The Irrationality of Grief: half-formed thoughts

I always considered myself logical. I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but rather that there is a scientific explanation for everything, even if we do not understand it. So I have found myself surprised by how persistent my irrationality has been regarding Atlas’s death. Even three months later, my mind, or rather my heart, cannot fully accept this loss.

I know he is dead.  I know that is a permanent state. I know I will never again see or touch him, but it doesn’t stop me from having this crazy hope that I will.

While walking down the path along the power line, I have a desperate desire to see his black form running toward me with absolute abandon. I so loved watching him put on those impressive bursts of speed. Now I can only see a fuzzy ghost of him doing that. I see his shadow everywhere.  It’s not enough.

I can’t tear myself away from the internet, even though I know I’m searching for answers and resolutions that don’t exist. He won’t be found in a search engine.  He hasn’t been reincarnated.  But wandering the corners of the earth in search of him seems easier than looking through the kitchen window and facing the now empty backyard or waking up each morning without his greeting.

I find myself wishing I were more artistic. That way I could paint his form continuously, or better yet, create a comic strip to let Atlas live on in some happy way. In the end, it wouldn’t be enough.  It doesn’t matter how far I walk, or how long I sleep, or how much I write.  He is not coming back.

I still see the beauty in snow.  I still enjoy hearing birds sing.  I still appreciate the taste of chocolate.  But I understand why people say they’d sell their soul for a moment with a departed loved one.  It is so painful, so incredibly, unbearably painful, to have them ripped away forever.

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The Other Dog

I do have another dog. She’s a great Pyrenees mix named Halley.

Her name was the one she came with. The story was that whoever named her once heard Halley’s comet described as a dirty snowball. Yep, that’s what she looked like as a pup, though as she has aged her coat has became more spotted and apricot in color. Though that is her official name, we sometimes call her “devil dog/angel dog” or “Queen Sheba” or often just “Oh, Halley” or “Poor Halley.” You see, there’s guilt involved when it comes to Halley.

I know that you are not supposed to play favorites.  But it was undeniably clear to anyone outside of our family that Atlas was the favorite, and not just by a little bit.  All three of us admitted it.

There was just something special about Atlas. They say Berners are somewhat aloof with strangers, but with us he was pure love and personality.  He could be vocal in memorable ways. He had several different whimpers: The “I see a dog I want to play with” whimper; The desperate “How could you leave me at the vet all day?” whimper. And luckily I didn’t hear this one often, but the “I need help” whimper. I had always blamed Halley for all the noise in our house because she tends to bark at dogs and people who pass our windows. I never realized how much noise Atlas made until he was gone.  The silence is still painful.

But there I go again focusing on Atlas when this is supposed to be about Halley.  In the name of full disclosure, it was always “all about Atlas.” The reason we got Halley in the first place was as a playmate for him.  That was a mistake, as we soon realized Atlas would have clearly preferred life without Halley. She definitely cramped his style. She could be a real…well, bitch.

I don’t know if it was out of jealousy or just because she was a stinker, but Atlas could not have anything without Halley desperately wanting it.  I’d buy identical treats or toys.  It didn’t matter. She was more interested in making sure she got what Atlas had. Because it got tricky walking two large dogs with different needs, I decided to try giving them individual attention. I would walk her alone first, because she had to be first. But then I’d try to walk Atlas and she would be an inconsolable wreck in the house. Of course, I was gone, but she drove Wayne nuts.

As the owner, I need to take responsibility here, because truth be told, it’s rarely ever a dog’s fault. Even as a puppy I saw the signs. I would perhaps inappropriately joke that she had “Asperger for Dogs.” She just didn’t seem to get their social cues. Most dogs know to approach another dog by circling around and sniffing the backside. She always went for the face. I’d try to steer her away. I hoped she’d learn from Atlas’s excellent example, but she stubbornly insisted. Most dogs were generous enough to let her get away with it, but a few let her know they were not at all okay with her rudeness, and it was as you can imagine a nightmare. I knew the problem was getting worse by the time she was 1.5-2 years old. I needed help training-wise. Unfortunately, this was exactly when our financial situation changed making private training out of the question.

So now my outdoor life with Halley revolves around a constant threat of MUD (Meeting the Unleashed Dog). They are everywhere! And I swear, Halley must give off some kind of vibe to attract them too. My solution has been to take defensive measures: I carry pepper spray. I walk her in rain and snow storms or at odd hours. Thankfully, near our current house there is a path along the power lines where others rarely go. Except for too many ticks, and my ever present fear of a rabid beaver attack, it has been a lifesaver.

To be fair, Halley does have many redeeming qualities. She’s lovely for one. With her long eyelashes, velvety soft muzzle, full white flag of a tail, and soft brown eyes, she often looks angelic. She can also sit in such a quiet, patient way. Even though she doesn’t love dogs, she does love people and is very sweet and gentle with children. Because of this, the students at our old school loved her over Atlas. That made me feel a bit less guilty. She has also been very healthy. Something I do not take for granted. Basically, Halley is happy to be loved and go for daily walks. I’d love to enjoy those more with her, we just need to solve the dog aggression issue.

And now that Atlas is gone, it’s really about time I do right by Halley. I’m trying despite my broken heart.

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My Best Decision

$1500 for a puppy.  It was a crazy indulgence for me, someone who had always been frugal, especially when it came to buying something for myself. As morbid as it was, at the time, I also calculated how much it would be per year for this dog depending on how long he lived. Ridiculous now I know, because the value Atlas brought to my life on a daily basis was utterly priceless.

And then came the first scare.  I picked him up Friday after school on September 15, 2006. On Sunday night we spent the entire night in the emergency vet.  He was bleeding when he went to the bathroom.  I remember that as the vet told me he wasn’t sure if he’d live, I was utterly shocked to realize I was devastated. It wasn’t about the money. I already loved this puppy. How could I possibly love this particular puppy after only three days?  But I did.

And during the almost 8 1/2 years we had together, the 3,000 plus walks, the 6,000 plus feedings, the far too many vet visits, the tens of thousands of times I pet his amazingly soft fur and the truly countless times he made me smile, that love only grew.

He wasn’t perfect.

He’d mess with me in particular, wanting to play instead of coming in when I had to go to work.  And there were the couple of times he found bones in the woods while on our walks; all hope of obedience was lost. In one story Wayne likes to retell he walked out the door to the crazy scene of Atlas mischievously bolting away from me while I was yelling behind him desperately to “Drop it!”  Luckily, he ran straight to Wayne where he proceeded to vomit up half of a deer’s leg right at Wayne’s feet.  It seemed an impossible size for a dog to have swallowed whole. But Atlas always loved his food. Admittedly even more than he did us.

He also loved to go into water that would invariably make him sick. And though he was generally good at the “leave it” command, he would purposely wait for a moment when I was distracted to sneak a quick plunge.  It was hard not to delight in those romping happy dog moments, but unfortunately we so often had to pay a price for it, that we had to have him on leash more and more.

So often I second guess myself.  So often I doubt. But I’ll never regret my decision to buy Atlas. He may not have been perfect, but he was perfect for me.

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