There are days when I believe in the power of faith and love and narrative to steer us through this, when I’m confident that the beautiful ending needs to come. It’s only fitting, it’s only proper, that this should end well.
There are days when I rely on the strength of our process – the science we are trying to use, the hypothesis we’re testing. The patience of altering one variable at a time and keeping track of all the steps.
There are days when I slip between the two and hallucinate evidence, hear things, see you when you’re not there, dream you into shape, the fact that I’m awake marked only by the mundane: the check engine light on the car, the tank half empty, the fact that I inexplicably need to pee, to breathe, to eat.
I checked the feeding station today, like I do every day. There were pawprints about your size and every last bit of food was gone. In spite of myself a small voice said this might be the day when I get to see you’re still alive, and so I carefully pulled out the memory card and paged backwards through squirrels, glowing eyes of small night creatures, to a gorgeous shot of a black and white Aussie. Not you at all.
I re-hung a bunch of Fells posters after that and went for a long walk around the reservoir, just because it’s absolutely beautiful today; Cold and bright, long golden light falling through the trees. Like a film. When I walk alone I try not to shout your name, which is what I want to do, believing (in the faith, in the narrative) that you must be waiting over the hill, listening for my voice, wanting to come back as badly as I want you to. Instead I try and imagine that you’re with me, exploring this place. I sing sometimes – softly to myself – all the silly songs that we re-write for you. And of course this always makes me cry because the evidence tells me you’re NOT there, although I see paw prints everywhere in the banks of mud that could be yours, or not yours, or any dogs’.
Today I curled around the bend and was looking across a land bridge that cuts across the reservoir. I swear to god I saw you there, with two women, backlit brilliantly. It was your tail, your walk in fuzzy silhouette. I blurted out your name without meaning to and you stopped and looked at me, headed for the water, backtracked, vanished with the other dog and the two women into the woods. It was too far to shout, too far to be sure. I followed the path as quickly as I could and eventually found the women. Maybe? They knew who you were, they had two dogs – completely different size, different shape. I’m not sure what I saw. I fell in the cracks.
There is a strange language around our relationship with animals – the notion of ownership and purchase. I suppose this language permeates a lot of what we do (Even the idea of “giving up” implying that there is some thing to give.) The truth of course is that you can act this way – you may perform as if you own another person, or animal or thing or place, but if you are honest with yourself you’ll find that the most you can really claim is that you have been granted (by fiat, by faith, by random chance, by theft, by exchange, by right, by quirk) the temporary permission to live alongside.
We never owned Mari. We were, for a while, given the incredible privilege of being her caretakers. We were allowed to share our lives with this rare soul in the body of a dog – a spirit of pure love and play that made our lives better. That was taken away, and I will never really understand why. I hope we are given a second chance, and of course part of what drives this endless search is the need to prove (to myself, to the world, to whatever distant entity that might be watching and could make a difference) that we deserve it. But in the end, no single thing that we can do, no matter how hard I wish it, will bring Mari back. Four paws and 20 lbs against the world.
Some part of me still believes this will end well, and some other part believes the best we can do is try and make the case that you were worth it – for no other reason than there is nothing else I can think to do.
But I want you home, and I love you, little dog, so very much.