My grandma was a one room live-in school teacher, before starting a family. She loved literature (more than the rest of us) her whole life.
I sometimes read my stuff outloud to her at the Fall City cemetery.
I don’t really think that she’s there, but it feels like she’s listening.
I started writing about Life with my dog Sarrah a few months after she was gone.
It just happened, I never set out to write anything nor get this involved with it, but here I am. As if life cracked me open and the words just started coming out. I began writing daily for an hour or two, sometimes all day and even a few marathon weekends with little time for food or sleep, I did this for about a year.
I set my pen down the day that I learned people in the present run out of time for those who live in the past.
I went from keeping my binder with me at all times to leaving it on the coffee table.
Instead of writing daily, I maybe read it a little every other week and tweaked anything that I stumbled on. This went on for almost a year.
One day I decided to pick it back up and work through it. I made some “Draft Copies” and gave them to a few friends and family, noting that it was far from finished. I wanted to give it, to give Sarrah, some kind of life and protect the story from being lost.
Having never read Memoir I began attending writing conferences, seminars and classes a year ago. Learning to take my story apart, reworking it for Show not Tell is easier said than done, seems especially for me.
I understand that in the paper-thin chance this story of a Special Dog and an Old Boy ever becomes more than evolving pages in a weathered binder on my coffee table (and a bit on a blog) it will be run through normalizing software to Scrub out my Bad Habits, over-polish punctuation and trim off the rough edges… somehow making it no longer feel like it’s mine.
Perhaps what I’m writing is simply a record to be read aloud to an older version of me, staring out a window, trying to remember a life.
It came to me that it is not about Closure, it is Freedom, for her.
Perhaps I do not heal like others, or at all.
Heavy words like Loss are supposed to be followed by the equally heavy Closure in some kind of weight transfer on an invisible set of scales.
I cannot embrace Closure, but her Spirit deserves Freedom.
* * *
This is what I wrote early Saturday morning. I then poured some of Sarrah’s Ashes on the paper and carefully folded it.
Saturday March First Two Thousand Fourteen I walked alone down to the beach for a sunny solitary moment with the 0.9 low tide and ocean breeze.
A lone seagull showed up and quietly watched and waited with me for waves to come and wash over.
Sarrah loved it near the dunes so I’d planned to release some of her ashes here and found a surprise (a gift) near our usual trail end. A driftwood bench has appeared since my last visit, so I put some near it.
I sat on the bench to enjoy the view and absorb the moment.
When I got up to leave an Eagle appeared on the beach and stood guard.
Why do people carry the same books with them?
Usually Bibles or other religious books, I assume, but why? Is it to read, or reread when time is theirs to spare? Could it be kept nearby so they can make notes on the pages when something comes to mind? Perhaps to have it on hand to share with others, if so moved. Maybe it is simply for comfort. I’m not sure why and I’d never really thought about it, until Nissa asked me “Do you think your binder is a Security Blanket?”
I replied (after a day of contemplation) “Perhaps… It is a security blanket, but I think it’s more a need to complete it (with no rush nor deadline). If I stop, it may never be restarted and remain unfinished. The story is too important, at least to me (besides the time invested) and deserves to be written to some level of completion”.
This question and contemplation all came about because; from the moment that I began writing about Sarrah I kept a black pleather binder with me, at all times. This ‘manuscript’ evolved with daily handwritten words, as they came to me. Mainly I retyped it in the early morning hours, those when Sarrah would have been by my side, while my dragon waited and before the day cluttered my mind. Then I updated it onto printed pages. In the quiet, alone times often I just read and reread portions of my writings, reliving them in my mind. Sometimes I simply kept it open to a picture.
I am lucky that I started writing about Sarrah when I did, otherwise I may have never done it.
Equally, that it grew enough momentum to help perpetuate itself.
I always wanted the story to progress… but did not really want it to conclude.
As if quietly nudged, the desire came to preserve what I can recall from the life of Sarrah, the cute little spotted dog that invaded, influenced and ultimately improved my life.
A few days ago my work took me out to look at a house in Belfair near the Hood Canal, then to another at the north end of Bainbridge Island. On this long drive I was painfully missing my road trip partner and thinking about how much she would’ve delighted in the adventures of that day. Inevitably she’d have spotted a park, given me “the look” in my rear view mirror, started to use one or more of her many whines, growls, barks or howls from her large vocal repertoire (she reserved snorts for the rare occasion when there wasn’t enough time to stop) and we would have embarked on another new earthen gift, which busy people drive right on by. Around noon I stopped at Fay Bainbridge State Park to enjoy a sun break, walk around the grounds and along the beach with the spirit of my dog. Walking amongst the drift logs on a trail from the grassy area to the beach brought back flashes of choices that Sarrah would’ve made, from youthfully bounding over obstacles to maturely-taken steps of avoidance. Reflections of her dancing with the waterline, inhaling everything and even pawing at decay – played though my mind. But the solitude of this walk on the opposite side of our lobe of the Puget Sound was quieter, colder and lonelier than my memories.
On this day, March Eighth Two Thousand Eleven, while returning on a ferry I decided to write my story about Sarrah recalling and reflecting on our intertwined lives. . I chose a strong craft beer and a hard seat in an empty section. Between sips and glances at passing scenery; words spilled onto my graph paper. Surprisingly, this literary epiphany instantly made me feel a little better. Whether it’s ever finished or shared with anyone remains to be seen and completely irrelevant to me, at least at this time.
Could this form of expression be a sort of therapy?
Or, will it push me over an edge?
I recall hearing a theory that a portion of grief is an unconscious fear or dread of losing one’s memory(s) associated with what was lost. Perhaps grief forces the brain to focus on and emblazon cherished memories in order to strengthen them against the inevitable erosion of time. Wouldn’t it be sweet if the greater purpose of trudging through this dank pile of emotions was actually beneficial?
Like most people in midlife, this is not my first beating from the monster we simply call “Loss”. A couple of years ago I heard the actor Brad Pitt (in an interview pertaining to his efforts in rebuilding New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina) recall an old saying “The Greater the Love, the Greater the Loss.” I don’t recall the specifics of what he was referring to, but I can still hear him saying these words and feel their weight. Our world is full of tragedy and horrific loss, much more than we can imagine, until it pointedly affects us personally. Though my current experience pales to many, to me it serves no purpose to neither compare nor compete (with others or within ourselves) on these differing events. Each of us are affected by many different living beings and in turn, by their matters of mortality.
I think about Sarrah often, throughout each day. And don’t wish to feel worse because of my feelings nor concern others who might fear that “I can’t let go” or “Move on” from my grieving. Some may be worried that I might replace my lost companionship by seeking refuge within the wilder side of life and keeping a bottle nearby as I did in my early twenties while dealing with the young relationship of my daughter, as it withered before it took root. Like plants, some relationships can Miraculously come back to life if one is very lucky and stubborn enough to feed and water occasionally.
Or that I will delve into another endless labyrinth of excessive work to fill my void, as I did in my late twenties after my brief marriage disintegrated. The lyric from my favorite song by The Eagles “Desperado” comes to mind “….Don’tcha draw the Queen of Diamonds boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able…”
A seemingly hidden gift out of this immeasurable loss appears to be the unveiling of a new series of coping tools, unused in this way, by me, prior to now. A yellowed old fat dictionary, relic tape-recorder, worn mechanical pencil, new smooth flowing pens and cool computer keys will be my companions as I wade thru and attempt to let this out. It seems that a special dog can teach an old boy, a new trick.
Like before… I will work hard through the pain and hoist a few glasses to celebrate the survival of yet another day, but plan to lean most heavily on these writing instruments for balance. Hopefully crafting something stronger than time and worthy of pride.
As feelings flow and memories surface I’ll attempt to capture them by starting with “Brain Droppings” on paper. Over time sweep them into piles like bits of sea glass and arrange them into sentences while watching them mosaic…into paragraphs. Eventually shuffling paragraphs into chapters sprinkled with a few treasured pictures, creating a record of Sarrah’s life with me. My main purpose of collecting these moments on paper, is to preserve some of my many fond (and a few less than wonderful) memories of her for solace, as I try to move forward in my life without her, here. Maybe I can repair myself through gradually wrapping the shards of my fractured heart back together, in layers of weathered paper softened by tears and covered with words from reflections of brighter days.
Perhaps I am grappling with a bout of depression, but I have a level of peace with this probability knowing that Sarrah deserved a person who would struggle in a world without her. If nothing else, spending time with this self-imposed writing assignment gives me an excuse to let my mind wander in the past, while trying to stumble along in a fog as I seek a path into my future.
Lately, people often ask “Are you going to get another dog?” and I struggle with this issue each time I hear it. Initially I wanted to strangle people who asked me that, especially while Sarrah was still alive, failing… but alive. Now, each time it’s just another Punch to a wound that won’t seem to heal.
For many reasons I make myself walk on our old usual route, most days. The obvious motivation for me getting outside and walking is a feeble attempt to retain some fitness, mental and physical. After all, if one doesn’t over think it, walking is good.
As the seasons change I encounter more “fair weather” people out walking who’ve noticed that I’m alone and many ask “Where’s your dog?” These questions feel like slow Scratches to my wound, some deep, others faint depending on their chosen words and reaction(s) to how I answer their painful question.
One warm day an elderly lady, who lives about a half-mile to the south, asked the dreaded question.
She replied, “Oh I am so sorry” and then proceeded to tell me how she’d recently lost her poodle.
“He was ready, he just stopped eating.”
As I started walking away after saying, “Sorry.”
She surmised, “Maybe people should learn from their pets.”
I half-smiled and replied, “Perhaps.”
I know that all of these questions come from good people with simple curiosity, but interestingly it also makes me wonder how often a few quick words out of my mouth have inadvertently touched others, with a sore note. Perhaps we’d all benefit from more pause-induced thought and fewer spoken words.
Despite the overwhelming crushing feelings of late, I would never go back and undo having her in my life. So these are logical questions, but logic and feelings…collide. I do not know, can’t even think about, having another dog in my life at this time.
Dean Koontz, in his book “A big little life” wrote that “It took he and his wife eight month’s to ‘have the courage’ to get another dog.” In my case it’s probably strength, or lack of. Another emotion could be fear that a new dog would chase away my fond memories and the spirit of Sarrah. Regardless of whether or not another dog ever enters into what’s left of my life, this story is about the wonderful spirit that lived in a little dog and the gifts of life that she shared with me and others.
On Sarrah’s last morning here, I freed her from the collar that she loathed and placed it on the head of my cement gargoyle that resides on a cedar stump in the backyard. It remains an evolving contrast – a shining chrome chain becoming a halo of rust.