There is a phrase in Thai for what we call “unconscious,” usually for long stretches, like someone in a coma. Kao nohn dae mai roo, “they lie there but don’t know.” In a literal sense, our word also conveys “not knowing,” because what the Thai means by “know” is the conscious mind; and without it, you’re just meat.
As I sat in the backseat of our rented car, my heart thumping through my chest in panic as I tried to relay directions to Kevin from the map on the phone, my dog laid there in my lap, wavering between knowing and not knowing. I stroked his head and pulled him into me, telling him it was okay as he panted and drooled. He had no visible damage to his body and I’d run my hands over every inch of him, trying to detect if he had any internal damage that his shock was hiding. How lucky, I thought, that he was going to be okay after being hit by a car when I was walking him just a handful of minutes before. I’d taken him off his leash as we entered into an open courtyard, one that he’d been free to run and sniff around in the day before. Jaidee is incredibly fast and a very athletic dog, but he spends most of his time in the car as we travel to fights or in the apartment as we live out our lives. He gets very few opportunities to be off-leash and free to explore, so I try to give him as many chances as I can when we have open, enclosed lots like this.
Unlike yesterday, there were two dogs that spotted Jaidee from a distance and lined up, stiff bodies, to watch him. Jaidee saw them and tensed as well. In that moment, I thought to myself that I should put him on his leash, but he was a distance from me and didn’t come to me when I called. I wasn’t really calling him over to me, but trying to make my voice a point of contact as the stare-down between the three dogs remained frozen. Then the two dogs started and Jaidee bolted. Not into the open space to ride out the power dynamic between the territorial dogs and the invader, but straight back toward the street. He has a tendency to run home when he encounters threatening dogs. He doesn’t see me as the point of safety, although often when I let him off-leash at a lot back home he will do wide circles in the space to out run barking dogs and then work the situation into a kind of stalemate. I was shouting at him, trying to get him to stop running and return to me, but he disappeared behind the gate that leads outside and I heard him cry. The front end of a rote daeng, or the red pickup trucks which serve as shared taxis around Chiang Mai, appeared past the gate at a slow speed. The driver looked back out his window and I knew Jaidee had been hit.
I called his name as I ran at full speed toward the gate. The truck kept driving, the operator of the car seemingly satisfied by whatever he saw out his window and when I turned the corner I also saw Jaidee running down the sidewalk toward home. I ran, my feet slipping forward through the fronts of my sandals, as if I were outrunning them, the tips of my toes scraping the concrete as I went. Jaidee stopped at the driveway to our hotel and I caught up with him. He made some whining sounds and looked absolutely in shock, and I saw he’d pissed and shit himself right there on the spot where he stopped. I figured he’d probably done so upon impact of the car, from fear. I pet his head and told him it was okay, touched his body to check for injury. Nothing. He had a bent toenail and blood around the base of it, but that was it. I hooked his leash onto his harness and we walked together across the lot toward the room. On the outside of the stairs leading up to the row of apartments is a line of lush greenery. Down on one side is a hose that is used to water the flowers and vines, and is often used by tenants to wash their cars and motorbikes. I led Jaidee over to it so I could rinse the feces off of the back of his legs before going inside. When he saw the small den that is created by the space between stalks of plants, he tried to crawl in, looking somewhat relieved by the hiding place. I held him, gently holding him back outside of the thick flora and let the cool water rinse over his legs. He sat. Then he laid down, a kind of slumping down onto the cement the way an exhausted dog does to just pant and recover. I could tell he was in shock. This was him feeling the moment when he could recover and I felt my heart contract, like a fist. I turned off the hose and in clipped tone told him to come with me. He got up and walked with me up the stairs to the front, glass doors of our room. I opened them and called into the bedroom, ‘Kevin, we need to go to the vet right now.” Kevin appeared immediately, responding to the panic in my voice without any questions or hesitation. Jaidee was once again lying on the ground, trying to catch a moment of reprieve. I called him up again and we walked down to the car, but he couldn’t understand me commanding him to get in. So I picked him up and he laid down in the backseat. I got in front and we searched a vet on the map; within a few minutes of driving we stopped and I got in the backseat to hold Jaidee. He felt heavy as he panted into me. Finally finding his time to rest.
“I think he’s okay,” I told Kevin. “He ran home, I think he’s just in shock, but I need to see the vet to make sure he doesn’t have internal damage.” Jaidee was quiet, just breathing in percussive pants as I stroked him and held him, running my hands over his ribs and pressing into his pink belly to see if I could get a response from him that indicated pain. Nothing. Just shock. As we made a U-turn under the highway to get to the location on the map, just a half kilometer from medical attention, Jaidee let out a whimper. Just one. I cupped his head and rubbed his ears. In the last 500 feet to where we parked for the vet his mouth jerked open a few times, like a fish sucking air at the surface of water. Kevin was asking me if I was sure this was the right spot, as there wasn’t any indication of a clinic. My mind was everywhere, feeling disturbed by Jaidee’s sudden change but also trying to search the signs above storefronts for one that indicated a vet. I saw one, laid Jaidee’s head gently on the seat as I moved and ran to see if they were open. The were, and I ran back to scoop Jaidee out of the seat and carry him in. His head flopped over my arm and Kevin saw him for the first time really. “Oh my god,” he said as he tailed me into the office.
I laid Jaidee on the floor and told the woman behind the desk he wasn’t breathing. This was the first moment I realized this fact, although I believe now it was his body stopping that caused his mouth to yawn in the car. The vet came out and felt Jaidee on the floor for a moment before directing me to put him on the table. I picked him up, completely limp and navigated the tight angles of hallway and doorway and space behind the examination table to lay him out. The vet began pushing the gummy-skinned space under Jaidee’s front leg, the exact spot I rest my hand to pull him closer to me in the bed or just to feel his heart thumping for a few minutes before he squirms away from me. The doctor was pumping, hard. He was trying to start Jaidee’s heart and I let out a gasp in realization of what that meant. My hands cupped around Jaidee’s head as the doctor worked. After a minute he stopped and listened with his stethoscope. “I think I cannot,” he said in English, his hands making a gesture of resignation. I made some kind of choking sound as my heart collapsed in on itself, and because he is merciful the doctor started again. Kevin explained that Jaidee had run home just 20 minutes before. The doctor listened and responded to the information, but every 10 pumps or so he’d stop and tap his finger under Jaidee’s eye, trying to get a defense response. The nurse came in with an air bladder with a long snout-cover to give CPR. Jaidee’s lips inflated with each pump, but nothing. Finally, after a few minutes, the doctor stopped and repeated his hand gesture. “His heart… stop,” he said.
There are no words for the feeling that follows. The kind of internal collapse when the energy of hope that’s been keeping your heart afloat is dissipated. When the uncertainty that holds a structure together shifts to certainty and there is free-fall into grief. There are not words for that moment, and yet everyone knows it. Our body is there, and we know. His ears were already going cold. My hand found its way to this spot behind his front leg, where the hair is thin and the skin is so soft. My hand found its way there the way you would thoughtlessly rest your hand on your hip, or slide it into a pocket while at ease. Habit, a moment guided by ritual. I could always feel his heart thudding under my palm in this position, his body hot by touch. But this time, my hand was ashamed at its own warmth, feeling no rhythm under his now-cool skin.
Dr. Mercy called a friend of his who works at a crematorium, “for people,” he said. It wasn’t too late in the day so we were able to drive Jaidee over and cremate him right away. When we arrived after driving through traffic twists and snarls as I scooped Jaidee up into my arms, cradling him for the last time to carry him across the grounds to the pyre, I felt all of his weight. Many, many times I’d had to pick him up because he was being obstinate, or push his body – limp with resistance – into a different location on a bed or in the car. “You’re so heavy!” I’d complain to him, his resistance to me so absolute that the entirety of his weight seemed to create its very own gravity against me. With him cradled in my arms, crossing a few hundred meters to the staircase leading up to the cremation door, I loved how heavy he felt. I loved every ounce and every gram. I loved the ache in my shoulders that his weight caused to crescendo, like a conductor directing a symphony of pain. I pushed his curled body into the dark inside the chamber. I thought for a moment that this was the exact condition he was seeking as comfort in that little garden when he just wanted to lie down. You can lie down now, my baby. He didn’t suffer. He wasn’t in great pain. It didn’t take a long time for him to go. His last moments were a process of being touched and loved, a gradual not-knowing.
It feels strange to call something so painful and life-changing “lucky.” But we were lucky. It’s lucky that his passing wasn’t greatly physically painful for him. It’s lucky that it was quick. It’s lucky that I was there with him, that the doctor couldn’t do just enough to bring him back into pain. It’s lucky that we could take him immediately to be cremated. It’s lucky that he was ripped from us so suddenly and not over an agonizing stretch of uncertainty, that my hope for his recovery was not dragged out. It’s luck that I ever got to love him at all. I don’t think I ever understood the concept of luck before this moment. Maybe in the west we used to have a better concept of it, but the insistence that “hard work” negates the need for luck – as though luck is a lazy person’s dependence on odds – is one that I was more familiar with. That’s bullshit. We can’t control anything. We have the illusion that we control our lives, that if you train really hard and put your heart into it, that you’ve directed your success. That your decisions directly affect outcomes. But really you’ve just written a narrative that implies causation. Your success is luck; your failure is luck. That Jaidee could become such a huge part of my heart is luck, that it hurts so immensely to lose him is a result of that luck. We simply do not know what other narratives might have been. I could have walked Jaidee at the lake instead and he could have been bitten by a poisonous snake. We could have both been killed in a car accident on the way there. It’s in looking at how things have turned out that we are able to create some story to explain it, how we had some part in it and manipulated the result. We think of luck as these large moments, as punctuation in otherwise uneventful lives. But it’s all luck. The thousands of times I walked Jaidee and it felt “normal,” that’s incredible luck. The very fact that our lives can appear mundane, uneventful, even boring – how lucky we are to be able to feel that nothing is happening. I feel Jaidee everywhere, all the time. When I wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom, I still walk as though I’m trying to dodge his bed. When we stop the car at a gas station, I think about how I need to take him out. I leave room in the bed for his curled body. I want to see the high-speed metronome of his tail as he chewed his favorite bone and showed off, with total excitement, to me and Kevin how he’d kept track of it while we were gone. But these moments, these memories that brought me such joy, they still bring me joy. These memories are not veiled under sadness, they still put a little leap in my heart at how much love I feel for him. There’s a line in a Lady Gaga song from A Star is Born, “the part of me that’s you will never die.” That’s true. Jaidee is in me forever, with me forever, and all of that is joyous. The sadness comes in knowing that I’ve lost the part of him that is not me… that’s the part I mourn. That’s the part that hurts. That’s the part I will always miss, even as the immediate pain of it fades back into the lucky state of the mundane.
My brother Gabe wrote his condolences to me, and offered his belief that it’s a good thing that we outlive our doggy friends, because “he got to live his whole life with you guys.” And, indeed, Jaidee chose us. He was just a puppy living in a garbage pile and decided to follow me and Kevin one day, soon after we’d moved to Pattaya. He stole my heart. He made everything better just by being in my life, in the way that animal companions do. Jaidee was probably just shy of 5 years old, which for a Thai dog is a very full life. He probably went to over 100 fights with us, sharing our mat, standing ringside with Kevin. He traveled thousands of kilometers across Thailand. My brother’s words fold beautifully into Pi Nu’s response, when I told him what happened. Pi Nu reminded me that everyone and everything dies – all of us – and that Jaidee is already at ease; it is only my suffering that remains. I don’t have to worry about him. And I do believe I’m holding on to my pain because it feels like a way to hold on to Jaidee, even though that’s not what he brought into my life at all. It’s more true to remember the joy, and let the sorrow be a soft echo that naturally comes from what loss does to the profound feeling of love. As Alan Watts said, “you can’t have half a thing.” You cannot love someone intensely without pain coming with it, at some point. It’s the price we pay. And it’s a bargain, really.
Thank you to everyone who helped love Jaidee, from afar and those who met him in the flesh. Thank you to everyone who sent kind words upon his passing. He knew a lot of love during his life. I hope that shapes whatever comes after.
above, when I took Jaidee into our home from the soi.
You can look at the life he had in the Instagram we put up for him, capturing also the life of Thai dogs and cats. I’ll be posting more of the dogs and cats of Thailand there.
This was my original post when I took him in.
If you’d like to help the dogs of Thailand you can do so through the Soidog Foundation.