“I’ve figured it out,” I told Mum that day 27 or so years ago. “I want to be a vet.”
I was the one who looked after the goats and the donkeys, who took the cats to the vet, nurtured the puppies, nursed the geese when they were sick. The vet knew me well. I’d show up with dying birds and sick abandoned dogs, and he would fix them or put them down or whatever he needed to do. Once I found a rabbit with myxomatosis when I was out riding my pony. I saw a piece of tattered fluff deep in a tussock of grass, then saw the ragged ears, the swollen face with puss-seeping blind eyes. I slid off my pony, looped his reins over my arm, and looked for a rock, a big one. I found it and stood over the rabbit, who lay so deep in his suffering that he didn’t realize I was there, or didn’t care. I swung the rock down hard, fast, and pulled out at the last minute. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t bear the crackling of the skull breaking, the blood, my own role in violent killing, even though I knew the rabbit was dying, and worse, suffering terribly in the process. In the end I wrapped him in my sweater and rode three miles to the vet, as fast as I could, where the vet slipped in the needle and the rabbit’s life slid away without a sound.
One day, a donkey was hit on the road outside our house. I sat with his head on my lap while someone called the vet. When he came, I held the donkey as the vet did his thing. Once again, the life force slipped quietly away, leaving behind the dead weight of a lifeless head in my lap.
Eventually, I began hanging out at the vet office, not to participate in bringing about death, but to give shots (lift the scruff and make a little tent, push in the needle quickly, no hesitation, and then it’s over, vaccinations given, illness averted). I helped at surgeries, held equipment, caressed the foreheads of deeply sleeping dogs as they lay with tongues out on the stainless steel table. I wasn’t afraid of blood. When my friend’s horse needed twice-daily penicillin shots, I rode my bike to her house and jabbed. You rub the area with rubbing alcohol, thump three times hard with your fist, then drive in the needle. Pull back to make sure you haven’t hit a vein. If there’s no blood, you push it in slowly and steadily. It’s thick stuff, a big needle. Horses are usually pretty good if you don’t hesitate, if you are matter-of-fact about it, and you talk to them. You change sides, places, every time, and after a while you don’t think about it. You just do it.
So the vet asked if I wanted to be a vet, and I said yes, and then I told my mother. She said, “You can’t be a vet. You’re no good at maths and Latin.”
That was it. Dream over. I guess it was just a little, hard idea in my brain, something self-contained, a cancer that hadn’t gone invasive. It wasn’t spread through the fibres of my being, hadn’t metasticized till excizing it would mean killing me. She cut my dream out neatly with her words, left nothing behind, barely a scar. I just gave up.
Loren suggested I change my dream after I wrote about my visit to my dad. It’s something I’ve been mulling over, something that has haunted me for years. In a sense, every day, every moment, is an attempt to change the dream. Most of the time I succeed….
To be continued…