On Change and Death
Pugsy died a little over three weeks ago today. Those first few weeks, I was bereft and sad and lost. Now, I can at least hold an image of him in my head without immediately bursting into tears but if it’s longer than a moment, the tears start to crawl out of my eyes, escaping into the world, shouting their sadness. Chris called me that evening when he saw the Instagram post and was absolutely lovely about it all. He reminded me that part of loving a dog is knowing when it’s time to say goodbye, which has been told to me before but something in the way he said it and how he said it, just clicked.
Seven years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things but, Pugsy and me, we had an intense friendship. My ex and I adopted him when we were still married. Pugsy had a rough go that first month or two and without my ex’s constant care, I think I would have gone crazy. But, it was pretty apparent that he was my dog. After the divorce, after moving to my little cottage in Lincoln, my entire world revolved around getting home to feed him, making sure he was okay, taking him out to pee because he couldn’t climb down the flight of stairs, spending cold nights curled up under the comforter with that little man, or summer days laying outside—my, how that dog loved the sunshine. It’s funny how important these connections become, especially to creatures that can’t talk back. Lord, how I loved him. I am just bereft. The great new adventure called NYC (more on that below) I’m about to embark on in a month will be undertaken alone. My little man had been my bedrock and consistent companion through some of the most tumultuous times of my life: my divorce, my move to a tiny cabin, a new job, a new position. I know putting him down was for the best but it doesn’t lessen the hurt. He is gone and I am alone.
I had a lot of ankle pain the day Pugsy died; I had broken it the previous weekend running down the stairs. The pain, I think, was largely due to pushing my physical self past what I should have. After driving the hour to Rhode Island at two in the morning to be with Pugsy, to watch his body go limp and the labored breathing fall silent, then the drive back to Boston as the sun came up, realization dawning that I lost a friend, it was too much for my ankle. I should have let myself stay put on the couch, elevate my ankle, but I couldn’t sit still. I got rid of most of Pugsy’s things; the physical reminders just kept the tears coming. The only thing I saved was his plush bear toy, the one he would lick and lick and lick. I washed it and it sits on my desk, still a raw reminder that tears me up now. The day after my friend died was a Monday and I had to go into the office—the moment someone asked how my weekend was, I burst into a blubbering pile of tears. Everyone in the office had met Pugsy and knew the bond I had with him. The hugs from them just made the tears fall more.
Adding to the emotions of that day was that I gave my resignation notice to my employer; I accepted a new position at a company in New York City.
Things are moving so fast now. It’s weird how things can change in an instant. I mean, I know this. I have experienced this already (October 10, 1998 is still always present; that night changed a lot for me, in a moment, a flash). Three Sundays ago, everything changed. Pugsy died. I got a new job in a new state in an iconic city. I’m leaving all that I’ve known and cared for these past nine years. In less than a month, my life is going to look nothing like it currently does. How truly strange. How truly surreal. I’m mostly excited but I would be lying if there isn’t a terror pocket in my flesh, emitting poison like a vile cancer, making me doubt my ability to do this new job and do it well. The feelings ebb and flow but it is still there, that metastatic self-doubt.
I spent most of my twenties in Denver, most of my thirties in Boston, and now I’m going to spend the next few years in NYC. I am both sad that Pugsy won’t be with me but thankful at the same time. Is this not the joy of being human? The ability to hold two opposing views in one’s head at the same time? I feel extremely lucky but also grateful that I’ve put in the work, have the skills and knowledge and am financially secure to take this leap. And NYC is a hub for international travel, a quick jot to Boston or Iceland not as difficult as it has been these past years. I am thrilled about what the next few years are going to look like. I wish the ankle was healed so I can start doing things, getting myself ready, just walk up stairs with a cup of coffee! I’ll tell you this, though: I’m never taking for granted a healed and functioning human body. When I can, I’m going to be active. Walks, runs, hiking, Central Park trips, walking the entirety of Manhattan, viewing the tree at Rockefeller center…I’m going to use this body to explore the city, do things I’ve always been afraid of doing, maybe even find myself a good man that is looking in the same direction I’m looking.
Denver taught me how to be strong. Boston taught me how to love. NYC may just teach me how to be myself, to sit in this skin and bones and relish the good along with the bad. I once thought that there were parts of me so abhorrent that it was a sin to expose them. This past year, I’ve learned that the good parts of me are there maybe because of the bad parts of me. I’ve learned to love those parts of me and I think I’m at the cusp of allowing someone else to love them as well. But, that is only possible when you know your self and can sing the song of your self without irony or mockery.
I know not what the next few months will bring. What I do know is that it will be different and I don’t have my little companion to come home to any longer. And that is okay. Change is inevitable and it often hurts. Change can break you and wreck you and it just may not make you stronger than before; it might just break you and bruise you and wrest any sort of normalcy from your delicate grasp. But you have to keep moving, keep placing one foot in front of your cast, crawling toward what is next, knees and shins sopping up a trail of tears. Pain, both emotional and physical, is part of life. This past month reminded me of this fact. I’m ready for what’s next but that doesn’t mean I can’t be sad to lose what I have had here in my decade in Boston.
Forward is not forgetting.