Anna, My Mother and Me

I close my eyes and listen to my mother’s voice. It’s as familiar to me as the sound of my own breath. She speaks softly, gently. But unwavering.

“She’s my girl,” my mother says quietly, yet adamantly. She’s stroking her dog’s head, and wondering if Anna hears her. The dog is 80% dehydrated after being stuck in a drainage pipe for 17 days, is necrotic, and on a ventilator. I have to turn my face away to breathe because of the stench from her rotting wounds. I, in turn, feebly pat my mother’s shoulder to offer comfort. I know the dog is going to die. They just brought her back to life on the operating table, and there is no way Anna can survive.

Anna is comatose, but she seems to recognize my mother’s kind, soothing voice. The dog’s nose twitches a little, and her heart rate changes on the monitor. Still, she just had a seizure so it could be another mild one.

“Even if she dies, she knows you were here,” I tell my mother. I brace her for the inevitable but my mother is constant in her vigil.

No matter that Anna is not what you’d call a “good” girl. Or an easy girl. She gives my parents a run for their money, and always has. Erratic, unpredictable and snappish, she was never the ideal companion. Terrified of people, she is still leery of humans, even family members if my parents aren’t around, and heads for cover under the bed during each and every social interaction at their home. When the animal first ran away, we couldn’t find a single picture of her. We realized at ever photo opportunity, the dog, as usual, had run for cover in terror, and hidden from the family members. Anna is rough around the edges, to put it mildly. The fact is, she’s more of a liability.

It doesn’t matter. She’s my mother’s. And so my mother has always just rolled her eyes when she cleans up Anna’s messes, and tries to placate her when the animal is a basket case over things she should be able to handle. Even when she was warned the feral animal they adopted would never make a good pet, my mother never wavered in her commitment to this stray dog. Ever.

And I thank my lucky stars that this is the woman who is my mother. I’m not that unlike Anna. I was difficult from day one. So terrified of strangers as a child I wouldn’t meet their eye. I hid under my bed when I was invited to play at someone’s house, a complete basket case over something I should be able to handle.

I was much more destructive than Anna ever thought about being. Sledding down the stairs on the lid to the toy chest and crashing though the original banister carved before the Civil War. Jumping so hard upstairs the ceiling caved in on the dining room table, just as it as being set for Japanese executives from Tennessee Coal Consolidated.

The worst was accidentally crashing the adjustable hospital table down on my mother’s stomach after her abdominal surgery. She knew I was so upset over causing her pain, and of course her main concern was me.

I was combative. Demanding. Snappish. And that was all before the teenaged years. I won’t go into detail over wrecked cars and damaged real estate.

I sit with my mother at the Mountain Hospital for Animals, and watch her petting Anna’s head and rubbing her ears,  speaking gently and calmly to her. She sat by the dog’s side hour after hour, until days later, Anna miraculously lifted her head. And turned toward my mother.

I get it. I get how Anna, bewildered and blind and more dead than alive, would somehow will herself to come out of the grips of death toward the sound of my mother’s voice.

“She’s my girl,” my mother says, over and over, in her soft, sure voice.

And that’s all we need, Anna and me.

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