by Raju Peddada
To my magnanimous father, who never looked for exits.
Dedication: There are four distinct spirits that evoke those sojourns. My father is the first, with his preparation and punctuality. He was an indefatigable travel maestro who blueprinted our road repertoire and was a benediction to travel with. Then there is my mother, who is the inimitable and essential magician who conjured up the home and its conveniences for us, no matter where we were. The other two were the welcoming spirits -- the dogs. Lucky II, with the spirit of a child: impetuous, innocent, impulsive, and attached. Jimmy, on the other hand, was a mature spirit: impassive, restrained, benevolent, and majestic. If the former two made our journey a treat, the latter two made the arrival worth the wait in their unconditionally warm and slobbering welcome. With the irredeemable loss of three spirits, journeys and arrivals will never be the same again.
(Swans - October 7, 2013) The year 2000 was tumultuous. I got engaged and married. My brother had moved to California for a new job, leaving his family in Waterloo, and I resigned my design clients to start my own brand. That summer, my brother wailed over the phone, driving around Irvine, after learning that his dog, Lucky II, was run over by a vehicle right in front of their house. Their rebound dog, within days, was Jimmy, another German Shepherd, with an ear affliction.
The one rock through our vicissitudes was our father. He had his routine, especially with the dog(s), and for this he was loved. For us, he was this steady and reticent figure, mostly ignored and occasionally parodied, who sat quietly in the same chair, year after year, without much interaction with us, except with the children and the dog. He never asked for anything, but brought everything we enjoyed, like those fruits, samosas, ice cream, and ginger snaps. Mother, on the other hand, helped her daughter-in-law in the kitchen, making sure everyone was always fueled up. This was also the year our schism began: the differences between my brother and me. Incidentally, in the following year, 2001, a more destructive chasm unfolded between the Western and the Islamic world.
My brother and I were closer when we lived half a world away from each other, and grew distant when we lived just hours apart. Arguments and disagreements, especially those that never had a direct bearing on our lives, made our relationship rancorous and sour. Souring reminds me of a trip in the summer of 2003 that still triggers indigestion. On that grand opening of "Curry Cuisine" -- my brother's new restaurant, moments off of 278B -- I ingested something that rampaged my digestive system for almost 45 days. I had diarrhea every time, and immediately after, I ate something. Over-the-counter medicine like Pepto-Bismol and Imodium could not fortify me. When the hole at the top got busy, the hole at the bottom followed suit. It was rough -- and I was, as I still am, poor at multitasking of this variety! It dehydrated me, and made my ass sore -- I was being sodomized by something infinitesimal. Only a strict eating regimen rescued it. However, this was not the cause of our estrangement, but humor.
2005-2007 was devastating on all fronts. Our schism was a chasm; it was personal. My father, in the last week of July, experienced severe shoulder aches, and felt consistently feverish. He thought this was due to his vitamins running out, so on August 1st, 2005, they got back on the highway, and they wanted to pick up homeopathic medication that our friends in Indiana had brought with them from India. He suffered throughout the 500-mile drive, and, when he arrived at their place, his fever and pains spiked up, and they were forced to stay overnight. A month later, in late September, after a short hospital stay for diagnosis, he was put on prednisone, a type of steroid often prescribed for people with terminal illnesses. We did not know he had only 2 years from that point. My father's last exit from Canada was in August of 2007. He did not drive -- he passed away on the last day of that year. Our desolation was articulated best by Jimmy, in his expressions, when we visited Canada for the first time without my father.
In 2008, a few months after his death, my mother wanted to get away from Chicago, so we traveled again to Canada. As soon as we parked our car, Jimmy jumped on us, welcoming each one of us with his affectionate saliva. He looked again, going around us several times to make sure he did not miss his benefactor, my father. He peered at my mother's face, and saw something amiss -- he went upstairs to look in their designated room, moments later he ran down and went directly to the SUV. It was my mother who noticed Jimmy's restlessness, while others collapsed to watch something inane on the tube. He jumped up, his two front legs against the driver's window to see if his buddy was there, then he went around and did the same on the passenger side. According to her, he stood by the passenger window, looking in, for what seemed a long time. He looked listless as he wandered inside, and instead of going back to his old spot, he climbed onto the club chair where dad usually sat and curled up, ensconcing himself in his friend's smell. His expression said everything -- there was no one to take him for walks anymore, and I never traced any alacrity in him after that.
Later in the year, around August, we visited again. By this time my brother had gone to India for an assignment, after they had moved to another house on Basswood, but our exit remained the same. The earlier trip in May was our last visit to their house on Cedarbrae. On the later visit, our SUV had stalled, and Canadian Tire charged me $1000 for a fuel pump when the real issue was a $15 fuse that controlled it. That summer, the inadvertent abandonment of Jimmy began. First, my brother departed, then his wife followed. The kids, all grown up, became busy with their agendas. Jimmy saw them only in the evening. The end of my father signaled the end of an era, and Jimmy too.
By 2011, a decade and a half had dissolved. Canada trips faded out, and even my niece, Dibya, had moved to India in 2010. My nephew, Gauta, went to work in the morning, and arrived late in the evening. Jimmy fended for himself in that dark house. This was the state in which Jimmy existed for almost three years. My boys yearned for Jimmy and their cousin brother. So did my mother, who adored them dearly. Once again, on June 14th (the very same day we started our last trip with dad, in 2007), we left early to avoid the Chicago traffic.
Four hours later, when we were sailing by Detroit's Metro airport, on 94E, my phone rang. It was Gauta, and it began "hi... Jimmy is dead" followed by silence. I responded, "whaaat... oh my... I am so sorry." Mother sitting next to me, was already in tears, looking away. "Why... how did he die... what happened?" "He died in the night -- when I came down this morning, he didn't move... there was pee around him" "My condolences... it's overwhelming -- we're coming to see you both... here we are, now only one remains -- hang in there, we'll be there in a few hours... where's Jimmy right now? "I called the veterinary cremation service... they charged me $290 to pick him up and do all the required..." I responded, misting up, shaking my head, "he's gone, just like that... we'll see you soon." The boys had to be told -- they were incredulous, but no sadness registered. Their age was such. Mother, quite distraught, spoke briefly with her grandson. The rest of the journey was rather grim.
For some mystifying reason, this news was kept from Dibya, a grown woman, Jimmy's caretaker for three years, who was in Dehra Dun as a financial intern -- as if keeping this from her would thwart her suicidal tendencies! We do the most ridiculous things to protect loved ones from grieving, which is a part of living. Grieving flushes out things, it is also a pathway to reality and maturity. How long are we going to deceive ourselves? My grandmother, at Dibya's age, had already experienced the demise of her offspring, and bitter hardship, only to grow into a sage. Jimmy was deprived of Dibya's emotions in the form of grieving. Grieve and get on. Why are people so afraid of grieving? Even Jimmy grieved for dad!
Upon our arrival mid-afternoon, there was no affectionate slobbering, no innocent and earnest welcome, as if a switch was turned off. Jimmy had been suffering from internal ailments, multiple organ malfunction, and despite these maladies, he had always comported himself better than most of us, especially in his sensitivity when it came to keeping the premises clean. According to Gauta, Jimmy, who couldn't control his bowel movements anymore, sometimes defecated in a corner when nobody was home to let him out, and proceeded to clean the area by completely eating his own waste and licking off the floor tiles. This was something that Gauta had accidentally chanced upon Jimmy doing earlier in the year. I had to choke back and swallow hard. Was this a dog? I was ashamed -- for us. That was the last time (June 14-19, 2011) we took 278B.
Which brings us to 2013. Last week, as we passed this exit on our way further east to Mississauga, I experienced an involuntary roll call: "where-are-they-today" on the players in this drama: My father expired in 2007; Lucky II and Jimmy died in 2000 and 2011, respectively; my old friend, Ann Fisher, succumbed to her demons, and died of a lethal dose of alcohol and sleeping pills on December 17, 2011 -- which I came to know only in April of 2012, from her grieving 90-year-old mother. My brother? Well, proximity is acerbic at the least -- I suspect a great creative-cooperative potential had been lost under the pile of our soil, slung at each other during those years. My sister-in-law, Devi, deserved the respite, after her exertions at RIM. Debi is still a Wagner, somewhere in Ontario. Monika lived it up in Chicago for 14 years, she now lives with and works for her mother, thanks to the economy.
Lizzy is busy, married with kids; her friend Caroline, with curves now, is cavorting with her brother-in-law. Dibya, the nascent banker, has nodded "yes" to the concept of marriage, and the prospect of seeing another Andhra IT geek with the originality of a doorknob have our beautifully bright Dibya gives me the jitters! Gauta, our design and sports fanatic, has managed to avoid the "Andhra-arse" entrapment so far. My 8- and 11-year-old sons won't know any of this in a few years. My mother, at 76, still hovers over us, keeping us fueled on all the trips. And I -- I just helplessly see our years blip away like exits. My father and mother were middle aged when these trips had commenced; now I am middle aged when the trips are history. My mother's seemingly casual farewell on the 3rd of July, on our way in, was the dense effect and encapsulation of all those loving sojourns.
July 10th, on the way back, on 94W to Chicago, I got off at exit 112 for the loading and unloading of fluids, and as I pulled into "Love's Gas," at about 20 mph, a sparrow in low flight hit the curve of our hood hard and bounced onto the wipers. For a moment I thought it was dead, but it held fast to one of the plastic fins by the wipers that guide the water down. It stayed there, with its chest thumping, like in a cartoon. I stopped at pump number 2, got out, and gently cupped the traumatized creature -- placing him in a narrow-dark place between the pump and the garbage bin. When the pump read 15 gallons, I took a look at him. His head, immobile immediately after the hit, now flitted about normally -- then, ffrrrrrrrr! Off he flew to the nearest tree. It was a relief, or else I would have arrived with a ton of guilt over an ounce of sparrow.
Where's our final exit? In which region, state, or country will it be? We'll never know. All we can do is try to understand that life is, after all, a process of gradual estrangement from living itself. All that we feel and recognize to be as good: creativity, natural beauty, our youth, loved ones -- attachments, health, and ultimately pride and sanity, are in the process of leaving us. Exits, we don't choose them!
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)