During my four years of college, and for approximately half as long afterward, I was diligent about memorializing my major experiences in writing. In some cases, usually during periods of adventures following one after another like the chapters of a pulp novel, I lacked the time or the energy to write in such a way as to do each experience justice (even twenty-one year olds can reach a breaking point). In those cases, I would compromise by making a list.
There are several of these lists in my travel journals. After my study abroad, despite pages and pages of writing - both academic and personal - I felt as if I had barely scratched the surface of everything I had seen, felt and learned over the last semester. On the airplane ride back to Boston I bulleted all of the untold stories that shouldn’t be forgotten: the Northern Ireland bar frequented by my friendly hostel manager’s crush; jogging with Carmel Lobello whose name I struggled to remember; getting our culture on at the Mucha Museum before going to a gay bar and sleeping on a tram alongside Cam, who was also my roommate. I did the same thing after my big trip through Asia, recording in fragments of sentences the memories I didn’t want to fade.
It hit me the other day that forgetting might be the worst part of loss. By loss, I mean the loss of a fellow companion on one’s life journey. Admittedly I’m still young, but I hadn't experienced the disappearance of a non-living thing as a life-altering event. It’s lives that matter, and it’s lives that deserve to be memorialized, whether they touch you once at an obscure Irish bar, or over the course of years’ worth of shared beds, shared laundry, and shared challenges overcome.
For me at least, this is one of the main reasons I spend time on a Friday evening thinking about the best words to describe someone no longer with us. In this case, the someone is my dog, Marce. I have to keep typing now, since my eyes still threaten me with cloudy vision when I acknowledge the pain I feel when thinking about him, and my spelling is going to get pretty terrible if I let that happen.
So I’ll keep it short and sweet. My written memorial to my dog will be bullet points edited to capture the crux of my memories. Life these days is idyllically spent raising my son, walking the streets of Seattle and spending time with my wife. The memories that deserve to be captured may never make their way into prose or an essay of their own, but they can still be memorialized, with just enough detail to keep from forgetting:
- Marce was hesitant about showing affection openly. While he didn’t hide his need to be close to those he loved every second of every moment he was with them, he rarely gave doggy kisses until Andre came along, at which point either he decided that he finally liked someone enough to lick them, or Andre just tasted better.
- He would sometimes run so quickly that his face distorted like someone on an amusement park ride, the safety of which is questionable. As a dog owner, there is no greater joy than to see your dog’s stretched smile as he or she runs toward you at full speed, free of fences and boundaries. We were fortunate enough to live less than twenty minutes from the mother of all dog parks, Point Isabelle, one of a few spots in the Bay Area where the amount of space required for such a sight exists.
- Marce traversed the steep, narrow trails of Leona Canyon like a champion. If Portuguese Water Dog / Poodle mixes were allowed to compete in dog shows, and if I actually cared, Marce could have made best in show in every maneuverability category under the sun.
- We didn’t expect to say goodbye so soon. My grief wavers between anger and melancholy. I break down (not literally) in traffic on my bicycle, for god’s sake.
- It’s not clear that Marce really loved anything besides chasing squirrels, and me, Mai & Andre.
- I’ve never felt someone’s loss so acutely as Marce’s. My apologies to my deceased grandfather and great-grandparents, whom I love and miss terribly.
- Taking care of a dog showed me I was capable of assuming responsibility for a life besides my own. I had to wake up early and then postpone my evening drink until after our walk. What else could anyone ask of me?
Processing the grief associated with losing a companion is more than just getting through the stages. It’s deciding that the pain is worth the experience.
The short amount of time I was able to spend with him should have been longer. But I’ll remember him, via bullet points, or by memories deep and wide that have yet to find a voice.