Abandon your sad history; meet me in the fire.
–Jackson Browne, “Under the Falling Sky”
I don’t remember the age at which my birthday became a day to stop and gape at the size of the number that represents my age and ask the proverbial question:
“What have I done with my life?”
The question first popped up on some birthday in my late 30s or 40s, and has returned on schedule every year since.
The answer requires a whole day of brooding, all of it difficult and pained and full of regret; a meditation on blown chances, squandered friendships, waste-of-time relationships and roads less traveled that I blithely chose only to find out why no one else had chosen them before: They were rocky and dusty and left me with bloody feet. Plus, they were dead-ends.
Somebody asked me a few weeks ago how I got into this mess with dogs. It has nothing to do with not having children, though that always ranks high on my regret list. It does, however, have a lot to do with the annual birthday regret party of 2006. It was three days after I turned 47 that I made the decision to call the vet and end of the life of my 17-year-old cairn terrier, Seamus, who was by then completely deaf and almost blind; incontinent and slow and growing an apparently malignant tumor on his tongue. People around me — neighbors, a boyfriend at the time — scolded me for not making the call sooner. “You prolonged his pain to postpone your own,” chided one particularly sensitive dog expert next door. I disagree to this day: I knew Seamus and he knew me, and he let me know when he was done.
I knew Seamus and he knew me. He was born on my 30th birthday.