Friday, August 29, 2014

I saw a black branch

And then my dog died.  In truth he died before my last post, a reason for my delay, and in truth he wasn’t exactly my dog either, even after all of these years.  After all of the times we walked and snowshoed together.  The border patrol used to buzz us in their helicopter, till they got used to us disturbing their radar, two little linked shapes strolling along the border.  He was never really my dog, despite that, although I wanted him to be.

Winter walk
All those walks together I remember.  The times he dragged me out, our mid-afternoon post-writing walk become an ecstatic habit, him leaping vertically and twisting in the air, overjoyed, tangling himself in his leash.  The times I dragged him onward, in ninety-degree August, towards the end.  The years I had him trained off leash, and he ran in front, along side, snuffling after rabbits and deer.  The times we went in fresh-crusted snow and he broke through the surface, yelping, while I floated on top in my snowshoes and he, panting, plunged on.

At rest, among books, like a good literary dog
I felt a slave to him sometimes, his neediness and whining, but on cold winter nights in Maine he’d jump and share my bed with me.  He’d sleep beside me and I loved him, loved wrapping my arms around his heft, his warmth.  I taught him “noses,” the command, and he’d touch my nose with his, and Eskimo kiss, not licking my face (I don’t like that) unless completely overcome by affection and unable to help himself.

In winter
One night, back when K. was here working on the boat and I was still traveling in Asia, the two of them sat together in the garage and when K. went to go back in the house he couldn’t get Shadow to wake up.  He couldn’t move him, couldn’t wake him, couldn’t rouse him—as if he were already half in the ether, already half-gone.  He could have drifted off into nothingness that night, without me.  But something called him, and he awoke, and pulled himself to arthritic feet, dragged himself up the stairs and waited another two months for me to come back.
Looking right at me
When I flew in it was the first thing he wanted to do, noses, reaching and snuffling his nose for me, his clouded, half-blind eyes seeking me out.  He waited for me.  Three days after I flew in he was shrieking because he couldn’t stand up, couldn’t get down the stairs.  Two days later his hips gave out and he couldn’t walk.  He lay in the dirt and cried.  Till we gave him oxycodone and barbituates and he passed.
At rest, in love
It kills me; he waited.  This despite how we tormented him over the years with our adventures, our absences.  We abandoned him again and again, leaving him with family that loved him, maybe more than we could, but how could he understand the inexplicable?  I swear he understood English, and each time I whispered where we were going and how long we’d be gone (when I knew) and that we’d come back, whispered in his glove-soft ears.  Maybe he believed me;  maybe he understood.  Because he waited.  Despite my disloyalty, despite traveling almost all of the time I had with him, the years he had on this planet, leaving him in the care of others.

Molting, as summer came on
The night before he died I held him.  I keep remembering how he couldn’t lift himself from the dirt, how we made a blanket nest and spread out a tarp beside him and slept in the dirt next to him.  Sometimes K. allowed me a shift nested against Shadow and I curled up against his heft and put my arm around him, crooked at ninety degrees, so that my bad shoulder could rest on his weight, supported, and I could let my whole weight rest on his body, all of me, and he was still strong enough to take it, he welcomed it, my weight releasing onto his weight.  We breathed together.  My breath calmed and his breath calmed and we sighed together.

In better days, hiking--I'm so happy now we took him with us on the Pinhoti Trail
The next morning he was suffering and couldn’t walk and we made the decision and put him down and it was both brutal and necessary.  He died in the dirt.  He was in pain.  He couldn’t walk anymore.  He was crying all of the time from pain, under his breath, trying to keep us from hearing.  He got up and walked around, briefly, just fifteen minutes before the lady came with her hypodermic needle.  It made me question what we were doing but not really—it was just another gift, towards the end, one more sniff around the yard.  What they use to euthanize dogs is an overdose of barbituates, the same as for Michael Jackson, and when she injected him, already tranquilized, he smiled.  A kind of high, a drifting into space.  And then he was gone.

Our winter snowshoe path beaten down
Half of me wants immediately to return to Maine and begin breeding husky-shepherd-wolf puppies, a whole sled-team’s worth, training them to be bird dogs or hunting dogs or service animals.  Other people say:  no more animals.  It’s too hard.  But I think although animals open our capacity for suffering they also open our capacity for joy.  Suffering is the human condition.  But so is joy.  My life would have been smaller without Shadow in it.

It’s also hard to imagine going back to Maine without him.  What kind of place will it be without him beside me?  It’s hard to remember the last time we dragged him away from his home for the sake of our adventure.  It’s hard to think of his face, his liquid eyes, his black-gummed smile, his velvet ears.

I’ve never lost a dog before.  I’ve never really had a dog before, and I have this sense that my grief is unseemly, if not indulgent.  Thinking back I remember my distaste for other people’s grief at the death of their dogs.  But unlike when a person dies, it seems that Shadow has been erased, that he ceased to exist, that no one wants to talk about him or acknowledge their grief.  You can’t have a funeral for a dog.

But he loved me better than a human being ever could.  He loved me completely and unconditionally and more and better than a human being.  His love was simple, without flaw, without grudge, freely give and freely received.  When I scratched his belly, when I gave him the hard pat he loved, he dissolved in joy.  I loved him with all my heart.  And he loved me.  I am grieving now not the end of his pain but how much worse a place the world is without him.

How many people are lucky enough to have their Jungian shadow made manifest?  How many women are able to become wolf maidens?  I keep hearing his whine, caught, distant, in the creaking of black branches.  I see tufts of his hair caught in the grass.

I suppose I wish I’d spent more time with him when he was alive, but who doesn’t wish that when someone dies?  I spent as much time as I was capable of spending at the time.  I never believed he could really disappear.  And now I have to be a person in the world without him.

I feel like Peter Pan.  I’ve lost my shadow, and with it my ability to fly.  All those walks together, not many, not enough.  His beautiful perfect soft glove ears are gone forever.  Ashes.  Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.  He’s in the wind now.  In the trees.  In the starlight.  Isn’t that what heaven is? His consciousness become all consciousness.  My Shadow.

Into the distance


Ed said...

Beautiful tribute!

Melissa Jenks said...

Thanks so much, Ed.

Ellen said...

Beautiful...Ginnie lost Wootchie and Emily lost both Rascal and Nip the last half of this year...Family, yet angels. Shadow lived a life of love and 'dogness'.

Melissa Jenks said...

I still believe that animals can love us unconditionally in a way that people can never quite manage--the grief is real and present. Thanks for reading.