Sunday, February 19, 2017

Holding On to the Past While Moving Forward - A Memory of a Dog

It was three years ago, late February. I had just gotten off duty and was headed on up to Chicago to join my husband of four months for the weekend. It was a 400-mile round trip I made most every weekend there was not severe weather over several years before we got married, and then again as I waited for a transfer without sacrificing pay grade so we could finally both work and live in the same city.

How this trip was different was that my dog of 11 years, Barkley, was not making the journey with me, only his collar and leash and a few toys in a box that I could not bear to part with. His remains were in the polished box on my crash pad dresser. I laid my hand on it as I left, imagining warmth that was not there and softly said goodbye, telling him I'd be back soon.

It was a solemn drive and a lonely one. You'd think an animal that slept a lot wouldn't be much company on a long drive but he was. He was the reason I'd stop at the rest stops so he could get a little walk; he was the reason we'd sometimes go through a drive-thru where he would get a kid sized burger, no mustard or pickles, and a soft serve cone. I'd take a point and shoot camera and hold it up without taking my eyes off the road. Many of the pictures continue to make me smile to this day.
One more inch and the Cheez-It's are MINE!

That day, I was fixed in the annealed spot that was his fate and mine as outside the miles of cornfields and the steady thump of late night tires flew past me as if I were frozen to the ground. The drive could have been five minutes, it would have been five hours but I remember thinking that if I would stop, he would somehow appear in the back of the extended cab pickup truck as if there was some quality of the eternal in the hushed journey forward. I did make one stop at a long deserted rest area, and of course, he was not there, There was only that box of dog memories and tears that stained the steering wheel. I sat in the truck motionless as outside of me the farmland stretched away from me, merging into the limitless silence of every loss I'd known.

We've all been there, going on about our lives, happy, with a plan, then suddenly, what was mapped out is literally shredded before us, leaving us to pick up the scraps laid down on the floor and move on, that rewind button nowhere in reach. It can be the biggest moments of our lives, it can be the smallest ones. It can be a relationship ended, or a friendship snubbed. It can be simply a day where nothing went as planned, unforecast weather aloft, a cantankerous crew chief, and you really can't complain, as everyone's looking at you for direction as you're the commander; you can simply hunker to the new challenge sobered looking out the cockpit window as you realize your deep dependence upon the invisible.
The key thing is we gather up we have left and look forward. Even more importantly, we do so with a communion of not just saints but of sinners. I remember so many days there after we lost both Barkley and my brother to cancer at the same time when my friends would stop by. They'd talk with cheerfulness of the good things they remembered, we would plan things in the future to look forward to. When they left, with a cheerful wave, it seemed as if they left a bit of themselves with me, some of their stores of strength and hope, renewed affirmation in the promise of life. I realized then just how much I needed them.

I'd always prided myself on being the kind of person that could handle things most people couldn't, so aware of how in those moments when man's bones and flesh are laid upon fate's altar to be torn, there is a moment when that will of bone and flesh to remain alive is almost enough to sustain it. I approached each day with that will, only to find that it took just one act of fate, that neither marked my flesh or my form, to make me as fearful as a child, suddenly left alone.

With my family and friend's help, with their shared stories, memories and laughter, my heart healed. There isn't a day I don't miss my brother, but I feel him close. There are days I still pick up Barkley's collar and tear up but there are as many days as I laugh as I relate a story I never put to paper about Barkley, sharing with the friends that knew and loved him.
For life does indeed go on.  As I went for a walk earlier at one of the city parks, I watched Abby Lab jaunt joyfully ahead on the leash with my husband. When she was dumped at a high kill shelter, very sick, she likely had no happy thoughts of the future, only fear.  When she was well again and her foster mom from the Lab rescue organization brought her over to meet me I wondered if it was too soon, that perhaps I should have waited to get another dog.  The foster mom said before she drove over that I was under no obligation, there would be other dogs and she would have a good home with someone soon. But then that gentle dog moved towards me, drifting across the parking lot like shadow, to a stranger.  She then leaned lightly against my leg so my hand could caress her head, looking at something only dogs can see off in the distance, vibrating like a released string.  I knew then she was at home. Her trust in me indicated that like dogs will often do, she joyfully mistook the world as a place with a doubtless future. Here she would stay, my not wishing to shatter that illusion.

She's been with us almost three years now, and she acts as if her former home, the shelter, that great drive for emergency vet care, was all the memory of someone else.  When she bounds up the step from the yard, she pauses at the back door, as if sensing she had gone to sleep in one place and awoken to another. What is painful to her is only a dream.  When I come home at night, she is laying by the back door, rising only on the sound of my voice, as if she had laid guardian to all I held dear in my absence, only relinquishing it, these walls, and windows, and memories of dogs gone before, only when I was safely  home.

I will open the door and she will be there dancing around as if I'd been gone for years, and we'll enter the house together, those three years crowded into one moment, one room, one instant of time so full there is no room for tears, but only breath.

Today, I knew that even if cancer had not come into our lives, Barkley would still be gone. There are some journeys that are inevitable for us all.  Yet as I looked outside, I realized that whatever has happened to me, the world outside was just how we both would remember it. There was motion, there were laughter and tears, there would be new memories and love that ebbed and flowed like the waves upon the lake. As I looked out on the water's surface, the gentle waves swept away vast and drowsy, like a vision of life with a shadowed surface and somber depths. I gave it a defiant smile and ran after the dog, toward a future that sparkled off in the distance like diamonds.

4 comments:

  1. Oh, the pain of the ride home from the vet's office with the empty leash and collar! Not sure how I made the drive home safely, I cried the whole way having to stop and compose myself for the sake of my daughters; only 7 and 10 years old at the time. Poor Shadow did not go easily, a fact I have never shared with them. She rests now in my china cabinet and I feel a warmth when I place my hand on her urn and say hello.

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  2. Beautiful post. After nearly 5 years with us, Phod no longer has those moments where you think he is remembering something else that happened before us, or at least they are not as visible.

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  3. such lonely drives are the worst... and it's horrible to be alone just with the collar... I can't remember how we made it home, maybe my inner me showed mercy and gave me this blackout...

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  4. So beautifully said, bringing back memories of my Angel K. I miss her so much... but, like you, there is a new dog, one with bad memories but who is learning that we will always love her.

    Thanks for this post.

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Welcome to The Book of Barkley. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab,who we adopted in 2014.

Stop in and say hello. 100% of book sales are donated to animal rescue organizations across the U.S. and Canada and Search Dog Foundation. If you have a non-profit animal organization and would like autographed copies of any of my three books for auction fundraisers or a blog post featuring your organization please contact me at cliodna58@gmail.com