Bowls of Sand and Milk

Photo by Ian Espinosa

Photo by Ian Espinosa

I’m so blitzed I’m nearly seeing double. I’m watching the ceiling, how the beams of wood move up and down like tetris, sliding themselves neatly into place.

I had to call the vet to come and kill my dog today. On the roof there are people doing blow and watching sunsets look at how fucking bright and red and pink that is holy shit it’s fucking beautiful, man.

The vet says that the first injection gets her high and feeling good. You can tell. She starts to whine and twitch a bit. Not in a bad way—you can tell that she’s content—almost euphoric. She sighs a little and her paw does that little running thing dogs do in dreams.

We called the vet because she couldn’t get up any longer. She wasn’t eating. Had a seizure. She kept passing out and every time she’d wake back up she’d hear my voice and struggle to sit up and cry and whine and then she’d knock back out again.

I loved that fucking dog.

It’s shit timing and shit luck, to be honest. I’ve had a rough few months and it’s not like I’m in charge of orchestrating time and space but fuck me if this didn’t come at the wrong time. Then again we always say that when things die.

We hadn’t brushed her in a while. When things get old they cannot wash themselves quite like they could before and so she had these little clumps of fur across her pelt. I kept pulling them out, one by one. Talking to her. Telling her how good she was how good she’d always been. I want to keep her fur—to wind it into little nests. It’s soft and black, going brown with age. I bet the birds would love it.

I have a little box of things. Bowls around the house with feathers, stones, and sage. The beak of a bird; the quill of a porcupine. I collect so many pieces of the living, to tie me back to life.

There were these pills I took, for a little while, to heal my pockmarked skin. They did something to my hormones, though, and I was raging suicidal for 10 months. Every day I cried and thought of all the ways that I would end it. It’s fucking incredible—the fact that I’m still here. The memories still raw, of me imagining slit wrists inside a bathtub.

Am I unnerving you?

I’m unnerving myself. When I figured out it was the pills, I stopped them and the surge of serotonin was like micro dosing LSD. But months of brain rewiring takes some time to sort back out and, every now and then, I slip back into old habits.

The vet gives her drugs to make her feel oh so too good. Opiates will slow her heart. All these words, familiar. Her paws the way they run like dogs in dreams. What are you dreaming about little lilac? What are you chasing?

My sweet girl. Even my father cries.

The vet puts his hand on my shoulder. I know him well enough—he’s come to heal my ducks and chickens many times before. He’s only here because the vets in town are closed for holiday. The only one that’s open, when we call, the woman at the front says that their lobby’s stuffed to the brim. Adamantly, I argue that we cannot take her there. I think our deaths are as important as our lives.

I am obsessed with death and how it comes to be. I have been, unfortunately, too well acquainted with its permanence. Our family has sad histories of people taking life in their own hands and so I am obsessed with it. I count you all away like little piggies gone to market all of you my blood the ones who leave me. You mourn differently for those who choose to die because, in small and selfish ways, they chose to leave you.

So how then do you live when you have chosen death for someone else?

It feels wrong to call the vet to come and take her life. I lie beside her and plead for her to go of her own will. Her own volition. I leave for a few hours, and hope she isn’t breathing later when I get back. But she is.

It’s different with dogs, though. When I had chickens, and my flock got sick, I did the thing I had to do to end their suffering. My mother, in her white nightgown and flannel coat. How she held the poor thing down and how I swung the axe. It is quick, of course, with small birds. And yet, it is still traumatizing how their bodies move long after death and how we threw a box down over the body and how still it moved against the box and made noises made noises made noises I knelt upon the ground and cried and tasted the dirt and chewed it all up and down inside my mouth. How my mother walks away, wordlessly. How I think she must have gone to cry as well just not beside me.

My cousins, when they were younger, used to pour bowls of sand with milk and eat it just like cereal. When I chew the dirt I think that it must taste like that. How the blasted bits of glass grind and shatter up against my teeth. I would have called my cousin, after, to tell him this. But he killed himself. Just like grandfather did, twenty some odd years ago.

Just like uncle does, in April.

It is no wonder I am blitzed and blasted at this party. Lying on a guest bed with the door shut, playing tetris with the ceiling. My father burying my dog because I cannot be there because I had to be here and I wasn’t even thirsty but I poured the liquor anyway.

I am the kind of tired that looks like four-hour naps and dirty dishes in the sink. Plagued by migraines, the vision field of my own brain begins to look like Alice in Wonderland topsy turvey light shows. Like a cordless drill scooping out the mush inside my head. I throw up and I throw up and I throw up again but nothing comes out except the bitter taste of bile and all my sadness.

On Monday, I cried at my desk. On Tuesday, in the bathroom. On Wednesday, I cried on my way to the timeclock and all the way home. I’m running out of little piggies on my fingers and my toes. No one ever said that it was easy being human but also I am certain I have never heard a single other person say that it would be this hard. I didn’t ask to be born, and had I known that it would be like this, I’m not certain that I would have.

How far back does something like consent extend? If my mother and the doctors had pushed me all the way back into the womb, I could have stayed there for forever. Then, when I grew older, they could have asked me if I wanted to come out. They could have said, Life is going to be painfully sad and terribly difficult in regards to all the things you’ll feel. They could have said, You’ll be born a little sadder than the lot of them, and you might struggle every day. They could have said, Your brain won’t be quite as healthy as the rest would you still like to come out? To give it a shot? To try?

They could have asked, instead of saying, Now you’re here. Figure it out.

Tomorrow, I’ll bring flowers to the mound of dirt under which my dog is buried. Next week, I’ll visit my cousin and my uncle with a carton of smokes and a six pack of PBR. They’re buried just to the left of that friend of mine from high school—the one who didn’t ask to be born either. He was sweet and kind—life was too hard for him as well. And then I’ll call my brothers, just to check on them. Because I worry about them too—about their sadness.

Then probably I’ll go home and take a bath. I’ll pour a glass of wine and toss some rosemary and thyme into the tub. Light a stick of incense. Perform a sort of ceremony. Rub lotion on the scars I gave myself. Practice that self-loving I’m not inclined to do. Forgive some. Forget others. I’ll pray a bit, and talk out loud. Maybe jot some notes down—the errant thoughts that flit about inside my mind. Most definitely, I’ll cry. Because crying is familiar and in small uncertain ways it does feel good.

Healing is important. It is recognition of the fact I’m still alive, and making promises that living will continue.

On the roof, there are people watching sunsets. Watching days go by and greeting all the dark before the dawn. I know that they’re sad too. That no one asked them if they wanted life. All of us navigating uncertainty, by the thin skin of our teeth. Chewing on bowls of sand and milk. Buying flowers for an unmarked grave. Thinking about the many versions of ourselves we could have been, had life been just the tiniest bit kinder.

Shayleene MacReynolds currently resides in Southern California. She has her Master's in Creative Writing and has been published in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Foliate Oak Magazine, and California's Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction. Shayleene's writings explore the complexity of human relationship, and how we should navigate said world through reflection and compassion. To see more of Shayleene's writings, check her out at