Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Breaking the Spell

So Sunday night we finally went back to eat at the new BBQ place in the Mission. This event stands out because the first and only other time we ate there was the night Paco died.

I've debated writing about the details of that night not because I'm afraid of what other people think (it doesn't matter, I've beaten myself up more than anyone possibly could), but because I just want to be over it. I want to be done, but then someone asks me about what happened and I, literally, can't speak anymore. I know you can't rush healing, but not talking about it certainly can't help, so I'm hoping that finally writing about it will prove at least somewhat cathartic.

We moved into the cottage last summer. Previously Aaron had lived in the "front house" with his four roommates. When the cottage came up for rent, we jumped on it since property like that is nearly impossible to find in the city. It took an hour long interview with the landlord, but he eventually conceded that Paco was an exceptional dog, despite being a pit bull, and allowed us to move in.

For months, things went swimmingly. We remodeled the heck out of the cottage and, except for Paco's removal of the cat door during a fireworks induced freak-out, the place improved ten-fold. The white picket privacy fence that separated our two yards was often open to accommodate large parties or share laundry. The entire property was so secure that doors were often left unlocked and people (Paco included) moved freely between houses.

Just after the New Year, while vacationing in Mexico, we decided to add Xochitl to our family. We had just one day to make our decision and, at the 11th hour, we finally heard back from the landlord. He approved adding a dog to the lease provided we pay a reasonable pet deposit increase and fix the fence. "We haven't gotten any complaints yet from the front house," he wrote, "but I'd like to keep it that way."

We got back from Mexico and hit the ground running. Both Aaron and I had a ton of work to catch up on, not to mention there was a new little distraction in the form of one small hairless dog.

Dango had reported that Paco was destructive in our absence. I chalked it up to lack of exercise, but little part of me was worried that this behavior, coupled with his seemingly more ravenous appetite of late, was actually a sign of an underlying medical issue. Still, I had no time to follow up on my theory as we were getting ready for a huge event at the end of January.

A couple of weeks passed and we finally found a free day to take care of house stuff, which included dog proofing the property as per the landlord's specs. We ran our errands, picked up a new cat door and went home. Well, the cat door was off by 1/4" on each side so we couldn't install, but we managed to jimmy rig the rotten fence into compliance. See, Paco had made it a hobby to pop open one of loose boards and squeeze through to check Pirate's feeding spot on the other side. We'd tried to fix the fence before, but it would always fall apart. This time, we took our task seriously, used extra long screws, bracer bars and, on Paco's favorite loose board, a boulder to wedge it shut.

One week later our big event arrived... it was the Golden Gate Kennel Club Show, one of the largest AKC events in Northern California, and we had a booth. I'd been attending the event for years as a spectator so it felt amazing to actually be exhibiting for the first time.

Saturday morning came along and I headed out the door at 7 am to work the booth. Aaron had the dogs for the day and would send me little texts like, "Cuddling on couch with dogs, making sales?" and, "Just took Paco for walk, now for a beer at Benders". I didn't have any time to reply because, well, we were slammed. In fact, I didn't even have time to eat, save the gross $10 nachos Paul and I split in the morning.

When I got home after dark, I was exhausted, famished and elated. We'd done pretty good in sales and met a ton of people, but I'd been on my feet all day. Aaron had forgotten to feed Xochitl breakfast, Paco and Pirate were out of raw food, and I needed to eat as well. Quickly, we made Xochitl work for her food, kibble by kibble. As was the norm, Paco and Pirate participated as well.

We threw Xdog in the crate and left for dinner. The plan was to pick up food for Paco and Pirate on the way home. As we left, I saw Paco crawl out of the cat door and watch us depart. "Uh uh. Inside," I instructed, which was a command he knew well, but this time I didn't stop to enforce it. I can still see his little round eyes as he watched us leave.

We went to dinner at the new BBQ place up Mission street, and it was amazing. Especially after you haven't really eaten all day. On the walk home we stopped to split a piece of pie at the new pie place that opened on Mission, and then to split a whiskey at the Phone Booth. Along the way I discovered we actually had food for Paco and Pirate if I got creative (egg, brown rice leftovers, yogurt) so there was no need to stop at the store.

We were gone for about two hours, and, when we came back, that's when we found Paco.

Aaron went in the gate before me. He later told me that at first he thought someone from the front house had hung Paco's jacket up on the fence, but then he realized it was actually Paco, wearing his jacket, hanging from the fence by his neck. I heard him yelling, "Paco, no!"

I rounded the corner to see Aaron pulling at Paco's neck, trying to get his head unwedged from the fence. Without thinking I ran forward, grabbed Paco by his chest, lifted him from the fence. I later found my purse and bag upside down on the ground, thrown aside.

Since nobody was there, we can only guess at exactly what happened. My theory is that, unable to push aside his trick board, he went over the fence to check Pirate's feeding spot. The spot was empty and it was a pretty cold, January night so he tried to get back into the house. Once again, the trick board was not there, so he tried to go over. The fence had braces along the inside, so he could probably get out easily. However, the fence was smooth on the other side with no foot holds. Any other part of the fence would have been fine, but Paco attempted to go over the part closest to the latch, which happened to be the one part of the fence that had a gap of about 3 inches between the slats. He tried to jump over to get back into the house, didn't make it, his head slid in between the pickets, down the gap, and his feet couldn't touch the ground.

There was so much self anger and blame surrounding the event. Why didn't we feed him before we left. Why didn't we clip him up on the tie down. Why didn't we put him in his crate. Why didn't the cat door fit. Why did we have to fix the fence. Why didn't I take him to the vet. Why did we get Xochitl. Why did we move in the cottage.

As the spiral of blame kept going round and round, the most senseless finger pointed at that restaurant. I couldn't go past the BBQ place without thinking that, if it hadn't sounded so good that night, we would never have left and Paco would be fine. I knew it didn't make sense, but I blamed the place. I was, literally, mad at it. And the fact that the meal we ate was one of the best of my life was just more salt in the wound.

We "forgave" the Phone Booth a few weeks after Paco died. How could we not, it's our favorite neighborhood bar, but it wasn't until this weekend, over 3 months later, that we returned to the BBQ restaurant. It felt weird going in, and somehow the food wasn't as good as I remember. But the act of going back did the trick. It was if the spell was broken and now life can return to normal.

Even so, I refuse to go back to the pie place. I don't care that it was featured in the last issue of Readymade, I'm still mad at it. And the pie sucks.


ADR said...

ana, you're such a great writer. you conjure up so many emotions and feelings from your words.

is the pie place mission pie? if so i think that place is over rated too.

which bbq place was it?

ana poe said...

It's the new BBQ place across from El Rio that delivers (!).

Yes, the pie place is *way* overrated. i don't care if schoolkids grew the fruit and made the crusts by hand, the pie still sucks.

Anonymous said...

No words just yet. So I'm sending love...

sharajj said...

You really are a great writer. I can feel what you went through and it brings me to tears.

Shara/Saje (chaz)

Chad said...

My heart just broke...again...RIP Paco.