I’ve had this screenshot saved in my phone since last year. Since November 8th at 1:26AM. I’m not sure why I kept it. Except for the reason anyone keeps anything from the one they love, when the one they love isn’t going to have anything else left to give. When the one you love is laid out to rest, and you are still caught believing that you can see their eyes fluttering. When the one you love is three breaths from death, and you are frantically searching the room for the thing– the thing– that will help you three breaths and all your remaining years later to remember them. To never let them go. To keep the memory alive. To… have something.
It’s a cruel ritual we play on ourselves– the ritual of grabbing mementos from death. A shoddy replacement for a life we regret missing too much of. Even when we had all of that life exclusively. There is still the falling– the clawing at the dirt on the cliffside that we will work tirelessly to believe is a handful of life. Is an adequate I’m sorry for what we didn’t do right. But it’s still the dirt that let us down, that has us tumbling into a ravine of life without the one we love.
When we took Butter to the hospital that night, I was sure we were losing her. My Someone pulled out his phone to snap a photo of her, drugged and scared in the backseat.
“No,” I’d said. “Not like this.”
“You’re right,” he said.
I wasn’t angry, but I concealed my own desire to snap that last photo, too. To grab the tuft of her neck and bottle the scent of her smelly old dog smell. Instead, I helped her walk the block– off leash– to the entrance of the place she would soon die. It takes no effort to recall that walk. How I had to push her back up from squatting to let her know she was no longer peeing. I didn’t want to remember it like this.
But then, when they wheeled her into her last surgery– the one that failed– after we spent those two hours petting her on a gurney, singing her favorite songs and telling her we loved her, she popped her head up on the way out the door. Her non-response for those two hours suddenly culminated in the face I do remember. And I regretted every photo I never took.I think I’ll get rid of this screenshot. Maybe tomorrow. As I continue to fall down into this pit of life without her, this bit of dirt still left in my hands still gives me a tiny bit of hope. The unrealistic kind that her head is going to pop up unexpectedly and all will be right again. And this death memento is the only thing that keeps me sure that it is and is not true, at the same time.