Thursday, March 8, 2012


I was holding him. He was pressed beside me, lying on his back with his front paws lifted limply above him. He was stretching his head backwards, and I was burying my face in his neck and rubbing his belly. I could feel the prickly soft whiskers under his chin poking against my cheek, and then I began to wake up, but before I fully opened my eyes, I remembered that he was gone.

It has been over a month, and the process of accepting this great loss; of acknowledging his complete absence, is long and aching. I am not devastated every moment of every day- I am not unable to function or to smile - I can have conversations, I can laugh. It has been more of a continuous, slow-moving, accumulative loneliness. Something very personal, very sweet, and unspeakably sad.

I'm often not aware of, or forget just how personal this loss has been for me until I leave the apartment. I find I don't want to meet anyone I know from the park or from the neighborhood who's known Zeke; don't want to explain what happened, don't want to say how I feel, don't want to see the expression in their faces, hear encouraging words, or sympathy, or how they might understand because they've lost beloved pets. I'd just as soon avoid any awkward or uncomfortable small talk about something that has been such a significant marker of transition in my life. I want to hold this experience close to my chest, like a cherished locket, and let its precious hidden secret hang just over my heart.

I remember a time when I was a child, it was sometime after Alexandra died, I must have been about 9 or 10. I was walking around the village with my favorite aunt. We were looking in shops and I wanted to go inside a small leather shop on Bleeker Street. In the window, there was a display of colorful fringed belts and bags. My aunt silently indicated that she'd rather not go in, but in my selfish childishness, it wasn't possible for me to take into consideration that she might have had a reason for denying me my wish - I couldn't have imagined my immediate needs not being met; I pressed through the front door. Inside the dark shop were two men; one of them smiled with recognition of my aunt and said to her, "How's the baby?" With a forced smile and no explanation, she said that the baby had died. The air was suddenly sucked from the room. I could feel her strength and her suffering. I was a child. I had no vocabulary for what was going on. I know intellectually that I wasn't responsible for her suffering at that moment, nonetheless, uncomfortable feelings rose in me - feelings I now might recognize as guilt. Decades later, these same tense feelings of guilt rise in me when I think that I might have forced my aunt into an uncomfortable situation all those years ago.

Similar feelings of uneasiness and disquiet have revisited me intermittently since that long gone afternoon. This very specific memory of that time with my aunt has repeated more frequently in my mind since Zeke's death. When I cross the street to avoid a dog walker, when I smile at a neighbor, quicken my pace, and silently acknowledge that I don't want to talk to them the memory rises. How could a young boy possibly have had any understanding of this personal and complex mixture of loss and embarrassment? He couldn't. Childish memory brushes against adult consciousness, and my heart reaches through time to comfort that grieving young woman, just as it reaches out to console that confused little boy.

With forgiveness comes freedom, and in freedom there is no time - I can be visited by an angel; I can feel his soft whiskers against my cheek, and maybe, even for just the briefest moment, I can forget that it's a dream.