Marijean Oldham : Saying Goodbye to Clover (memoir)
Southern Legitimacy Statement: My Southern Legitimacy is in evidence when I tell you that yesterday I wore a dress and stockings to attend a ladies’ tea party where we drank champagne all afternoon. Most of the ladies are aging exotic dancers, and had the shoes to prove it. It was delightful.
Saying Goodbye to Clover
Clover is dying. I sit in my car in the parking lot of the emergency vet with my seventeen-year-old daughter. I almost didn’t come. When Mark called that morning, he cried and told me our dog could no longer walk, and asked what he should do. “I think it’s time,” I said. Probably past time, I thought, but understood how hard it must be to make the decision to let go.
When he texted me the address of the emergency vet, I texted back. “Will Kathleen be there?” I would need to prepare myself for an encounter with his fiancée, my former friend.
“I’ve said my goodbyes,” I texted in reply. “Good luck with everything.” I decided the hardship of being in the same room with the woman who dismantled my family while my dog died, would be more than I could bear.
My phone rang moments later. “Mommy?” Allison sobbed into the phone. Too upset to drive from her restaurant job to the emergency vet, my daughter begged me to come get her. And now, here we sit in my car, bracing ourselves.
As soon as we walk through the doors, she’s there. Kathleen. She looks directly at me for the first time in more than two years. “I’m so sorry,” she says.
I know she’s talking about the dog, but I fantasize that she’s apologizing for destroying my family.
“Where are they?” I ask, and she leads us back to the room where my sweet old dog lies on a table. Mark is there, and Laura, Kathleen’s youngest daughter. Clover is conscious, but barely. He seems to have lost his vision and it’s clear he’s barely hanging on. Kathleen pets his curls and murmurs to him.
My dog, I think. My dog. My husband. My daughter. As she runs her hand over Clover again and again, I note the band of diamonds around the ring finger on her left hand. I want her to leave.
We stand awkwardly. Distraught, Mark barely speaks. He stands in the corner of the small, clinical room, as far from the rest of us as he can.
Two days before, Seth, her ex-husband, the man I have grown to love, and I held a memorial service for Seth’s father who died in the spring. His daughters – Kathleen’s daughters – Suzanne and Laura, spoke at the service, remembering their grandfather. Laura, age eight, stands now, next to her mother, with yet another reason to grieve.
I take a deep breath. “Your girls did such a good job at Archie’s memorial,” I say to Kathleen, an olive branch, mother to mother, letting her know that I love her daughters. I hope this will catch her off guard enough that she’ll step back, and allow me time to say goodbye to my dog.
“Thank you for saying that,” she says, “I can’t even talk about that right now.” She steps away to put her arm around her daughter.
I seize the opportunity and bend down so my face is level with Clover’s. My mind floods with memories. I think of the many pancakes I made, just for him, so many that he became trained to the sight of the griddle and would sit behind me on the kitchen floor whenever the griddle appeared. When the towers fell on 9/11 I sat watching the scene repeat over and over on TV, tears dripping down my face. Clover, never the snuggler, leaned into my side with his whole weight. I stroke his floppy ears. “Hey, bud. It’s okay if you need to go. I know you’re tired. I love you.” I kiss his head and straighten to stand, my eyes brimming, blurring. Laura, crying herself, hands me a tissue.
The vet comes in and explains that they’ll be administering the injection that will put Clover to sleep, and we’re welcome to be present for it. I immediately opt out, choosing to wait in the lobby. Allison wants to stay, as does Mark, Kathleen, and Laura. I hug Allison, then Mark, then Laura and leave the room, alone. I keep my eyes low, in case Kathleen is looking at me. I don’t want see her.
I sit in a molded plastic chair, considering the linoleum. The door to the treatment room opens, and closes. Dansko-clad feet appear in my peripheral vision, and Kathleen sinks into the chair next to me.
“Everyone deals with grief differently,” she says.
I’m wrecked. Tears flow from my eyes as if they’ll never stop.
“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I was just so angry when I found out you were dating Seth.”
“I’m not having this conversation with you,” I say, and the tears stop. I wipe my face with my hands. I’m doing all I can to forgive her, not for encouraging my ex-husband to leave me, but for the many cruel, unkind, and untrue things she’s said about me, my daughter, and to Seth. I’ve come to terms with the end of my marriage and see her role in that as incidental. She added an inevitable event to a timeline.
The door opens again and the kids, Laura and Allison emerge, followed by Mark. The girls cling to one another and cry. Mark struggles to collect himself. I give him a sad smile. “Think he’s dreaming of pancakes?”
“Or rolling in the snow?” He smiles back, sniffling. We share two kids and more than twenty years of memories, including this one. In the parking lot we part without words, only waves.