I’ve made pacts with the devil before. There was the pregnancy scare when I promised to never drink again so long as I got my period. And the one where I’d definitely never drink again so long as the room would stop spinning. And of course the one where Erik and I would never get it on in the parking garage at AOL UK again, so long as Tony the mailroom guy didn’t tell everyone what he saw. But this one was different. It didn’t involve alcohol.
I somehow made a non-verbal agreement that would allow me to love a dog completely and unconditionally for just over 9 years, blotting out any thought of her passing. In return, on her sudden death, I would experience pain and sadness at a depth I never truly expected and which couldn’t be bypassed or speeded up. Wish I’d just agreed to trade my soul,
Quite what the devil gets from this I don’t know. I thought devils made you do bad but fun things like eat cake or do coke or call in sick while watching Bravo reruns. When did the devil become all schadenfreude-nistic? Over the last few years I’ve had entirely logical conversations with friends about the short lives of dogs. I’ve talked about the trips Erik and I would take after Storm was gone. I’ve berated Erik when he’s talked about how devastated he’d be without Storm and how it’s something we need to anticipate and plan for.
But thanks to my devilish agreement, I never really believed it would happen. Storm didn’t slow down, she didn’t show any signs of aging apart from getting the clowny white face that all Goldens get. She was a little more needy in recent months, a little more sensitive if one of us swore or cried or she sensed any tension between us. But the nights when she sat on the sofa between us as we watched TV were some of the best moments we three spent together. No matter whether I ended up with her head or her butt in my lap.
I realise that I had no true comprehension of grief. When my father died it was a shock, but also a relief. He was no longer the man he wanted to be and there were few cherished sofa memories, save for him snoring into the pillow after a hefty sunday lunch while Antiques Roadshow bleated on in the background. When any of our childhood dogs died, my parents took them on their last car ride to the vet, came home, put away the food bowls and the bedding and never said another word about them.
But I loved Storm so much. There it is, in simple language. I don’t know why it was so hard to say publicly when she was alive. It’s ok to say you love your kids, or (if you’re not British) your parents. But to say you really love your dog sounds a little weird and more in the realm of spinsters and cats. Erik and I would sometimes have those moments where we’d look at Storm and marvel that we had an animal living with us in the house. Was she a child substitute? Maybe, but not really because that would suggest I ever wanted children and most people know my feelings on that. Thank god/Faust that I didn’t make the pact where I lose a dog and gain a baby.
So was it worth it? Of course it was. I told Storm every day that I loved her, but words didn’t matter to her, actions did. Love me? Prove it – give me an ice cube/pork treat/almond. Play tug with my rope/hedgehog/bear. But all that time, from when she was a bundle of fur at 7 weeks old, that bastard was just sitting there, gleefully, saying ‘enjoy her now because when you least expect it…’
I’ve never been a fan of those sappy posts that circulate around Facebook or forwarded emails that tell some sorrowful tale of a mother/sister/friend that has cancer or some other insidious disease and urges you at the end to call a family member and tell them you love them, before it’s too late. If I can’t muster the compassion to do that on my own, then some random urging alongside a picture of a polar bear cuddling an orphaned penguin isn’t going to work. But seeing people out with their dogs today made me angry and jealous. Dogs dragged away from some great sniffing opportunity; dogs forced to keep up with their owner running on the trail in the heat. A dog left to amuse itself at the park while the owner sat in his car talking on the phone.
Kids, cats, dogs or other beloveds. We’ve all made some kind of pact. You may just not realise it yet.