I can’t keep anything down, and my throat hurts like there’s something stuck in it– like I can’t breathe. I texted my friend Bryan. I’m not unaware that these are the same symptoms she had before she passed. But I can’t get my mind over matter.
Grief is a bitch, he wrote back.
Yeah. Grief is a big brown 83 pound bitch named Butter.
In these days following the day that Butter died, the world became a wash of rain and clouds. I’ve been grateful to have the world mourning with me– or at least Western Washington. We huddled in and lit a candle we named for her. We checked our phones for signs of her popping up in pictures and texts and phone calls. I became used to our little camper being down to one dog, and then not used to it, then more crying, then used to it again, while not losing the feeling that she is still here. I wrapped her collar around my arm so I wouldn’t forget for a second that she was gone– so that I wouldn’t have to remember again. But it didn’t stop me from thinking I heard her moving around this morning on the floor, and it didn’t stop me from mistaking a sheep for her.
Anyone can handle grief except the one in it. Shakespeare or someone said something like that. This flashes among the sitting straight up in the night in the middle of long, twelve hour sleeps. It’s like the movies in that the symptoms are all the same– easily Meg Ryan or Meryl Streep could be playing this role. But I am not watching myself from far away. I am uncomfortably and inescapably inside.
I took to writing down her names. I took to zoning out. I took to watching movies. I took to forgetting to eat. I took to holding my littlest dog for long hours. I took to sleeping. And somehow, in just six days, this tiny home of ours became nearly bearable. If we lit the candle in the morning and blew it out at night (Good morning, Butter. Good night, Butter.), if we laid her blanket at the foot of the bed, if I jangled her collar when the tension was building, I could see how someone might be able to actually live through this.
I became ill two days after I realized she was really gone.
Everybody knows I have a broken heart.
Yesterday we wandered out of our tiny Butter shrine. We needed food. We needed fresh vegetables. We needed air. We went to the farmers market in Olympia like normal people whose dog didn’t just die and tried to buy things with money that means nothing to us for vegetables that we aren’t hungry for. I cried when we saw a bin of apples (she always ate my core). I cried at the stand that sold dog treats. I bought two because I couldn’t stand the thought of only one, and I cried again.
And that’s when I realized how much work was still ahead of me. If it took a week to make these small four walls only bearable, cushioning the world was impossible. I’ll never make it. I’ll never survive. All these sharp edges will puncture me. All these soft memories will suffocate me.
“I can see it now,” I told my Someone, “I can see how people say ‘No more dogs.'”
“They just can’t do it again,” my Someone echoed.
“I just can’t do it again,” I said.
I’ve made a terrible mistake in love. It’s split me wide open– no safety net, no fall back, no plan B. I am a cautionary tale.
All of my defenses against this grief amount to nothing but a dimly lit candle almost burnt down, and a blanket that smells less like her by the day. I was a fool for love, and now love has made a fool of me. Now everyone knows I have a broken heart.
And I think of this–
A little more than seven years ago, we spotted each other from across the room. She was coming in from another failed home experiment, I was leaving from a failed attempt to find the one. When we made eye contact, she pulled my way and I walked hers. And then she leaned on me. I looked her soul in the face and hugged her and whispered– You’re mine. I’m yours. I am going to keep you to the end.
When I looked at my to-be-first-husband, he replied, “What choice do we have?”
And I think of this–
A little less than seven days ago, I laid my head on her gurney on the floor next to hers. She pulled toward me, I leaned on her. Head-to-head while the fluids dropped into her, I told her the story of how we came to be. Of how two misfit, gawky, graceless creatures found each other and stayed together. It’s the same story I tell her every year on her birthday. It’s the same story I tell her after she’s been hit by a truck or gored by a javelina. It’s the same story I tell her when we’ve become homeless or when we move into a little camper with a new Someone. You’re mine. I’m yours. I am going to keep you to the end.
And I think this–
I would do it all again.