Remembering Mandy

January 1, 2004 was the worst day of my life. Never has a day come close to equaling it in sheer horror and regret. I would give my very life to take back the pain I caused and felt on that dark, loathsome day.

Many regretful things can happen in a person's life. If I cared to, I know I could rack up a list of no less than 100 days in my life I would love to re-live, and that's just contemplating the matter off-hand, without any serious consideration gone into it. These are days to be re-lived of the normal order, riddled with juvenile antics and foolish mistakes, to divorces and life-altering heartbreaks, but the event I am about to describe was much worse. It wasn't something of a petty nature, like being embarrassed from getting a "wedgy" in school in front of your friends. It wasn't being beaten up by a bully in front of a girl you thought was cute in the 7th grade, and it wasn't getting dumped by your sweetheart as a freshman in college just when you thought you'd found the love of your life. It wasn't even akin to going through the emotional pain of losing faith in God, a bad enough pain in it's own right, just ask anyone who's gone through it. This was something different. On that day, I took a life. I put my dog, Mandy, to her grave.

Mandy was a mutt, a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix. She was almost five years old when she died. She was loving and loyal, though a lot of trouble as she continually dug out of the backyard. She was a barker and drove us nuts at times, but we still loved her. Like her father before her, Mandy had severe hip dysplasia which made it difficult for her to walk, so when she got excited, instead of running, she would sort of gallop around the yard in a wild, horse-like manner. She was cute to watch. She developed many other health problems though, miscellaneous in nature, and virtually impossible to treat. There came a time when this affected her behavior to the point where she was rambunctious and out of control. As she grew, she was in greater pain from her hips growing more and more crooked. We couldn't afford to have the surgery to replace them, and their was no guarantee it would be successful anyway. So after a long period of thinking over the matter, we decided it was best to have her put down.

So what's the big deal, Joe? Sick beloved pets get put down all the time. It's a painful part of life, but one that we all get over, right? Here's where things went woefully wrong. Being busy in the sales business those years, I was set on getting this out of the way before I had to be at work the next day. Foolish me. I thought it would be so easy, so over and done with! The Humane Society in our area wasn't open anyway, so I would just finish her myself with a pistol. There was no way I could prepare myself for what was to happen, not in a thousand years.

So out I go in the early morning hours of the brand new year. I arrive at a cousin's ranch with Mandy in the back of the truck. I won't go into the graphic details. That would be unnecessary. Let me just say, the bullets did not exactly do what they were supposed to do in bringing about a quick death. Everything that could have gone wrong that night did. Mandy suffered so as to make anyone watching pass out in disgust. I am surprised I didn't. I can still hear her groans, and see her twitching in anguish, while profusely panting. The agony and unparalleled shock that filled her eyes was probably the worst part of it all. I distinctly remember trying to comfort her, and at the same time, trying to hurry and get it over with. Her eyes glanced up at mine with a question from her I only wished I could have answered, "Why, master, why?"

Finally, her last spasm came and went, and she died. I can remember staring non-responsively at her now motionless body before digging her grave.

The goriest horror movie had nothing on this occasion. I was literally covered in blood as was my truck. I remember the horrible sight of torn flesh and the smell, that awful, unmistakable smell of blood spilt. It stayed in my nostrils for two months it seemed. Sometimes I think I still catch a whiff of it. If only I could be so lucky as to forget that event, but I know I never will.

This broke me psychologically. I was shocked beyond words while it was happening. It was as though my mind was outside of myself, watching things happen. I couldn't believe it was going on. I drove back home in a state of delirium from what had transpired, hating myself for thoughtlessly and carelessly causing this because I was too damn busy to do things the assuredly humane way. I now had an intimate acquaintance with death like never before. I slept for two straight days upon arriving back at the house. I couldn't eat for about a week. Nightmares and tears were a regular part of my life for the next few weeks.

As life went on, this came back to haunt me from time to time. On several occasions, when I found myself back at my cousin's ranch, I was taken suddenly in tears, this on more than one occasion. I wandered over to Mandy's grave and found myself talking in the air to her, as though I believed she was still around me and listening as I told her I'm sorry and wished she could have understood. There were those initial moments of absolute desperation, when, holding out my hand, I found myself hoping that maybe, just maybe, Mandy would come through the veil of the netherworld and touch my hand with her spirit paw. Of course, that never happened. I knew better than that anyway, but grief messes with your head.

That event changed me forever. But I don't need sympathy, nor encouragement. I am a stoic person, a realist. I deal with what life sends my way. Indeed, I have no other alternative. I've counseled many in grief and know to apply to myself what I preached to others, that no matter how bad one may feel, life will still go on. My life has gone on like I knew it would. Each new day comes and goes all the same. Sometimes I think back on the sadness of that night, and the whole memory of the experience engulfs me like a stormy cloud of doom for a time until I can shake it from me. At other times, and for the most part, I put it behind me and go on with my life, chalking it up to just another unfortunate thing of the past.

I came to terms with the fact that I was the cause of Mandy's suffering. I also came to terms with the fact that I will never see Mandy again. I have only her memories left, and no matter how bad I would love to believe that I will someday see my loved ones again, I have no reason to assume I will. Just because I want, like anything, to believe something, just because a certain ideal would bring me fabulous inner-warmth and great comfort, and just because the alternative is grim and disheartening, does not give me just cause to subscribe to irrationality, such as the idea of "life after death." The grave is the end for us all, yet instead of getting depressed about it, I have made the decision to not only expect it, but even appreciate it.

I'll admit that I am setting myself up as a positive example here of allowing reason to hold sway over reckless emotion and sentimentality, but this is not the goal of my article. The point of my article is to make clear to the readers and commentators of this blog that atheists, like anyone else, have emotions and face great pain. We are not "soulless" in the figurative sense of the word, nor are we "emotionless", or "hard-hearted", as some have quippingly suggested. We are just people, fundamentally not unlike the most exuberant theist. We all face daily the hardships of life and try to get through them. This article may not have directly to do with debunking Christianity, but it should serve to remind critical readers that when you argue with us, you are not dealing with soarely and exclusively left-brained, First Officer Spocks, who lack the capacity to feel. We are every bit as human as you and your church crowd, only with a different set of beliefs and different value systems.