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!
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.
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.
She's been with us three and a half 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 last years together 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.