Over the past few weeks, months even, I’ve had problems sleeping (again). As I lay awake at night, trying not to allow my brain to chase a thought that will make sleep even more elusive, I listen. I force myself to concentrate on simply listening, to try and hear the silence. During these episodes of restlessness and sleeplessness, as I rein in my thoughts and listen closely, I’ve noticed just how quiet our house is at night. There are many sounds, true. But overall, it’s alarmingly quiet.
I notice the outside noises first. There are loud bangs and thuds in the distance as rail cars are dropped and changed at the steel mill. The crossing bells downtown, their metallic chimes methodically signaling safety, even in the wee hours of morning ping clearly on cold nights. Car doors slam shut as night shift working neighbors leave or return home; just before the engine cuts off, I can hear the car radio as well. Occasionally, the owl that lives somewhere in the wooded property behind us hoots. Dogs bark at unseen critters and noises I can’t hear.
Beneath those outside sounds are the quieter, more subtle sounds of an old house at night. There’s the occasional drip of water in the bathroom; the mostly rhythmic breathing of my husband lying next to me; the low drone as the furnace kicks on in the basement, followed by the change in pitch, a few clicks, and the gentle rattle of metal heating up as warm air moves through the ductwork; and those weird snaps and pops that buildings make on cold days as things expand and contract from the cold.
But there’s something missing, something isn’t quite right. So, I listen closely, concentrating on what’s not there, trying to hear between the sounds, trying to listen around them.
What is missing? Why is it so quiet tonight? Why has it been so quiet lately?
The realization hits me, and both grief and relief flood my thoughts. The dog. The dog is missing.
The reason for the grief and sadness is obvious, just before Christmas we had to euthanize our dog, Charlie Brown the Airedale. At seven or eight years old, he wasn’t very old for his breed; but he had a brain tumor, and his behaviors were becoming unpredictable. He was acting weirder than usual and was beginning to have seizure like episodes. At nearly 90 pounds, he was too large a dog for us to be able to handle him as his actions became more and more unusual and unpredictable.
Charlie was our pet. Pets have special places in our lives and our hearts. As annoying and troublesome as he was, he was still “our boy”. He was our third dog, and of the three, he was the goofiest, clumsiest, and weirdest of the three. But he was also the most loyal to us. From the moment we picked him up, (almost four years ago now) there was no doubt that we were his pack.
But why should I experience relief at realizing the dog is the missing noise in the night? This takes me a bit longer to work through, figure out, and to understand.
It’s the silence. The silence is the key.
Charlie was never silent. He wasn’t a talker, that’s not what I mean. He was constantly making noise because he could never settle down or relax. He was always restless. Even, and sometimes more so, at night. Pacing our bedroom. Wandering the house as if searching for something. Headbutting doors to see if they’d open. Pawing at doors that didn’t open when he headbutted them. The rattle of bottles and containers as he would stand on the toilet and try to get into the medicine cabinets. His tags clanking against the bathtub as he licked the tub and the surrounding walls.
Drinking water. Sighing. Shaking. Adjusting his position. Scratching. Trembling, whimpering, snarling, and groaning in his sleep. Snoring, breathing heavy, or gurgling. Circling to lay down and running into dressers as he did. Standing back up. Crawling under the bed. Checking on one of us. Chewing on his toy. Rearranging his blanket. Whimpering when an appliance whirred through its routine on/off cycle. Sleepwalking – yes, dogs can sleepwalk.
Charlie was always restless at night. Always.
During the day he would make up for lost sleep. If we had to leave him home alone, he’d willingly enter his crate, lay down, and start napping. If it were a “shop day” and he went to work with me, he’d nest under the counter, as close to me as possible, and sleep all day. When we were outside, he liked napping in the yard. He didn’t just sleep, he played hard too. He loved his walks and playing fetch.
Dogs sleep a lot, and Charlie was not the exception, but there was something about late night hours that made him restless. None of the other pets I’ve ever had, cats or dogs, were nearly as restless as Charlie was at night.
That realization makes me wonder what was going on in his little dog brain? How hard was it for him to be a somewhat normal dog? What could possibly run through a dog’s brain to make them so nervous, on edge, and restless? Being a dog, did he ever realize he was struggling? Did his head hurt? Did he know his head hurt? I know some of these questions give him human emotions and feelings, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking them.
Even though we know it was the right decision, it was still a difficult one.
And now, when I can’t sleep, I listen to the silence and I hear a dog that’s finally resting.