This might be the hardest post I've ever done and it's off theme from my Disney World theme for this challenge, but there is an important reason why I have to do this particular post on this particular day (and frankly, I was gonna do it anyway).
You see, April 1, 1997 was the birthday of Meandering Zanderling, aka, Zander Blair, Zachary's older brother and today would have been his 15th birthday had he lived.
In 1997, I wanted a small dog and had always loved Shih-Tzu's but had never had one. I grew up only having large dogs. I was married at the time and my ex had already checked out the local pet store and they only had one Shih-Tzu left. My ex (who I refer to as doofus...everywhere to everyone, so, I'll keep it up here as well) wanted to buy a Shih-Tzu for me for my birthday (he was capable of being nice in theory) and we decided to go look because the owner told him it would be a while before they would get anymore. The first time I saw Zander in the pet store, I had to save him! He was skinny, had patches of hair missing, he was already almost six months old (which is the death sentence for pet shop puppies), and lets just say that the Rat Terrier that he shared a cage with wasn't doing consensual things to him! It was the first time I had ever been in a pet store, and I wish I could say it was my last because Zachary came from the same place (my thinking was Zander was so wonderful, the place must have been magic, and it was because I had two amazing "children" come from there!).
Back to my story, there was no way I was walking out of that store without him! But, as per usual, doofus didn't have any money that day (or any other day where I was concerned but he had tons for beer - another blog for another day). He promised (he loved that word) that if I went ahead and paid for Zander, he'd pay me back, but, as per MY usual, I didn't have enough to cover the full cost. I bawled like a baby and the pet store owner agreed to accepting a post-dated check (probably just to shut me up) so that I could take my new baby home (and thank god I did that because that check in my name guaranteed that I got Zander in the divorce because I kept it!). And BTW, doofus decided he couldn't pay me the full amount at one time (he made a lot more money than I did and I paid all the bills - like I said, another blog for another time), so we agreed to $50 weekly installments that got paid once. So basically, he paid for Zander's foot!
It took a while to get Zander back to health (and a full coat of hair), but he turned out to be the singular most marvelous thing to ever happen to me in my entire life! He was my purpose, my life, and the only thing I've ever truly loved. He was so wonderfully sweet and boy did he love his mommy!! I used to always say that you could look into Zan's eyes and could tell that he knew the meaning to life. He was brilliant and funny and so happy! He used to love to sit beside me, like a human sits and just snuggle next to me! And, at night, he would sleep under my head...my little puppy pillow! And he would grin like Elvis and I called him "Ebbis" so much, he would answer to that more than Zander, or his other nickname "turd-head" (long story short - he fell head first on a turd once, and my daddy always called me shit-head, so it made sense that son of shit-head would be turd-head just as Zachary became pooh-head (now just pooh)).
After my divorce and I became a single "mom", we traveled together, Zander had been to more places than most people...from Canada to Key West and numerous places in between! He loved to stand on the console and would never sleep, no matter how long we drove! Sometimes he would be nodding off while he was standing up! It was sooo cute!
Eventually, I decided the best thing was to get Zan a brother, and welcome Zachary Blair to the family! But I didn't take into consideration how much Zander loved his mommy because he did NOT take to Zach at all!!
Whereas Zachary LOVED his brother! He followed him around while Zander followed me! Our own little trailer park daisy chain!
This is my favorite pic of them ever! I only wish it were a better quality! It was taken with one of the first gen web cams. It looks like Zach is laughing manically while Zander is passed out at his feet! Priceless!
For several years we were one big happy family! Zander was my baby and Zachary was his ever doting brother. Zander slept under my head and Zachary liked to spoon at my side since I'm a stomach sleeper. I'm sure we were a sight!! But now, knowing about my meningioma, I wonder if he knew it was there and that's why he was around my head all the time, he was trying to tell me.
When Zander was six, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and was given less than 6 months to live. I was angry at the world and especially the vets because his heart had always been loud, Christ! I used him for a pillow! I was quite aware of how loud his heart was! We used to kid that his heart was so big and full of love for me you could literally hear it across the room, his little loud ticker. They had never mentioned that his heart was a problem before and now they were giving him a death sentence! I wasn't going to accept it and apparently neither was Zander!
He was the bravest little guy ever. He would have his bad days, but for years (yes, not months, but years), he was the modicum of happiness! They got a new vet whose own dog was going through the same thing, and he made sure that Zander was properly taken care of. Then, in 2008, it all started to change. He started to get really skinny and more and more sick. We went through two bouts of kidney failure, each time I thought that it was the end, but he always bounced back! The vet kept telling me how amazing it was and how amazing Zander was! Zachary didn't get a lot of attention in those years, but he seemed OK with it, like he understood and he always got to visit his brother in the hospital and I think that helped both of them.
I didn't understand at all. I used to say that when the "time" came it would kill me. And there would be no way I could ever "make the decision". Ever. I was so angry during those years and heartbroken, and funnily enough, Zander was the one that held me up! The vet always told me that as long as the light was in Zan's eyes, for me not to worry and if the "make the decision" time came, he wouldn't let me let it go on. It did get to the point where I couldn't use him as a pillow any longer because his heart just got too loud, and I think he knew before I did because he stopped crawling underneath me and started snuggling on the other side of me opposite of Zachary. I hated that. But he was so smart and knew so much it was scary. But I used to pray he would just die in his sleep so I wouldn't have to make the decision at all. When he would have his sick times, I would put my head against his and just scream to myself "let go, please, just let go". He wasn't having it.
In late April of 2009, the time came, 6 year after they gave him 6 months. Another bout of kidney failure came up quickly and he wasn't getting better. During one of my routine daily visits (which were numerous) bringing his lunch to him (which I did because he wouldn't eat the dog food they fed him so I brought him steak cut up into tiny little cubes...the memory of doing that is just as fresh as if it were yesterday), the vet cornered me and told me I needed to start preparing because it was almost time. He mentioned that maybe I might want to bring Zachary to say goodbye (that was also the first time Zander had been in the hospital that I didn't take Zach up there because I think deep down I knew). I wasn't ready and he knew it, so he gave me a couple more days, but it didn't take me long to see that my beautiful boy's light was gone from his eyes. During another lunch drop (which was stupid because he hadn't eaten since the vet gave me the news) and by that time his bloody diarrhea and progressed to bloody vomiting as well, I got sat down again and this time I didn't fight. I knew it was over and he couldn't fight anymore. I could see in his face he was begging me to help him. The vet asked if I wanted to go home and get Zach, but I knew if I left I wouldn't be able to do it, so I didn't.
This is the last picture ever taken of my baby, just a mere couple of days before he got sick the final time, but you can still see the light in his eyes even though he was only about 10lbs, doing what he always did, begging to be picked up and carried even though it's a crappy cell pic!:
So, on May 5, 2009, Zander Blair passed away in my arms. He didn't just go to sleep. I've never told anyone this, but his eyes were open, looking at me, he gasped loudly, then let out his final breath, very raggedly I might add, and then he was gone. Just like that. Eyes still open and locked on mine. Not at all the "easy" thing they tell you it is. He didn't just "go to sleep" like they say, but I don't think he suffered either and it was really pretty quick. They manually closed his eyes and tried to take him away, but I wasn't having it.
The vet eventually had to call Am to come get me because I wouldn't let him go. I was holding him and crying so hard that he was completely covered in snot (the only time I hated my neti pot BTW because although it was clear snot there was tons of it - yea, I know, gross!) and I remember that was making me cry harder because I wanted him all clean and pretty and I just kept apologizing to the techs because he had snot all over him and they were gonna have to touch him. The techs kept saying not to worry, but they were trying their damnedest to pull him away from me. Eventually Am managed to pry me off him and they took him away from me for the final time (and pretty damn quickly too...I think that tech was practically running to get away from me!). But Am took care of everything (god I love my sissy) and now I have the prettiest urn on my entry way mantle with pictures of him, his favorite toys with his little spit marks still on them, his collar, and a stuffed animal that I used to keep on my desk at work because it looked like him, my little Zander shrine.
I worried a lot about Zachary at first. He had never been on his own and technically I had always considered him Zander's brother and not really my son, not like Zan was. But then I worried about the fact that Zachary didn't have any reaction to Zander's loss, in fact, he almost seemed happy that he had me to himself. I resented Zach a lot at first over that and couldn't stand to touch him even. I'm ashamed of those days, but luckily he doesn't hold it against me. I didn't realize until Zan was gone that Zachary and I weren't really close, we actually had to get to know each other. Now, almost three years later, Zachary is a huge part of my life and I'm proud to call him my son, but the hole in my heart for my little Zander-man is as big and as raw as ever, and I'm afraid always will be.
I wish I could say that I know Zander's always with me and that I feel his love around me, but the truth is, I don't feel it at all. It's just gone, and that, my friends, is the biggest hurt of all. But, as they say, life goes on, and one day I will have to deal with Zachary's loss as well. He's always been very healthy though which is a blessing (except he gets bladder stones that have to be removed occasionally). But I wonder a lot about what it will do to me when he leaves me. I don't have many human connections as it is, and the ones I do have that are strong are extremely few. My "kids" are the things that keep those human connections going because they force me to do what my very Asperger nature fights against; loving and being open to receive love. What happens when what little love I am capable of is crushed by the loss of my last "kid"?
Something to ponder for another day. I've cried enough now and frankly I'm hurting pretty bad so I'm going to bed. Happy way to start a challenge though! Leave it to me!
There is one thing I want to say to my Zander-man, whether you are with me or not, watching over me or not, or watching over your silly little brother, you were and will always be the love of my life, I would have died for you if I could have and I would give anything to have you here again. You will never be forgotten and not a day passes I don't think of you. I love you my little turd-head!