1540438_10151980970316512_7186835111739154299_oMaude is dead. I’m 36 today.

I’m 36 today, my best friend is dead, I am underemployed, broke, living paycheck to paycheck, borrowing money from family to make ends meet.

Sunday at a wedding I was sitting with two other friends of mine. One friend was describing her recent good fortune. “Good things seem to keep happening to me. I just wonder when it’s all going to stop.”

The other friend said, “Oh, come on. You’re a good person, and you deserve to be happy! You’ve got good karma. Good for you.”

I sat in silence, thinking, so I’m a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be happy? That’s why bad things keep happening to me?

Most of my friends are doing pretty well financially. They own houses and cars and have children and go on vacations both here and abroad. They buy things. I’m happy for them; they are, to borrow a phrase, good people who deserve to be happy. But sometimes I feel like if I hear another one of them say that something “only” costs $500, “only” costs $100, “only” costs $20, I will scream and throw something.

They do things together that cost too much money for me to be able to do. I am torn: do I want them to invite me so I can feel included and have the opportunity to say no? Or do I want them to not mention it at all so I don’t feel bad? Sometimes I still hear about it later.

I have my own jewelry business, but until I can make ends meet I can’t afford to market it properly, so there it sits, semi-dormant for now. I am mostly okay with this. I have other things to worry about, like paying as much of the electricity bill as it takes to keep the lights on.

I apply for jobs. I hear from interviewers, I dress in my job interview pants and blouse and go get interviewed. I send my usual “thank you for the interview” email, to which I never get a response.

To apply for jobs is to live a thousand different lives in one’s head. I interview for a job at a financial company in Northwest Austin, and I picture myself driving there, parking, working at one of the desks in their cubicle farm. I interview for a job downtown and imagine myself taking the bus so I don’t have to park. I interview for a job at the University of Texas, and picture myself working in one of the red-roofed stucco buildings near the tower. But those lives never happen.

I am broke; I have no savings or assets or prospects, but I am not poor. Poverty is not what this is. Poverty means not having family support. It means not having a college education or marketable job skills. It means not having friends who would intervene if I were unable to get food, or if I were to become homeless. It means not being able to apply for jobs or dress in job interview pants or go to interviews or send thank-you emails. It means having my depression go untreated, which luckily it doesn’t. And I know I am lucky to have the skills and support and tools I need to get by, however marginal my “getting by” is.

But if this isn’t poverty, what is it? I think I’m a victim of the eroding middle class, of income inequality, of job scarcity, of the trimming away of workers’ rights, of living in a growing tech city with low unemployment, high competition for jobs, and skyrocketing costs. I could move, but that would be much more complicated than it sounds.

So I am your anecdote. When you are with your friends or family and the economy comes up, you can say, “I have a friend who can’t find a job…” You can explain my situation and make your point that the economy still has a long way to go. You can make your point that sometimes even a college education and 15 years of work experience isn’t enough. Or you can joke about how an English degree isn’t good for anything. It’s up to you.

Maude died on April 15, nearly ten years to the day since I brought her home for the first time. It was recent enough that when it’s time to give Moki a treat, I still grab two treats from the canister without thinking. I can still remember what the fur felt like under Maude’s chin. I can still feel her wiggle her little head back and forth as she buried her face in my hair to sleep at night. I can still hear the little barks she made in her sleep sometimes. I can still picture the way she bounced around the room whenever I came home, so happy to see me.

I wrote those last four sentences in the present tense, and I had to go back and correct them.

So I’m 36 today, but you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t feel like celebrating.

a maude update

(First, a job update. I continue to apply for jobs and go on interviews, and in my spare time I’m working on starting my own business. No details for now in case it doesn’t pan out, but I figure one of three things will happen first:

  1. I will get a full-time job.
  2. My business will become profitable and support me.
  3. I will go broke, get evicted and live on the mean streets of Austin.)

this blanket came from a bluishorange reader a long time ago

So Maude isn’t doing very well. Her arthritis and kidney failure have combined forces to render her back legs tricky and unreliable. One minute she’ll be standing up, the next she’ll have sort of rolled over into a sitting/laying down position. She has trouble going up our front steps after we’ve taken her outside. We built a little ramp for her to use, and she uses it when she remembers it’s there, but otherwise she does this sort of clumsy scramble up each step. Sometimes when she drinks water, she falls into the bowl a little and gets water on her face.

I can’t imagine any of this is much fun for her, but for me to watch it is terrifying. I’m reminded of a time several years ago when I was holding her in my lap on the sofa. I was scratching her ears and I felt something fall and hit me in the arm. I picked it up and saw that it was one of her teeth. I was horrified, and of course I freaked out. “OH MY GOD, MAUDE, ARE YOU OKAY?” I cried. She wagged her tail and looked at me like, hey, when can we get back to you scratching my ears?

But that was 2005. Now it’s 2013 and she’s 13 years old, at least, and I don’t know how much time she has left. There is still tail wagging, thankfully. She gets excited about food and treats and going outside. She likes to explore the yard, albeit very, very slowly. She likes to sit next to me in bed and lick my forehead. She likes when I give her little pieces of vegetables I’m chopping. She can’t go on neighborhood walks anymore, but we put her in a little secondhand stroller and wheel her around, and she likes being out and about with us. Of course I don’t know this for absolutely sure, but she seems like she isn’t in any pain.


best $5 I ever spent at the Texas state surplus property store

But sometimes there is no tail wagging. Sometimes I put her down on the bed, and instead of moving around and getting comfortable like she usually does, she lets herself sort of fall down wherever I’ve placed her. Sometimes I tell her it’s time to go outside, and instead of standing up and moving towards the door, she just lies there and stares up at me.

The decision of when it’s time to let your dog go is one I’ve never made by myself before. We had to put our childhood dog to sleep when she was 11 and the vet discovered that she was positively riddled with cancer. My sister and my dad were driving to St. Louis to take my sis to college at the time, and since this was before cell phones, my mom and I couldn’t call to consult them. But that decision was an obvious one for my mom and me to make, and we did the right thing. The hard part was later that day, when we flew to St. Louis to meet my dad and sister, and we had to tell them that the dog they’d said “see you soon” to that morning was dead.

This decision is different. First of all, it’s mine and Brendan’s to make. We are not 20 years old, and there is no medically-trained mother here to tell us what she thinks we should do. We’re 34 and 35, and she’s our dog, and second of all there is no obvious, hard-line evidence telling us what to do. Some days I see her lying there listlessly and think, it’s time. Other days I get ready to give her treats and she jumps up and down on those tricky hind legs like she’s 4 years old again, and I think, how could I ever have thought it was time?

Maude is my best friend. I know she’s just a dog, and I know I have another dog, too, but that’s just how it is. No disrespect to her sister Moki, but Maude and I are close in a way I’ve never been with another dog, not even my childhood dog. Maude and I lived alone together for years, with no boyfriends or housemates or other dogs. Just us. For a while in my mid-twenties, Maude was the only reason I could think of to get out of bed. If I didn’t get out of bed, Maude wouldn’t be able to eat or go outside, and I loved Maude, so I got out of bed. I don’t know if I’d say she literally and definitively saved my life, as I was hardly suicidal at the time, but she definitely saved my living. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to feel Maude’s breath on my ear, her face buried in my hair, and think, I may not have much going for me, but how could I ever not do right by this dog?

Also, Maude is not just a dog. If you’ve ever met her, you know she’s got a certain gravitas about her, a seriousness that to me indicates a bit of depth. I’m sure I’m projecting some of that onto her, but not all of it. My friend Sarah says that Maude has the je ne sais quoi, and I think that’s the best way to describe it.

I have plans for what to do with her after she’s gone. I’m going to have her cremated by herself. It’s a more expensive option than having her cremated with other dogs, and before I researched this I didn’t know they even did that. I guess they have that option for people who don’t want the ashes back. But I want her ashes back. I’m going to save most of them in an urn, and put a little bit in a brass screw-top canister that I will hang on a chain along with the tag from her collar. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll wear around my neck forever, but I’ll definitely need it for a little while.

I wish that deciding when it’s time to let her go was as easy as deciding what to do after. Obviously if she seems like she’s in pain or she takes a definitive turn for the worse, it’ll be a less difficult decision, but right now I’m really struggling. The thing I’ve heard people say the most is that they’ve regretted waiting until it was too late, but they’ve never regretted maybe doing it too soon. I can understand the first part, but the second part escapes me. What if I did put her down too soon? What if she had some good months left and I took them away from her?

I still wake up in the night and feel her there next to me, but now I check to see if she’s still breathing. How could I ever not do right by this dog?