It Ain't Over Til it's Over
The bell rang and yet, the fight isn't over yet. It's just begun.
If you know anything about boxing, or combat sports in general, a sound you hear often is the sound of a horn or a bell. The bell signals the beginning of the fight, the end of the round, the start of the next, and the end of the fight.
Before we go on, I'll bring you up to speed; About a year ago, I wrote a story about my dog who suffered from kidney disease.
On a cold night at the end of February, her bell had rang to signal the fight was over. I can't tell you the pain I felt, because eight months later I'm still processing it. It's weird, losing your soulmate. (No, I don't care she was a dog. She was so much more than just a dog to me.)
I titled that story "Fighter Like Me," but the truth is that dog was a better fighter than I could ever hope to be. From the moment of her diagnosis to the moment her kidneys said "no more" that dog fought and she fought valiantly. She fought harder than I ever would have been able to. She took her diagnosis in stride, and til the end she was still my baby; crappy kidneys be damned.
What I hadn't realized is when her bell rang, when her fight was over, my fight was just beginning.
It took me a while to realize that, admittedly. The first few days were a downright blur and at the same time I can remember almost every detail. I remember making the phone call trying to find a place to hold her body for me for the weekend. (It was one in the morning, her vet didn't open til eight. I kind of didn't want to sit in my house with my dead dog til then. Not when I didn't even know if they could hold it for me for free). I remember trying not to cry when I found one. I remember sucking back the tears as I bundled her body into her favorite blankets and set her in the back of my mom's car. The drive to the emergency vet hospital I found who was more than willing to hold her for the weekend for me while I figured out the next steps.
I remember telling my friends who'd followed along on her journey with me, and then turning my notifications off for the night and trying, somehow managing, to get a few hours of sleep.
Some details stick out more than others; like the woman who hugged and held me for a solid few minutes in the emergency vet hospital after I told her Daphne had passed away and I was there because they offered to hold her body.The woman had been in for her cat. I remember trying not to break down in this stranger's arms even though I think she was well prepared in case I did.
(I never got her name, but her cat's name was Fluffball, and I hope Fluffball is doing well to this day, and I hope she is as well. She'll never read this, but if you do by some weird twist of the universe; your actions that night left a lasting impression on me, ma'am, and I'll never forget them.)
Going home that night without Daphne is also another detail that sticks out. Her brother curled up into my arms, and for a while we stayed like that. Not moving. Not talking. Not crying. Just still, the only sound our breathing.
Something to note about me; I'm a fighter. I'm a fighter all the way down to my core. I always have been. Something you should know; no one likes losing but for fighters? It's always worse.
Here I was, my biggest fight, and I'd lost. I'd given everything I had. Every fiber of my being, every ounce of my blood, every drip of sweat, every tear I'd ever cried. My hopes, my fears, my dreams. All of it went into this fight, and it was over, and I didn't come out the victor. For two years, that dog was my life. For a whole year, I thought her kidney disease was our biggest opponent. Now, she was gone and I was alone. I'd lost. I lost the fight, and I lost her.
Except that wasn't the way it went. I realized that was a fight never meant to be won. Everything I'd done was because of a damned if I do, damned if I don't situation. It wouldn't have mattered if I'd done nothing, it didn't matter that I did everything; she was destined to die either way. The real fight would begin after I lost her.
Sort of like in the Rocky series, in Rocky III when Mickey Goldmill dies, and Rocky's forced to go on without him in his corner. February 23, I lost my Mickey Goldmill, and I had to go on without him in my corner.
The fight had just started. Round one had begun. What happened, you may wonder?
I...don't know. From February 23 to March 23rd, it's all a blur. Half because I didn't want to deal with it, and half because we got a new puppy a few weeks after she passed away. I knew I wanted another dog, maybe needed one too. We all did. My grandpa needed something to focus on while he recovered from the stroke he suffered one day before Daphne's passing. My mom needed another snuggle buddy. Grizzly needed a sibling. He wasn't coping well being alone, and me? I needed a focus. I needed something to get my mind out of the gutter of you're a loser. You lost. No matter how many fights you fight you're never going to be undefeated. (It's a dangerous mindset, by the way.)
My mom kept telling me "Daphne will lead you to the right dog." So on a cold Sunday, with a weird feeling in my gut, we went to the shelter, and we found a puppy. A puppy with a clean bill of health, a puppy who'd been through hell and back again (that sound familiar?) a puppy who... was very similar in personality to Daphne.
He was perfect. A pit-bull/German shepherd mix.
We named him Rocky, after Rocky Marciano, the famous boxer. A famous boxer who had been the inspiration for the Rocky franchise, a franchise that happened to be Daphne's favorite movies. (If you were wondering, yes ironically her favorite character was Mick. Kind of fitting, isn't it?)
He was a ball of energy; fully grown but not yet fully mentally developed, came from one of the worst situations I've ever adopted a dog out of, suffered from an anxiety disorder and a little bit of PTSD you could only imagine the severity of, and yet he took it all in stride with a smile on his face.
I'd found my new cornerman in this fight.
We're approaching the ninth month without Daphne now. November 23 will mark it, almost a week after what should've been her fifth birthday. Round nine, if you will. Life's won the first few rounds. If we kept a score card, I'm either tied or behind. I don't know who's winning this eighth one. I'd like to think I am though. Many times I've thought dark thoughts, something I don't want to admit but probably something expected of me with my mental health history. I've found a bit of passion for things I used to love; painting, for example. I got back into that. I started a sport. (...yes, it is a martial art, I told you I was a fighter) and...
I started boxing for a workout.
Irony is the theme of my life now, apparently.
I don't know if I'd say I'm doing okay, but everyone else seems to think so, so I'm okay with saying I'm doing alright. I'm still here. I get out of bed in the morning. Not a minute goes by I don't think of my little girl, but I'm starting to learn to live again, not just survive. It isn't easy, I'm not sure why I expected it to be, but in a fight I didn't expect to win, to make it this far into...I'm doing alright.
Daph and I had a saying; it ain't over til it's over.
Her fight is over. There's no more pain. My fight had just began, and it continues. There are moments I slip up, and I make dumb mistakes, but I'm going to win. She'd want me to win. She's giving me tools I need to win.
I promised her I'd win, and I'm going to win.