I could make a list at least three parsnips long detailing my many anxieties as a youth revolving around the beginning of a new school year. At the top of that list would be the annual pre-school doctor checkup. We used to go to a place (this was before they called them clinics or before HMO's were involved), a round building in Edina near the nation's first indoor shopping mall, Southdale.
It sucked that the building was circular because as they took you on that dreaded walk to the examination room it was hard to get your bearings and the walk that seemed to go on forever never quite lasted long enough. The only parts of the experience at all bearable were that the pre-check up area (commonly referred to as the "waiting room") was full of neat toys, and after we were done being poked and prodded our parents would take us over to the mall for hot pretzels.
My brother and I used to prepare for the examination weeks in advance by pinching our fingers to simulate the horrid pain of having our fingers pricked for the blood test. Now days it strikes me that we weren't at all concerned about the results of the test, we just didn't like the pain of the prick (which coincidentally is the title of my new autobiographical novel). One year my brother was so afraid of the pain that just before the nurse put needle to skin he yanked his hand back. If she had begun the prick, he of course would have ripped his finger wide open. I guess I was a bit braver than that having resigned myself to accepting that life sometimes is about enduring a little bit of pain.
I was reminded of all this the other day when I took Mr. Max into the University of Minnesota's veterinary hospital for his annual physical. The last time Max and I had been there was after he had consumed some Azalea leaves and we were told he had a 50 percent chance of surviving. That episode left its mark on both of us as it served as a reminder that there will be a day when a relationship so appreciated and now ten years running will inevitably be over. I guess the price of love is that some day there will be inconsolable loss.
As part of the checkup a veterinary student does the preliminary examination. This year's student put her stethoscope to Max's teenaged chest and asked me if I had noticed any difficulty in his breathing because she heard what she thought might be some congestion in his lungs. I said no, his breathing, unlike his growing uncertainty in his jumping ability, or his noticeable need for more attention, wasn't one of the increasingly visible signs of aging.
Later the doctor came in to finish up the exam. The student asked her if she too heard the congested lungs and the doctor said no, that the breathing difficulty was coming from Max hyperventilating. The strange surroundings (with painfully memorable connotations) were causing the little guy with eyes fully dilated to shake like a bunny.
I've given some thought over the last few years of getting a little kitty to join Mr. Max and myself. I figured since I haven't been around as much he might enjoy some company. I also figured when the time comes that it would be nice to have some continued feline companionship nearby to plow my way through the heartache and tears. But we haven't taken on another roommate because Max ain't too fond of other cats and the sure to be noticeable stress involved has scared me away. I've also realized that I'm fooling myself if I think bringing in another cat is somehow more for Max's sake than my own. One of the student vet's questions to me was if Max had been through anything traumatic this past year (other than the Azalea incident). I responded, "Besides living with me, um no..." We all had a good laugh as Max's breathing remained heavy and present.
Still I can't help but feel a tinge of melancholy that the current life situation isn't a little like lil' Jackie Paper and that rascal Puff. I always used to look down upon those who spoke about their pets as if they were children. And granted I've come to relate to those people more and more (if not actually becoming a tried and true practitioner of such dialogue- complete with pictures!). Still the relationship between Max and I has taken on partnership proportions more than any thing else. I've learned at least as much through him as he has picked up from me. In the realm of relationships there are those that end up taking a lot out of you, leave you searching for some kind of consolation, conciliation and meaning. There are others that ultimately make you a better, more thoughtful person. There'll never be a doubt which category my relationship with Max falls under. If only the deepest pain in life was still that of a little finger prick.