Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (15 page)

It turns out Lilly's trainer has been down this road as well. Wendy seems like a bright woman. After overhearing me vent on the phone one day, she offered her story. A few years ago Wendy began to feel kind of achy and tired. One day she had an initial consultation for a dog with a perfectly ordinary behavior problem. She says she'd usually be able to discuss a dog like this quite easily, but at the new client's house, Wendy's mind went suddenly blank and she could barely string two words together. The problems didn't go away, and after much trial and error, Wendy got help from a tick rheumatologist in New Jersey, one of the top doctors in the Lyme-literate community (in other words, a quack).

Wendy's big on research, and she is good at putting things in layman's terms. Apparently the fossils rely on tests that were developed back in the 1980s, when Lyme was just beginning to be studied. There are new blood tests available now, which can detect minuscule traces of the elusive bacteria. Wendy says these newer tests are being used routinely on animals when Lyme is suspected. But for unexplained reasons (like what? Lack of reliable double-blind studies, or something more shady and financial?) they have not yet become a mainstream tool for diagnosing humans. In other words, if I were a dog, or a cow, I'd have a much better chance of finding out what's wrong with me.

Wendy's doctor found a tick disease and put her on long-term antibiotics. She's got her marbles back now, and she is urging me to drive two hours to New Jersey for tests. Having done plenty of legwork, Wendy thinks the Lyme-literate doctors in our immediate area are not up to snuff. Apparently there are some
real
quacks out there, but Wendy's rheumatologist seems to stick to the rules, such as they are.

—Drive two
hours
? I'm not sure I can do that by myself. Did you?

—I had no choice.

—How long did it take you to get better?

—Years.

—
Years
? God. I have to travel. And this dog—two hours round-trip plus an appointment is too much time alone for Lilly. Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?

Wendy gives me a long look, and waits.

—That was a hypothetical question, Wendy.

—Okay.

She waits.

—Why, what are you not saying?

Wendy sighs.

—Look, Susan, you've done a lot for Lilly—she's adjusting nicely, but you are in an extremely difficult situation. Even if you had your health, taking dogs with separation issues on trips is not a great idea. Every new environment will trigger her fears. I would not blame you if you decided to find a new home for Lilly, and if you do, you can feel good that you've given her a great start.

I've been waiting for Wendy to bring this up. Driving her to it, daring her, dreading it.

I look at Lilly, dreaming at my feet. The sight of her always soothes, mysteriously, the way transcendent art can heal the soul. A meditation. Articulated muscles and streamlined tendons; a perfect instrument, ideal in proportion, almost vibrating the potential for power and speed but also heart-meltingly, exquisitely fragile—a long-limbed, brindled Stradivarius violin, silent but ready, sprawled decorously on my oriental carpet, one ear cocked in my direction.

It's the visual that drew me to greyhounds in the first place. Now this reserved, majestic creature is my friend. She's counting on me.

—I don't think I can. I mean—this is my dog. If change is too disruptive for Lilly, how's she going to deal with a new owner?

—Well, it's just something to consider. You don't have to decide right now. Maybe you'll get better faster than I did.

It seems to me there are two clear options.

One: give the situation a little more time.

Two: fire Wendy, put Lilly in the back of the car, drive downtown to the Ben Franklin Bridge, get Lilly out of the car, and jump, together, immediately, into the icy, roiling Delaware River.

So.

Probably first I should try the quack camp.

The O'Briens agree to take Lilly for the day, so that's something. Praying she won't cry the whole time I'm gone, I make the two-hour drive to a leafy colonial suburb in New Jersey. I park close to the entrance, figuring if I'm too stiff to get out of the car, at least I can call from my cell phone for assistance.

Thankfully assistance is not necessary. Instead, I hobble in to have my blood drawn by Dr. A, who looks, surprisingly, more like a neighborhood soccer mom than an evil, devious IV-pushing quack. She gives me a rundown on how Lyme-literate doctors diagnose and treat a tick disease, tests my range of motion, nods soberly, and offers me enough doxycycline to last till the labs come back. Phew!

Dylan, King, and Lilly

Lilly's playdate, as I'd hoped, has gone smashingly. She's not all that enthusiastic meeting boisterous dogs, but with other greyhounds it's different. I'm not sure exactly why this is. The books will tell you greyhounds are sort of socially picky, preferring each other's company. It may be because all their early life is spent in a sort of exclusive pack, and a Labrador or Scotty seems alien. Whatever the reason, Lilly's like a different creature around Dylan and King, despite their vigorous male energy, and when I take her home she whines the whole way.

The first time Dylan and King came to our place for a visit, Lilly was thrilled. Everyone was, actually, except Joey, who I had forgotten to put away. The O'Briens don't have cats, and King immediately got some exercise streaking after Joey up two flights of steps to the third floor. Fortunately Joey managed to make it inside the box springs of the guest bed in the nick of time, and interestingly, our winding third-floor stairs didn't faze King in the slightest on the way up. Linda says King's not known for his brains (there is some suspicion that he was not much of a success on the track; in fact, his trainer may not have even bothered to try him in a single race). This was proven when he galloped madly up without much thought
(That's a rabbit! Get the rabbit!)
, but then seemed to go completely blank on the reverse, stiffening at the treacherously narrow top step.

Lilly is still cautious with our stairs. She has this long warm-up ritual when it's time to go up for bed—there's a lot of yoga stretching (downward-facing dog)—and if I forget the hall light, she'll wait, panting up at me from the bottom of the unlit stairs. When I turn it on, she still has to pace back and forth several times, sort of revving the engine, before trotting daintily up.

I can relate. I rely completely on banisters now. If I suddenly realize I've left something downstairs while we're on our way to bed, I can't just turn around midflight and go back, because Lilly will want to do the same, and she is guaranteed to lose her footing on the steps mid-turn and might actually tumble all the way back down. (This has happened.) Instead, I continue climbing, to the top, pointlessly wasting energy, cursing my forgetfulness, and wait for Lilly to reorient herself so I can lead her back down again.

Anyway, Lilly can't get enough of those O'Brien boys. Her tail goes up the minute they're around, her ears tip forward; she's literally smiling. Arrangements are made for them to take her off my hands for a couple of weeks while I fly down to New Orleans and wait for the quack's test results. The O'Briens are a godsend—the drive I planned is out of the question for now, given the circumstances, and it's high time I joined my husband.

NEW ORLEANS, FEBRUARY 2011

Dirty little secret: I was nervous about New Orleans. After all my fantasies of happily-ever-after on location, the truth is I had no idea if this new life would be as wonderful as I'd hoped. I have work to do, and what about this health thing—will I be a burden to David while he's filming
Tremé
? At face value, the reasons for my delay coming down here were innocent, but in a sense I was sort of relieved. Maybe all these years he's
liked
being off on his own. Why would he want to suddenly have to live with some whiny, disabled woman who's totally preoccupied with her crazy dog, a dog who doesn't even like him? How's it going to go? It's bizarre to feel like a guest in my own husband's house.

I can't help wondering if frequent separations are the key to our success—no risk of overfamiliarity. Maybe I really have been wrong about the SBDs all this time—were they actually on our side, keeping us interested in each other by never quite giving us enough time together? I know the SBDs are a fantasy, but the subconscious is a powerful thing. Did I subconsciously
choose
a dog who would keep me out of David's hair? What about those theories about illness, that it can be created out of fear? Did I
make
myself semi-disabled so as to avoid inflicting my Lucy Ricardo alter ego on my husband?

But from the moment I spotted David smiling at the airport last night, I could tell we'd be fine. There were flowers waiting on the kitchen counter, dinner by candlelight, a comfortable sofa, and my favorite breakfast provisions. The house is in a quiet neighborhood, not too far from some pretty good shopping, with a yard for Lilly (so much for
that
plan). The only disappointment: the altitude on the flight did a number on me—I really thought the doxycycline might be helping, but after the trip down here I'm fully back to square one.

David doesn't have a printer, and I need one for all sorts of reasons­, so on our first morning, we head out for errands and a tour. I'm trying to figure out why everything feels so familiar. The only other time I've been to this town was last year when we brought the boys down for a couple of nights over spring break while David was filming a few episodes of the show's first season. Now, I'm beginning to understand what the fuss is all about. There's nothing like New Orleans—it's almost like visiting another country. But why do I feel as if I'm home?

David's a great guide. Because of my immobility we've done most of our viewing from the car, and managed to cover quite a lot, despite the fact that anywhere you go here, you are likely to be delayed. The roads are gas eaters. There are all these one-way streets with wide median strips, and every destination requires negotiating a series of elaborate doglegs and U-turns. Plus, there's always a parade going on somewhere in New Orleans, and where there's a parade, everything stops. Nothing to do but wait and enjoy the scenery. There's plenty to see—I can't get over the live oaks, strung with years of Mardi Gras beads, their long limbs arching across all the streets. I think the cemeteries fascinate me most of all. This city is built on a swamp, so everyone has to be buried aboveground in elaborate stone crypts and mausoleums. New Orleans is all about show; this is where you should live if you haven't outgrown the childish urge to dress up. Not just for Mardi Gras. Masquerade is like a religion—deadly serious—there are endless excuses to put on costumes, and the favorite trends seem to be Indians, Baby Dolls, and Skeletons.

We drive through the Lower Ninth Ward, past empty lots and houses with somber post-Katrina body-count symbols painted on doors and boarded-up windows. We park close to the levee so I can drag myself up the iron staircase to see where it broke. I've been trying to understand and prepare for this, reading Tom Piazza's excellent novel
City of Refuge
,
about two families torn apart by the disaster. It's staggering to think of the water, all over these streets, well above our heads. People drowning right inside their homes.

You can hardly go anywhere without catching a glimpse of the Superdome. My own troubles are sliding slowly but surely into perspective.

Here's an important tip: It's good to keep your car windows rolled up on Bourbon Street. I know it rains a lot certain times of the year here, but not enough to sanitize the party district in the French Quarter. New Orleans is one of those places where you can walk outside with a drink in your hand, and Bourbon Street smells like a great big frat house at the peak of rush: decades of vomit embedded in every nook and cranny. If you dug a sample out of just one crack in the sidewalk on Bourbon Street and tested it, I bet you'd score a DNA medley of the Southern literati elite—just think of all those tortured wild boys who ruined their livers here: Faulkner, Capote, Williams … It's amazing they got any writing done in this town.

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