And then she is... stars (June 4, 2010)

Zelda. She had that way. She just did. Even in the end, she remained the ultimate monster of love (to borrow from Sparks). She felt the wind whipping into the car, sunk into the music, took it all in -- and dreamed.

The people at the vet's were just as unwrapped as Ali and I. There is never a moment sending doggies to heaven is easy. But some patients -- and Zelda was a baby they'd pulled through a couple big crisis. and she'd charmed them in her weakness just like she did everyone else -- are tougher than others.

But everyone tried to be brave, through their wired set jaws and their too veiled eyes. The inevitable is just that... just... time. And there's nothing you can do -- like water slipping through your fingers, it's just gone.

Zelda got quiet, too. She knew. Not quiet in a scared way, but in a "this is it" way, uncertain of the future... knowing, no doubt, they were going to stick her, because they always stuck her -- and just too tired to even know what to think about it.

Sarah, her very favorite office person, was there. She'd been dealing with a fairly upset me on the phone for the five months it had taken the spaniel's kidneys to fail. She is patience and kindness and knowing. Zelda was glad to see her...
And Dr. Stanland was there. Quiet, calm, gentle. She had done the same protocol on a Sunday 14 years prior as an emergency for Scott, Zelda's brother. She understands the way sorrow runs through your veins, permeates every fiber of your being, every breath taken.
"You ready?" she asked the poodle. Zelda looked up, so tired she could barely smile. She was. I wasn't, but the little girl was ready to fly, to romp, to be free -- of all pain, all exhaustion, all the nausea that had plagued her.
Dr Stanland explained the process. A sleeping medicine to let her drift off, then something to end her suffering -- before it was just too much. And, because Dr Ann thinks of everything, BABY FOOD! Something to nibble while the first injection was being given.
Never mind the plate of beef burgundy Zelda had just devoured. A new and delicious snack. The poodle was elated. Yummy! Yes! More... and she ate the entire jar, licking the spoon and smiling at Sarah.
"You can take her out to the car," my vet said, knowing -- as did everyone -- that was Zelda's most favorite place.
Zelda, so weak, she doesn't even think twice about walking. I scoop her up, and she melts into me. She just lets go and merges into my body as she did so many mornings when she wanted to keep me all for her.
Back in the car, there is more music. More petting that silky blond fur, kissing the top of her head. Trying not to cry, because as the orderly told me when my father was so ill with the cancer, "He don't need your tears... and your sadness... He needs to feel joy, and life... and love. You bring him THAT, and you leave your pain out there -- cause he's got enough of that."
She was wide, that orderly. Tough and big and brown. An old, honest Florida texture you don't see much anymore. She was right about Zelda, too.
Sarah came out to check on us. Took on look at Zelda, shook her head laughing. "She's not going to sleep. Of COURSE!"
Cars and Mommies and music and friends. How do you miss that? Certainly not for sleepy Zeldas, no. No!
Sarah petted Zelda, too. Talked about what a great spirit she had, what a big life... an even bigger personality. Zelda was nothing, if not a force of nature.
Eventually, her eyes started to be heavier than her will to rock. All the Allmans, the Patty Loveless, the Rodney Crowell and the Otis Redding couldn't keep Z from the land of Nod.
"She might be ready...," I half-asked.
Sarah nodded. "Yeah, she's asleep."
And so, once again, I scooped up my dream baby -- and rose out of the car. This time, people had tears in their eyes when we talked through the lobby, the satellite of fluff and silky shine tangled up in my bare arms, ready to go to heaven.
She was ready. It wouldn't hurt, but it would end the pain, the exhaustion, the nausea. This was an extraordinary little girl... and she laughed through all of it, but it had worn her down. It was time.
My friend Michael is a dog person. He'd lost his dear Sid Vicious suddenly. He had been a constant source of encouragement, of knowing when, of doing the right thing... He had all but held my head in a book called THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, but even still he couldn't get me to read it.
On a flight after a very fraught trip to Austin, I had cracked it open, had finished it the next night in the lost hours in Woodstock, NY. A trip I'd taken because my beloved Hobbs had insisted I would be a better Mommy to Zelda if i got a break, got my head clear.
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is written from the perspective of a man's best friend, the night before the doggie is to be put to sleep. It sounds sad, but it is triumphant. Enzo lives, runs, flies -- and returns in the most unlikely ways, as his good owner finds his own depths, altitudes and soars.
In this moment, with tears running down my face, I understand why it was so important to my friend to get me to read that book. Why my confession that I'd started and was being held hostage prompted an actual phone call from him... and that he knew what I couldn't until this very moment: it made me feel better.
Dr Stanland put the needle in, depressed the plunger. She offered comforting words, understanding, compassion. Ali brought her quiet strength and her bottomless love for the spaniel, too.
Zelda couldn't have been surrounded by more caring, more grace, more magic. She knew that. Her breathing slowed and slowed. My fingers gently laid on her rib cage, stroking her side so whether she was awake or not, she knew her Mommy was right there with her.
And then it stopped. Another tear fell.
But I knew something -- in spite of the giant tear and hollowness opening up inside me. I knew that Zelda was already on the wind, her ears flying behind her, laughing and marveling at how she was getting her sleek, strong, sexy superspaniel body back.
She was laughing. She was exultant. She was light, bright blinding white light -- shining, shimmering. She was free.

"Is she gone?" I croaked, knowing, but needing to be told.
Dr. Stanland nodded, smiled in the sad way of people who know it's the right have.
"Okay," I said. "Okay..."

Zelda was gone. There was only one thing to do: Get in the car and drive. Drive fast. Drive hard. Drive nowhere and everywhere -- just the way Zelda always liked. Windows down, music up, hands held out to the darkness, to touch everything that the early evening might hold.
From that point on, of course, the night holds the promise of a beautiful butter colored spaniel. Just as the indigo swallows the sunset, somewhere around 72 miles an hour... if you have the Stones or Jackson Browne, John Prine or Alex Bevan, "Dream On" or Bruce Springsteen's "Drive All Night"... you can feel the softness of Zelda's fur... Zelda's heart...
All you have to do is reach out and touch it. She's always there, laughing and urging you on. Roll down your windows -- and see.

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

"Not A What..." {The Next Day} (June 3, 2009)

"Not a what?" Penny Lane asks, outside the back of the concert venue in San Diego.
William Miller knows no answer is going to work. Confessing "groupie" brings groans and derision... especially from the pretty blond who has that special something.

Zelda knows this movie well. Almost as well as her Mommy, who can talk along with it. Almost as famous -- in many circles -- as the "Almost Famous" promises in Cameron Crowe's Oscar-winning porject. It is the story of loving music and dreams and hope and potential. Zelda used to be snuck into the Green Hills 16 back when it was a theatrical release, back when my assistant and I used to close a little early a couple times a week to remind ourselves about what matters.

"Almost Famous" is whirring on the personal DVD player I've pulled into my bed. Yes, my bed: the sprawling antique French queem, carved with roses and made with good sheets and down pillows, a hippie quilt and a velvet blanket. It is a sleep cloud, very soft and firm enough to let you drift.
Tonight Zelda and I cling to each other, so I don't worry about her rolling and crashing to the floor -- or trying to take the stairs and tumbling to the bottom. No, she knows this is it. She wants her Mommy.
And after 5 weeks in the living room, I, too, am glad for my bed. Even as I don't really sleep. Instead stroker her soft, spft palomino fur, kissing the top of head, feeling her chest rise and heart beat. If this is it, I want it all.

And Zelda has had another big day. She has endured it and enjoyed it as only a queen can. A true regal who understands it's as much for those she bestows her four-pawed grace and dignity on as it is for her own entertainment.

She went to the beauty shop: Miss KItty's Bed & Bath. A wondrous place where she's boarded her entire life, with its snack time, play time, nap time, cuddle (for her) time, mean time and a staff who just loves dogs. Dogs and Zeldas, who is NOT -- she insists -- a dog.
Jeanette is a Clevelander, She and Zelda have that bond. She cries when the poodle comes in for that last groomie, but she knows the girl has to travel in style. She smiles into the cataracted eyes, and Zelda truly sees her.

Truly seeing is one of Zelda's gifts. She knows. She understands. She bores into a person -- and recognizes their essence, their fear, their dreams. She is unnerving to some, but mostly, she reminds people how liberating love without strings can be. Because Zelda doesn't want to "keep" you, she just wants to "see" you and celebrate that beauty.

When I go to pick her up, the groomer is in tears. Some of the people who've worked at Miss Kittys for years -- long enough to remember the three month illness that kept me from coming for her from Martha's Vineyard four years ago, others who rushed her to the vet nine years ago when blood came out of her backside and an immune disorder ravaged her little body -- wipe away tears, stroke her ears, whisper their good-byes.
It is heartbreaking. It is also a reminder to how powerful a special spirit can be.
Zelda looks at everyone deeply, smiles her Zelda smile, says "There is no good-bye"

Glen Rose, my dear friend, has offered to shoot her for me. He has shot so many people, form the Kings of Leon to baby artists I'm trying to help. He has a curiosity about people and a desire to reveal the essence. He and Zelda have known each other for years; they've always gotten along. It's that soul-sight that's given them common ground.
And Glen is ready. In that perfect photo studio across from Nashville's ancient City Cemetery down on 4th Street. With a light four times the size of the Wonderspaniel and his ability to see Zelda just as she truly is: something blazing with sweetness.
He and I laugh about all the common memories. Photo shoots in condemned buildings, outside abandoned strip clubs, on the road with Kenny Chesney. Zelda just keeps following the lense.
I am in some. Cuddling. Craddling. Trying to kiss her nose.
In her whole life, Zelda has only barked once -- when she thought Ali's son Eli was being eaten by a box. She has never licked my face or kiss me.
Suddenly, her pink little tongue is licking my lips. Is letting me know she loves me. Even if just this once, she will break with personal protocol. She will kiss me -- and leave prood.
But after a bit, she is tired. She gives and gives. Listens to the talk of magazines and moments. Has a few frames with Ali, who roasted her duck hearts and came to believe that some creatures are far more human than their physical being suggests.
And then...
It's a wrap.

Back home, there is more beef burgundy, a bit of white peach. She has some cinnamon rice cake -- the kind Krogers doesn't stock anymore -- and she savors every bite. She eats with wolfish enthusiasm, something she's not displayed in too long.
She knows this is the good stuff. She's gonna enjoy every taste, and lick the plate clean.
Then she curls up on the feather bed and dreams... maybe of what's next, maybe something more. But she sleeps, knowing there is strength needed, moments to soak in.

John Hobbs, an early riser who long after we were a "we" would come over in the morning to feed Zelda just to have time with her, had a gig. The Players -- Nashville's now "A Team." Zelda had never really heard him play the piano or B-3. He thought he could "get her in."
After all, Zelda had been getting in, wandered backstage hallways, enjoyed catering and ridden tour buses since she was 4. She knew "how to hang."
What better way to spend a final night then listening to truly great, inspired music.

But more importantly, there was Radnor Lake. Music City's version of Walden Pond, where the pretty girl had traversed the paved road and spillways for more than a decade and a half. With its trees and streams and smells, cool ground, sounds, air. This was the place Zelda was most in sync with her fauna self -- and where there was never a shortage of people to tell her how beautiful she was.
Radnor, where we walked two miles most days to keep her in shape. Because as long as she was in shape, getting older wouldn't register as easily -- and Zelda was not about anything but "let's go. let's see. let's dream."
Zelda'd walked more than a mile there ten days ago. Before the real failing began.
And so, we arrived, there on Otter Creek Road. Parked the car, did some business, tried to walk a bit. But the hips wiggled and circled and made it hard. I carried her most of the way... and confronted with a family of Canadian geese grooming near her favorite bench -- the one that afforded the Monet gaze across the water - Ali Berlow tested their aggressiveness, then played decoy so we could sneak to where we wanted to be.

Zelda's bench. Behind some tall grass, under a few emerald cloud trees. How many hours had she and i spent there? Doing nothing but watching the ripples on the water, the turtles sunning, the ducks lifting out of the lake and yes, even the deer coming down to the water to drink. It was her peaceful place. It was mine, too.
Draped across my lap, extra fluffy from her bath, Zelda listened and watched. She relaxed in a way she hasn't in weeks, not quite going limp, but letting the aches and the toxins and the tired go and just settling into my thighs, feeling safe, feeling whatever tranquil feels like in their most meditative state.
This was heaven. Well, here on Earth. She was going to be released, but this wasn't a bad place to be while she was waiting. She wouldn't have to wait long. She might as well enjoy the beauty of the moment and the love of her Mommy and Mrs. Berlow and everyone else who'd come into contact with the sprite on four paws with the long flowing silky ears.

It IS quiet here. Peaceful. The temperature falling. The slight moisture in the air.
It hits me. I open my phone: 7:19.
"She won't be here in 24 hours," I whipser. I want to die with her. I can't imagine. Yet, of course, it is so. And it is. Period.
Zelda continues regarding the horizon. She is unconcerned. Right now, the lake is beautiful. That's enough. She looks at me to say, "Don't cloud the beauty with your tears... This will be beautiful, too. I promise..."

And so, we sit a little longer. Decide to head back while the day is still dove gray. In that give them their dignity truth that I try to embrace, I snap the long fuschia web leash onto her pink skull and crossbones collar and lift her off the bench. Help her get centered: hips square over back legs, balance set.
Zelda wants to walk. On the wood chips and the gravel. Then down the road that leads out to the spillway. She goes slow, uses the guard-wall as a guide and as Peter Tosh would churn, "Walk and Don't Look Back."
Ali is worried about having enough time to get her fed, get us together, get to the club.
Zelda is slowing a little, weaving a bit. I think about picking her up, watching her from my lead dog positn out on the road. Zelda just keeps walking, but talks to me in that way she has since she was a puppy.
i KNOW what she's thinking. I've been translating for years. Tears come to my eyes.
I don't pick her up. We continue our glacial pace, moving down the blacktop, night air thickening around us and the bird songs getting louder.
Zelda has seen geese and turtles, a baby snack, fish jumping, an otter swimming. Now the birdies sing to her... They all want to see their little spaniel friend off.

When we reach the parking lot, I want to cry. Putting her in the car, I tell Ali.
"I couldn't pick her up. She said, 'It's my last walk. Let me have it.'"
We both cry.
Of course. Her last walk. Her last stroll. She wanted to enjoy it,, to feel it, to know the road under her paws and the way the curves and hills fall.

And there is a text. From Hobbs. That Ron, the nicest club owner in the world, would let the span in, have a table. Come on down.
We do. Arriving right before downbeat. The doorman winks, says, "Don't let her drink too much or get too wild."
I nod. Zelda talks in the place. A bar. Somewhere she's rarely been. Somewhere she clearly likes. Brent Mason comes over to say "hi." We explain why there's a spaniel at the Players gig. He clouds over. But he gets it. He has a big heart to go with that guitar blaze that's country and dexterity and soul and skill.
Michael Rhodes, the praying mantis bass player who brings the melodic sense of beat to Steve Winwood and Larry Carlton, takes the stage. He smiles at us, as does Hobbs.
Paul Franklin, a man who changed the steel guitar's possibility and shows golden retrievers, purses his lips. "Are you sure?" he asks, about being so close to his monitors.
"Oh, yeah," I say. "She loves it."
Zelda does, too. She follows the musicians about two measures behind. Her heart rate slows down and she returns to that state of blissful limp in my lap. She couldn't be happier, couldn't be more alive.
This, too, is heaven. To a spaniel. Well one of wildly refined taste.
"Since I Fell For You" and blistering instrumentals. And then...
"This... tonight...," says the bespectacled piano man, "is... for the wonderspaniel."
Puddles of notes, rising, descending, rippling emerge. They are progressions, transitions, minor key meditations and modulations. It is true jazz a la Bill Evans, evoking -- perhaps --"Waltz for Debbie."
Zelda watches raptly from her bed on my lap. Tries pushing up the sit "like a big girl."
Still the song swirls on. The other musicians fall into concentric circles, each soloing in a way that embroiders the motifs with a sense of passion. Passion for the music, for the talent, for a pretty girl about to fade away.
They all know it's Zelda's last show. They smile at her. They play for her. They make it burn slow and bright -- like the baby doll she is.
The song -- different from anything else the Players play, yet every bit as signature as the slamming stuff -- has been mentioned to me in far flung places in the oddest situations. Anyone who knows the Players knows "Holly's Song." It is one of those pieces of music.
But tonight, it is wholly Zelda Fitzgerald Spaniel Gleason's providence, and she exults in it.

Merle Haggard's "Working Man Blues" follows. A still being cartographed variation on James Taylor's "You Make It Easy." More instrumentals. At almost the witching hour, the first set is done. Zelda is spent. It has been perfect. She can't believe how good they really are... the way Eddie Bayers holds the rhythm on his drums, the way Mason sings like he plays, the way Hobbs, her Hobbs, can coax sentiment from lines of music.
They all come to pay her court. To hug me. To say "hi" to Ali. To wish us well tomorrow.

Zelda takes it all in. Needs to get some air. But she's even too tired to potty.
John Hobbs had agreed to sing his Irish elegy "When They Lay Me Down," the most hopeful post-parting from the mortal coil song ever written. Zelda isn't going to make it that far.
She is in the tall grass, lying down, breathing the cool night air.
She wants to go home: to the good sheets and beef burgundy and full spaniel massage.
She knows enough to plenty and then some.
She is ready.

She is ready. Damn it. So much better at this -- like everything -- than I am.
She wants to go home. To lie down. To be stroked and whispered to. To sleep, perchance -- as Shakespeare offered -- to dream.

So we drive, turning the car towards Music Row. To take the long way home. Past all the places she's graced for nearly 17 years. Past the record companies, the management offices, BMI and ASCAP. By Carnival Music where she lay on a funky couch, watching Travis Hill and I pick through lines to find "Better As A Memory."
Soon Zelda will be that, too. And maybe -- or so i tell myself when Im trying to be adult -- she is better as a memory than as my pretty girl, so sick from renal failure, not able to jump into the big, big car, not hungry even for Kenny Chesney's special plain salmon in catering.
It is not for me to want to take hostages... Certainly not to watch my best friend suffer.
Maybe the memory is the kindest way to fix Zelda in forever.
Maybe I need to love her enough to let go.

Right now, though, Sapphire is talking about what it "means to be a fan... To love some band or some silly little piece of music... so much... that it hurts."
Zelda knows that feeling. Like me, it defined her -- and reminded me the potency of being a true believer, embracing the range of how it feels and finding dignity and a thrill in whatever you're handed.
She is soft. As soft as she's ever been. I pet her and she melts even deeper into me as the movie plays, the minutes pass and we wait for Dr. Scanlon at 6. This is going to be the hardest thing I've ever done -- and yet somehow, somehow Zelda will find a way to make it all okay. It's what she's done always; my guess is it won't be any different now.

Three Days (June 1, 2009)

Zelda is lying next to me. On a feather bed that's kinda yucky 'cause she's been leaking for a while. Not that we care; we just wanna be close together.

We're here, side-by-side. Her asleep. Me watching her ribs slowly rise and fall; legs occasionally kicking as she dreams of chasing bunnies and chipmunks. Not that I know what she dreams. As well as I know Zelda, I can only wonder what she's dreaming of... she moves closer to her dreams, every minute, every moment of the next few days.
And I know Zelda dreams, of all sorts of things, of a life that is full and rich and filled with people who recognized her spirit and her heart.

And so as she has lived, so she shall find the skies.

On the road, two last stadum shows: watching the people cheer, feeling the energy, the vibrations on the stage. Lots of friends from scattered places, Ali flying in from Martha's Vineyard to say good-bye; Steven Charles Hurst and his lovely wife Shaye coming to the Louisville Stadium to take pictures and share the love.

Maybe that's what's greatest about Zelda: the love. And the curiousity. And the will.
Even now more happy to be "on the road," that she doesn't want to leace the car.
"Where are we going? What will we do? How fast will be drive? Can we hear the Stones? the Crows? Aunt Patty? (Loveless, who she adores above all)"

Her last road-trip crowned by a night at Louisville's Seelbach Hotel on crisp white sheets in a fluffy bed with a big window. The place where Gatsby met Daisy... like some bluegrass version of Benmont Tench's ode to Sarasota's Don Cesar Hotel, "Why Don't You Quit Leaving Me Alone?"

How appropriate, for the girl named Zelda Fitzgerald Spaniel Gleason...
for the girl Wailer Drummer Zeb said, "Zelda is Jah Love" of...
the girl who is a Chanel collar, a teeny backstage laminate, a very Hermes looking bandana AND a pink skull & crossbones collar that let's people know her only friends are pirates...

It is hard to do the right thing. But I think it's easier than watching them suffer.
Or so i tell myself, watching her slumber. Always the sleep of Spaniels, nothing like it... so peaceful, so gracious, to tranquil yet so deep.

Zelda isn't going anywhere. Not really. She will always be right here in my heart.
She will always be the light in my window when I'm trying to get home...

i am... (the prelude, April 26, 2009)

sitting in a panera
and i can't stop
not howling or sobbing, mind you
just a flood of tears --
not one can change a thing
yet, the shipwreck of it, well, it's why i'm noting

i have lost a father to a slow drawn out dance w cancer
lost my mother suddenly...
in the midst of a long estrangement
slammed into a "well, now... gone"
that even with the gulf between us, i sat at dear friend's birthday, KNOWING
but this
this is different

it is zelda
the sweetest, most pointed, spot on, here you go soul in the world
defines love and innocence and bite me
and she can't even tell me how to make it better
she just smiles as much as she can, wags her tale
devours boiled chicken and limp carrots cooked in broth
baked sweet potatoes
rice cakes
the stuff she wants, the stuff she can keep down
and once the UTI is resolved, we'll have a better sense
maybe it's months, maybe a year
but still --
it is the poodle. the girl dog spaniel. the prada of dada. the one who HAS kenny chesney's number and thinks alex bevan is the sweetest thing who ever lived
she KNOWS things, and she knows me...
and there's no one she'd rather curl up with and tell her secrets to
about chasing bunnies and roast munk supreme and the chanel collar that's too black

and so
how does one do this?
do it and not subject their four-pawed guardian angel to the part where you cry
because as the woman at the hospital said to me when i was crying at my dad's bed
"he don't need THIS. he got enough to deal with... don't you be bringing that drama and those tears in here. you be light and happy and give him joy in his struggle..."
and that lady was right
esp now
except for the part where i can't stop crying...