Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The Day I Tried To Live

Three weeks ago I started to get a strong feeling that something big was about to happen. I had no idea what it would be or even if it would be good or bad but I had a strong sense change was in the air. It occurred to me that this might be wishful thinking, as my life could use a big jolt right about then. I almost posted about this premonition in the blog, but didn’t want to jinx it or come off as a wolf-crier if nothing happened.

As the instinct of change heightened, a massive weather pattern settled over the Front Range. It was gray and rainy for three days, something that almost never happens in the Boulder area. The rain was more evidence of an impending happening – a cleansing before the Big Event.

Sunday of that week I hit bottom as the clouds faded away and the sun started to come out. I just could not seem to do anything right and was the most depressed I’ve been in 2008. That evening I won the heads up tournament and suddenly felt a million times better. I always seem to hit these scores right during or after the roughest times. This wasn’t about the money – it was about owning a bunch of fools heads up and winning a tournament in a dominant manner.

The next day was the first day of the summer you could classify as crisp. It wasn’t hot but the sky was cloudless and bright. For the first time you could sense a season other than summer. I was talking to Truman on AIM trying to convince him to join my brother and I on an ascent of North Maroon Peak when he told me that Zoe had died.

Paul got Zoe, a skittish, darling black lab, from the humane society early in 2006 when we lived in Westminster. The story was that Zoe had been in a frat house for a year before being rescued. She had a scar on her muzzle that may have been a burn mark. She was terrified of fire and hated to be left alone. Several times when we all left the house she chewed up shoes and peed on the floor, so Paul had to keep her in his room when we left.

The first time I went for a walk with Zoe, we had to stop suddenly at one point for a car before walking across the street. Zoe was petrified of people suddenly rearing back like that. She ripped her neck out of the leash and took off sprinting in another direction. I followed awkwardly, trying to think of how I was going to tell Paul I lost his dog. I chased Zoe around the streets of Westminster in ten different directions before we wound up at the house half an hour later. I have always wondered if Zoe knew the way back home – it had been less than a week since she moved in – or if it was just dumb luck.

I have been uncomfortable around dogs most of my life. My mother tells me I was accosted by a large, aggressive, barking dog when I was three years old. I remember in elementary school my friend Jonas Jacobson’s family had a gigantic hairy dog much bigger than us which scared the crap out of me. I remember being chased by a maniacal dog once while biking to school. My family never had a dog and I never cared for them.

The trepidation faded away as I got older but I never really came around on dogs until Zoe came along. Zoe was the sweetest animal I have ever encountered. She was the type of dog that was more interested in you than anything else. She would come running upstairs when you got home. If you had a bad day, she seemed to sense it and would sit on you until you felt a little better. She never got annoyed with humans. I heard her bark just a couple times.

So often Paul would go to her after a losing session or tournament and you could see his anger dissipate. We weren’t allowed to have animals in the WSOP house in the summer of ’06, but Paul needed her there and I wanted her there. So we drove out to Vegas and slept by the side of the desert road with Zoe in between us with no fear of snakes or ruffians.

When we checked in Paul hid upstairs with Zoe while I got the tour from the idiot landlord. At one point Zoe bolted for the door. Paul made a diving tackle that shook the floors. The landlord asked what the thump was – I knew but pretended not to.

Every night during Paul’s run to the final table we took a walk with Zoe through the neighborhood. There was this pack of barking German shepherds behind a mansion’s fence that Zoe would always walk by. I assumed it was a gesture that was both flirtatious and taunting.

After the World Series we went on a weeklong raft trip in Utah. Dogs weren’t allowed but we were driving back from Vegas and Paul had Zoe so there wasn’t much option but to sneak her along. When we left they went half a mile downriver and hid behind a bend while we talked to the ranger. We picked them up later and learned how afraid of water Zoe was. It was kind of sad and kind of funny, watching her stand stiffly and nervously on the back of the raft.

That didn’t last long though. By the end of the trip Zoe spent as much of her time as possible in the water, fetching sticks, swimming with us, and occasionally just jumping off the back of the raft when she felt like it.During that raft trip, Paul and Amber’s relationship was cemented and shortly after she moved in with Paul. Amber grew close to Zoe very quickly, and assumed co-parenting duties.

About a month ago Paul and Amber took Zoe to the vet for surgery on the canine equivalent of a torn ACL. That surgery went well, but Zoe moved around too much during the recovery week and broke her fibula. She then went back in for another surgery and had a brace screwed into her leg. After the second surgery, Zoe returned home depressed and unresponsive. She ate nothing. The doctor was not concerned, however, and said this sort of behavior was typical for dogs after surgeries of this magnitude.

On Monday the 18th of August, Paul and Amber took Zoe back to the veterinarian. Shortly after going under the vet’s care, Zoe went into cardiac arrest and died. Later it was surmised that Zoe was experiencing kidney failure, likely caused by a rare allergic reaction to one of the medicines she was given during her surgeries.

That evening my brother Jimmy and I drove to Aspen and camped up the Maroon Creek road under a lantern-like full moon. I didn’t manage to convince Truman to come along but it was for the best. I hadn’t hung out with my brother in a long while and in two days he would be leaving for five plus years of grad school at Cornell. There was a time when my brother might have been my best friend, and I remembered why on this trip.
We set the alarm for 5 AM but there wasn’t an ounce of daylight when it sounded and Jimmy wanted to sleep a little more. For half an hour I lay there in the freezing cold looking at the stars preparing for a mountain that would likely be tougher than any I had ascended.

We hit the trail around 6:30 as the sunrise broke over the Maroon Bells just as it had a week earlier when we climbed Pyramid Peak. A warning sign provided another reminder on the fragility of life.
Jimmy did his best Usain Bolt impression as I tried to keep up. We moved up the trail quickly, pondering just how we were going to get up this thing,to the basin below the north face of North Maroon.We then hopskotched across a boulder field to the base of a gully, trying not to destroy any of the spiderwebs strung between the rocks.
We spent much of the morning racing the most fantastical creature of the Rockies, the mountain goat, to the top.
The mountain goat’s eyes looked like Zoe’s.
After a couple hours negotiating steep gullies,
and ridges,
we reached the summit.
Jimmy did another Usain Bolt impression
and took some quality summit shots:

Pyramid Peak looking impossible

Facebook material with Snowmass Mountain and Capitol
Peak in the background, two 14ers I have yet to conquest

Jimmy with the wildly exposed Maroon Bells Traverse to the right

The only person we saw on the climb was a 65ish Aspen man on the summit. When I asked if this was his first time up he said it was his “fifteenth or sixteenth” time up. I thought about how I want to have this life when I am 65.

I thought a lot about Zoe, how she had been so unfortunate. How she had given joy to others, how meaningful her short dog’s life had been. When I see death I always get jolted thinking about how I need to stop screwing around and make the most of the life I have while I still have it.

I thought about how devastated Paul and Amber must be. I really thought about Amber, knowing she was absolutely crushed. Amber is a good person and tries hard to live a good life. In two years time I have watched Amber become a better, stronger, happier person by trying. She has had some bad luck at bad times but fights to be a better person and live a better life.

At the beginning of the year, inspired by how Truman and Nappy were living their lives, I decided to make a New Year's resolution to have the best year of my life. I made the resolution as an end to a means: so I would wake up every day thinking about what I had to do that day to accomplish the goal of the best year ever.

At the World Series I woke up every day and gave it everything I had. Poker cannot be controlled by effort though, and my results did not reflect my determination. After six weeks of failed tournaments I went home broken with the resolution forgotten. It is a brutal thing to try your hardest and fail at your goals. Sadly I lost sight of the most important goal.

Two weekends ago we were partying at Boulder's Outback Saloon, the closest thing the town has to a dive bar. It was an extremely hilarious and enjoyable night for reasons that can't be explained here. Amber sung a couple karaoke songs, a duet with Paul and a blistering Bon Jovi cover. Afterwards I told Amber she did a great job and I could never sing karaoke in public.

"You don't have to be a good singer," Amber explained. "You just have to try."


Blogger Spencetron said...

Thanks for the post. You simultaneously inspire me to get the best, and I'm consoled that everyone goes through crap. But of course the best part of the post is that blue sweatshirt. BEAR DOWN!

12:06 AM  
Blogger Zak said...

I can't imagine losing my golden retreiver yet I know one day that will come. He definitely makes all the bad beats and frustrations with life melt away.
Great post.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Bag said...

Good stuff Moon. It's nice to read about The Zo from all of the different perspectives. And of course I always enjoy the mountaineering trip reports; too bad the season is coming to an end.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Nappy said...

After reading pieces like this, I feel like it's such a shame that you don't write full time.

Can't wait to climb the next mountain.

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Tru said...

Best post in months.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could say a lot of good things about this post, but I'll just say WELL DONE.

11:27 AM  
Blogger dj said...

what, the sundowner is no longer a dive?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Ben Kantor said...

At the height of convention season, when the internets are filled with more bullshit than an unmucked corral, posts like this go a long way to balance out the terrible crap.

As much as i like your sports-related posts, and without questioning your devotion to all things game-related, the personal stuff is just fantastic. keep at it.

8:08 PM  

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