The Final Day (June 4, 2009)

Zelda woke up early. Of course she did. But she didn't want to get up.
She was in the big, big bed with the pink and green hippie quilt and the downie blanket and the good sheets and the fluffy pillows.

She wanted to be awake -- and she wanted to enjoy it! To stretch out, to crawl up close, to melt into me with that soft spaniel fur as much chinchilla as baby spaniel. She put her head on my collar bone, exhaled into my face and looked.
Looked right through those cataracts and took a long gaze at my soul. She knew I was sad. She wanted me to feel better. She wagged her skinny little tail a little, but mostly she kept looking to let me know that I was seen in that way that she sees. In a way I may never seen again...

And then she just curled up to be held. Just rolled over and balled up and let me pet her, rub her, run my hands over what was left of her body, still impossibly supple to the end.
Her legs, all sinew -- though the joints now so clearly exposed. Her little paws more fur even than pad. Her shoulder blades where the pistons anchor, propel her across fields, down roads and once into cars. They respond to the touch, release and relax as you knead them.
Zelda needs this. She relaxes even deeper into my body. And we lay there, lost in our own thoughts: me, my sorrow, her some pasture a little further off than she can see.

So thin, I pull her up on a little higher. Our noses are Eskimo kissing. We breathe together. Sometimes I inhale as she lets her breath go, just to have a little bit more of Zelda inside me. To bring her breath inside me, to heal it and send it out stronger, somehow. To give her some of my life force. Even though I know... I KNOW... and I don't know what else to do.

Zelda has people to see, places to go, things to do.
It's going to be a full day, she tells me. She's also very clear that she's sick of the preppy clothes I've been wearing. "I want my hippie gypsy rock star Mom back," she announces as I'm running my hands over the top of her head and kissing where her cheek would be.
"Seriously. Do better. I KNOW what you look like on your best days. Try something a little... more... uh... Penny Lane."
Zelda. Only Zelda would be casting clothes. My four-pawed stylist who always kind of knows. And she knows just WHICH Mommy she wants.
"And I want to see Wendy... and I want to see... Dorian..."
I need to take a shower, to sort out my clothes.
Zelda goes downstairs to visit with Ali, to talk about the Players and love her friend who bakes her duck hearts and brings her magical treats.

"You ready?" I ask, about to scoop her up. I am wearing a white cotton dress with cap sleeves and a green Indian paisley print screened over it. She smiles. Lets me pick her up, puts a paw on my face. She has a big day ahead and she's excited.

We drive down to see Wendy, my friend from college and an amazing woman who's won a Pulitzer Prize and never talks about it. She is sitting outside the Country Music Association, where she is the VP of Communications -- and she looks as fragile as we all feel.
"Poodle," she says, drawing out the "ooooo." And Zelda smiles at her the way that Zelda smiles. Wendy's eyes fill up as she reaches for the baby.
She cradles her like she did her own daughter, Emily, and makes a cooing sound. Zelda looks up her, clearly loving the attention. Zelda loves Wendy -- even when Wendy stopped credentialing her for the CMA Awards (and Zelda just kept going to rehearsals anyway) -- and this is just what she wanted this morning.
"I have a message for you," Wendy says to me, then realizes this isn't correct.
"I have a message... for... you," she says definitvely to the spaniel, who is now studying the woman intently.
"Uhm, your father... came to me," Wendy said to me, falteringly. "In the car. But I think the message is for her."
Wendy's eyes cut down to Zelda. The poodle melted like butter into Wendy's folded, trusted arms.
"Go ahead," I said. Marveled, really. John Gleason, long gone, still haunting my friend from college.
"He said," my dear friend instructed the Z, "to look for the man in the yellow cardigan. The YELLOW cardigan -- and he'll be with Coors."
The spaniel took it all in. Considered. Almost nodded.
"She's going to hate that," I commented. Zelda hated her brother Scott; Coors wasn't going to fare any better.
"I think he knows that," Wendy acknowledged. "He's a little intimidated."
"He should be," I laughed. I knew my Zelda -- and my original, Baby Coors, who I'd given my father in his divorce, because that sweet, domineering spaniel had gotten my Dad through it, had romped golf course after golf course, waited through countless church services with and for him.
Zelda looked back at me. She was a little tired. She still had places to go.

Settled back into Zelda's backstage lounge, she lay there quietly.
Dorian wasn't calling back. What to do? Where to go?
And then it occurred to me. The one place she hadn't asked for, but the place she'd graced with her beauty and poetry. Carnival Music, the home of Scooter Carusoe and her dear friend Frank Liddell.
An upstairs set of offices that hold songs and writers, where she lay on a couch and watched "Better As A Memory" be born. A place where she inspired and considered and offered the encouragement that only she could: that spirit that shone no matter what.

Travis -- akak Scooter Carusoe -- was gone, and his office was locked. Frank Liddell, a man who with his lovely wife Lee Ann Womack shared many holidays with the wonderspaniel, was also gone. But Brittany was there, to stroke that soft blond hair, Goodloe and Matthew. They'd watched the shaggy blond feathers shake as Zelda tromped around the hard wood floors, making her way to Travis' office or back down to the car after another session.
They all looked at her and smiled, silently sad knowing this was the last time they'd see her.
Zelda wasn't sad, though. She was buoyant about being in a place where so much creativity was present, where dreams took form and people believed in what songs could be.
Zelda adjusted herself in my arms, wanted to get down, to make her way through those halls one last time -- and with wavering back legs seeking the balance, she did.
Tentative at first, but then stronger. Sniffing the air, to remember where she was going.
Zelda would tell them of Lady Goodman, of her only friends being pirates, of "Darkness Turns To Light" and moonlight bullseyes and so many things...
She wanted to know, and burn the place into her being.

And then she was done. I was crying. She couldn't understand why. So many places, so many people, so many moments she'd enjoyed. It was nice to go back once again.

Zelda. Little pretty Zelda. So thrilled about everything. Take me. Take me! Anywhere, Everywhere. Whatever you're doing... and if nothing, then take me nowhere just the same.

I had promised to give her a long drive, listening to music that she wanted. But she was so tired, I took her home. A little more beef burgundy, a little bit of laying down. Just to get ready for the last bye-bye in the big-big car.
The baby deserved no less.
And in the waiting Dorian turned up, along with Diane, who has been dealing with my accounting -- and my family -- for almost longer than there was a Zelda. They brought a begonia, which Zelda loved, because Zelda loves the flowers.
She visited with them, remembered her birthday party with the boney shaped cake, the way Dorian was afraid of her imperiousness once upon a time.
We were quiet. We were sad. We were brinking on exhaustion. Mostly, we were Zelda.
And that was quite a place to be.
We also knew we needed to be gone...

Gone. Through the part of Tennessee that's still green and rolling, cluttered with broad sweeping trees and acres of farms, sun-burned barns. black top cracked and veined with tar to close those gaps. Out where the roads turn and curve, two simple lanes -- one each way -- marked by blue on the maps that show them.
Out to Lieper's Fork, past Radney Foster's former Waddell Hollow Lane... and the house Wynonna sold to Luke Lewis and his bride Lauren who sold to Bill Bennett and his wife Luke Burland... and around and around... like the life of a certain spaniel.
Cheery little Lieper's Fork running past, and Green's Grocery and more farms. Lots of hawsk circling over head; hawks: messengers between this world and heaven.
Driving and driving as the Allman Brothers got LIVE AT THE FILMORE EAST, her Patty Loveless wailed through the recently departed Stephen Bruton's "Too Many Memories" that was tempered by the line, "The way we grow old we must never forget is when we let hope be replaced by regret" and Rosanne Cash moaning through Benmont Tench's aching loss-upon-loss "Why Don't You Quit Leaving Me Alone."

We took roads we had no idea where they would leading us, general direction coming from the compass somewhere inside. Old soul Otis Redding, doing songs other people'd made famous -- and his own "Respect," something Zelda had never had to suffer for.
"I am spaniel," her regal being commanded. "See my beauty and marvel at the grace of what I am."
But Zelda had especially -- almost inexplicably -- wanted Michael Stanley. Non-negotiable. Absolutely. "No Rules When You Dream," an impossibly sad ballad that closed his SOFT ADDIXTIONS, and a song about the way things can be perfect when you dream.

"There's no rules when you're dreaming, you can follow where they go...
You can soar like an eagle or watch as the world spins below
You can be anything that you want to, you can have anyone by your side..."

And so it is. The one place Zelda and I can still fromp and romp and frolic. No matter what, no matter when, no matter where.
She wants to remember this is the realm of the in-between. Where angel spaniels and earthbound dreamers can have some kind of celestial communion. She is so peaceful listening, we play it again and again.
We put the window down -- and let the wind tangle in her hair.
It is as good as any moment could hope to be.
Still the broken white lines surrender to the tires and the miles.
We drive on. Zelda smiles on. Michael Stanley's graphite and old sweater voice keeps swirling through the car, a lullabye for a little girl on her way to a place where she will be restored.
It is probably all anyone could ask for. Zelda is smart enough to know this.

We drive by Kenny Chesney's old house. Look at his pond that he built, the wrap around porch on a plantation house where she spent many hours, while the interviews and photo shoots went down. Looking at him with those big brown eyes, hoping a little turkey would be coming her way.
She remembers the smells. She wags her tail. This was her life... and it was good.

As it turns out, there is time. For that last finger-fed ginormo-bowl of beef cooked in cote du rhone. Some lemon sorbet. A lot of kissing and being loved on.
The management of miles and visits gives us one last pass at Radnor. One last walk. One last stroll through the trees, the leaves, the vines and her fellow travelers.
One girl can't believe Zelda is 17. She's never seen "a dog that old."
The Prada Dada cocks her head a bit. She is walking every step of this walk, more than a mile, past the spillway... almost to the little platform 2/3 of the way out.
There is a doe who stops eating to watch us pass. We're still. She still watches us, looks at Zelda, flicks her tail. Even as we continue on and past, she gazes at the little yellow dog on the long fuschia leash and exhales. "Godspeed," the dear sends out to the Deaner.
And Zelda knows.

Back in the car, it's all I can do to the turn the ignition over.
"Don't be afraid," says the spaniel. "Don't be sad. This is good. I'll be stars soon..."
A tear runs down my face. So cruel to lose such perfect love, and yet...
"I'll find the man in the yellow sweater," she says. "I will..."
Ali hears me repeat it and turns, "No, Zelda, yellow cardigan... cardigan..."
"I'll find him," she seems to reassure. She wants some more Patty Loveless. She wants to drive fast... as fast as Granny White Pike will take us.
I want to go, to hold every last second. Zelda wants to fly and feel gravity and the atmosphere part before us.
Zelda wins. I hit the gas. We fly, as much as Audi A-4s can.
And so that final day is almost over. There is the vet and the dreaming...
...and that is not for here, but for soon... for anyone who's bothered reading, who's remember the ones they love and the way this all falls into a ravine called life.

Know how much the comments, emails, calls and prayers have meant.
Candles in Carolina and St Patrick. Flowers from Woodstock and Franklin.
Kindness in D.C. and Chicago.
These are the ways we realize how lucky we are. For we know -- We know. Empirically.
Imperial. Empirically. Amen