Kathy Bradley is an author, newspaper columnist, speaker, and prosecuting attorney in Georgia. Her book, "Breathing and Walking Around: Meditations on a Life" was awarded the inaugural Will D. Campbell Prize for Creative Nonfiction in 2010 and garnered her the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Essay in 2013.
Sunday, December 02, 2012
Human Hearts and Veterinary Science
Once a month Lily takes heartworm medicine. It is a chewy, brown rectangle that, now that I think of it, bears a passing resemblance to the chewy brown rectangle of calcium that I take every morning. A long time ago Saint Buddy showed me a 3-D model of a canine heart infested with heartworms intending to make an impression. He did. So for 23 years – through Ginny’s life and now through Lily’s – I’ve dutifully administered what I’ve hoped would protect my dogs’ hearts from becoming the living representations of that model.
I operate under no delusion, however, that either of them remained completely heartworm free. Ginny lived, Lily lives in the country. Running wild through fields, chasing down and scavenging wild animals on occasion, spending their lives outdoors means that one can reduce the odds, but not completely eliminate the chance of getting the one bite from the one mosquito that will infest a healthy beating heart.
And, yet, I try.
A few days ago I dropped by Saint Buddy’s to pick up a refill. Whatever the number of cats and dogs that may be present, I am always struck by the clean chlorine-y smell of the place – like a swimming pool or a freshly laundered white towel. It is the scent of competence, a perfume made from a mixture of science and compassion. It makes me feel safe.
Among the many angelic beings who spend their working days at Saint Buddy’s is delicate and ethereal Amy, a near-doppelganger for a young Emmylou Harris. You can tell from the light in her eyes that she speaks the language of children and animals and I am always glad when she is the one to take Lily’s leash from my hand and lead her toward the treatment rooms.
As I explained to her the reason for my visit – to pick up heartworm medicine – she looked up from the computer where she was looking up the prescription and asked, “For Miss Lily?”
“Yes,” I said and then laughed. “Though I could probably use some myself.”
Amy laughed, too, and said something like, “Couldn’t we all?”
Our eyes met. And held. And in that second, that two, three seconds, something important happened. A social exchange became a real conversation. A commonplace chat became a significant dialogue. An ordinary encounter became a memorable moment.
My laughter faded to a breathy chuckle. “Some days,” I offered, “I’m convinced that my heart is absolutely full of worms.”
Still smiling, but now less photographically, Amy nodded and said, “And if somebody offered me a pill for it, I wouldn’t even have to have it wrapped up in cheese. I’d swallow it whole.”
I’ve known Amy for a long time. We’ve spent lots of moments together. But this moment, this particular moment, I will never forget.
There was another woman at the counter. She must have overheard our strange back-and-forth, but she didn’t acknowledge it. Just stood very straight, very still. I suspect that she was staring into a corner somewhere, pretending to be invisible.
I don’t blame her. I’ve been her. I’ve been the woman without the time, the patience, the courage to engage in the bigger, deeper questions. I’ve been the woman who just wanted to get it done, whatever “it” was. Couldn’t bear to think any more than absolutely necessary because I knew where thinking would take me.
Funny thing is, that never works for long. At least, not for me. I am convinced that we, all of us, are connected and it is in having the conversations, sharing the moments, telling the stories that we find the connections.
And, now that I think of it, it just may be that those connections are exactly the heartworm medicine that we humans can’t live without.