observed so far, and of this I am certain: life is a puzzle of cycles, of circles. We journey through intellectual, physical, emotional, as well as spiritual cycles. And it all moves forth in such a flux of experiences that, oftentimes, we are unaware of their endless repetition.

Some of the cycles we go through that appear more relevant to some of us are the emotional cycles. Often, when we experience loss, we focus so much on loss that we do not realize it is only one aspect of a much greater cycle, but not its entirety. To experience loss, we have to experience its opposite, the prior absence in our lives of that which we have lost. We also dismiss the process by which what we lost came into our lives, how we became engaged and related with someone or something. The intensity with which we experience loss has to do not with a constant that applies to everybody, but with a variant that is our own individual perception of emotions and values.

I grew up in Mexico, where pets are not part of the family but rather third-class members of the household. I remember our poor dog, “Consentido”—his name means spoiled and trust me he was far from that—eating leftovers at the very end of our meals. There were no pet stores where one could walk in with a dog to buy toys, special food, treats, and all these things Americans afford their pets. Hell, for all I remember, we were struggling to feed ourselves!

Then I moved to the U.S. where I met Cuauhtli and Tizoc, two beautiful Xolo Izcuintle breeds who taught me a different way to relate to dogs. They were walked twice a day, ate special foods, and slept at night with Kish, their owner, who preferred to sleep with them instead of his human lover.

 A few years later, after I begged my friend Kish for a dog, and after I put up with him for months on end telling me I would never make a good parent, Tita, a perfect mix of Xolo and Italian Greyhound, arrived one Christmas day and life was never the same.

Falling in love with her was very easy. It was essentially love at first sight. I remember Kish walking in with this tiny, dark charcoal-colored bundle in his arms. He laid her on the floor; she looked up at me and then started shaking violently. She was afraid of those strange surroundings. My parental instincts kicked in instantly.

Kish told me I needed to find a name for her. I didn’t hesitate for a moment—the scene in my favorite movie, Like Water for Chocolate, in which the main character, Tita, had been beaten by her mother and was hiding in the dove cot, where the doctor came and found her shaken and bloody, came rushing to my head—and in one breath I said, “Her name is Tita.” Never mind that was the name we grew up calling my older sister. In Mexico it is not considered an honor to have a pet named after a human, particularly a family member, but I did it anyway. That was the first huge sign that my attitude towards pets had changed greatly.

Staying in love with Tita was not as easy; it was somewhat challenging at times. I look back now and I can think of more than one thing I would happily give to relive the same situations all over again.

I remember her as a puppy, waking me up in the middle of the night. I would get up thinking she needed to go out to do her business, but she would look at me happily wagging her tail and all she wanted to do was play. She did this at two or three a.m. I must tell you here that I am a Leo. You can mess with anything but my meals and my sleep; so you can imagine how ‘excited’ I was.

I also remember taking her to the park one cold winter morning. She was wearing her brand new sweater when she took off running and disappeared for a while. After I saw no sign of her coming back to me as she always did, I started calling her. She returned covered in human poop, proud as could be, and very eager to kiss me showing off her newest favorite scent. I was irate. I threw her in the back of my red pick up, took her home, and hosed her down with freezing water—I know, all of you dog-lovers hate me right now…but it worked. She never did that again. She would find poop along our walks and she would pretend it wasn’t a big deal; and she made sure I saw her ignore the poop.

Then there was the time she ran right into a cactus and came back to me screaming with needles all over her butt. When she tried to take them out with her mouth she got them on her tongue also. So I sat there, on the side of the road, plucking needles out of my dog’s mouth and butt. She cried with every needle I pulled out.

It was not only trouble she got into. She would also make me feel very special. Anyone who has a dog knows about those welcome-home displays of happiness from the little ones. When I was coping with my mother’s passing, Tita would lick my tears at night whenever I was having some distressing dream and woke up crying. There were also those times when I would catch her looking at me as if I was the most beautiful and perfect thing on the face of the earth. I don’t know if she was thinking of a juicy steak but it certainly felt good to be looked at that way.

I watched her grow old and slow down. All that energy she had as a puppy and as a younger dog was gone. A calm ease took over her and she was content staying on the sofa, always looking at me, always trying to take in as much of me as she could. I would go to work and leave the soft music playing for her all day long. When I returned, I would find her on the couch in a reverie, drooling all over the pillow.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, I promised her I was not going to let her suffer while I told myself that I was going to be strong and live up to that promise.

She had surgery one morning in late September. I went to the veterinary to pick her up in the evening expecting a limp dog, all drugged and knocked out. I found a very happy and alert Tita, wagging her tail, excited to see me. When we got home, I looked at her and she reminded me of an old stuffed animal with many stitches on her belly. I felt very sad. I told myself she would be fine and I told her she better hang around for a few more years. She looked great during the following days and I believed she would be around for a good, long time. A couple of months later I realized I was in denial when I saw her energy drop and her health decline rapidly.

Some people believe in reincarnation but I do not know what to believe in that regard. Lately I have been reflecting on my life repeatedly and I realize I have gone through so many seasons, so many cycles that I feel I have lived several lives and I have traveled a long, long way. Internally, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, I think of myself as an ancient tree: I have a ring for every one of the lives I have lived. Tita is one of those rings, one of the bigger ones perhaps.

Life does present itself to us in cycles, in circles. Things, people, friends, lovers, and yes, pets also, come into our lives and leave an indelible mark on us. We are left transformed forever when they leave us. At one point, it will be us who will leave others, and we become another season, another cycle or circle in someone else’s life.

I had Tita put down early on December 9, 2005. It was one of the saddest days in my life. The previous two nights we didn’t sleep well. She struggled to go outside to do her business on the first night, and on the second night she peed, pooped, and threw up all around even though she had not eaten for three days. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes how sorry she was, embarrassed perhaps—we tend to anthropomorphize our pets too much sometimes—but I knew the time I feared the most had come. At 3:00 a.m., I made the decision I was going to call the veterinarian in the morning and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.

When I came back from the veterinarian my cultural beliefs in dealing with the deceased took over me and I made a shrine with Tita’s picture, her collar, flowers, candles, food and water. I also kept her bed intact for three months and I have allowed myself to cry as I please.

“Our life is an apprentice to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. There are no fixtures in nature. The universe is fluid and volatile. Permanence is but a word of degrees,” Ralph Waldo Emerson also wrote.

I know that another pet will come into my life, a wonderful pet indeed, because there is a history that is waiting to be repeated; there is a circle whose circumference must encompass some of me, there is a cycle that cries to be circumvented again. I also know that I will not forget my beautiful companion of ten years; an unforgettable animal soul that taught me about love and responsibility, a dog that tamed me, trained me, and made me hers.

This spring equinox I will walk the 4600 block of Park Boulevard in University Heights, I will look at the trees lining the street, I will think of Tita when I see on them the new growths, the harbingers of yet another season, and I shall smile and rejoice.

For Tita with love,
Miguel Angel, Spring 2006

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