I’ve lost a lot of people in my life.
Let me restate that…
I’ve rarely had many people in my life, but few of those people have ever really remained. So, I have had few people in my life, but the majority of those people, I’ve lost.
I did not lose them like a person loses another person in a crowd.
I also did not lose them due to a faulty mortal coil or the innate cruelty that is the terminal nature of existence.
In truth, I’ve never lost anyone. At least, not in the way people mean it when they say it.
It is the removal of bridges. Sometimes by fire… sometimes by neglect.
It is the parting of paths. Sometimes by intentional separation… sometimes by the basic nature of life and our own personal desires and trajectories.
I’ve lost pets.
I’ve lost some pets in a very literal way. They left and never came back. I was very young then. Statistically, I know that I lost them in a mortal way as well because on a long enough timeline, that is a simple guarantee. Though perhaps one could say that you cannot lose that which flees. If it left and didn’t return, you never really had it. Or did you?
I suppose that’s a possible topic of debate.
But I’m not here to debate that.
I’ve lost two dogs, but I did not lose them in a simple way. They did not flee. One was hit by a car. He was very old. I was there when he was born. All fat and clumsy…he looked like a chow that was the size of a miniature terrier.
He was my first dog, even though he was not the first dog we’d had as a family. He was my first dog because he was the dog that I took care of. When my parents separated and finally divorced, I took care of him. Amidst the “what’s mine and what’s yours” of a dissolving marriage, no one seemed to be particularly concerned with disputing ownership of an awkward little dog that I’d named Scooter.
He was the only dog that survived birth.
One of thirteen.
The surviving 7.69% of a stillborn litter.
I lost him when he was fourteen years old. I was at work. My roommate at the time called me and let me know that he’d gotten outside, and he found him by the edge of the driveway. He said he didn’t know what had happened. He said he was sure he didn’t hit him when he got in his car to back out.
I understood. It was nobody’s fault.
He was old.
He was at that point that the end was nigh. The end simply hadn’t been given a distinct name. That day, that name had been chosen.
I went back to work.
I understand that.
People die. Animals die.
I understand that.
Realizations like that are so very thin. They’re fragile. They hold a heavy weight upon little stilts of logic. We tell ourselves we understand. We tell ourselves that if we wake up and the house is on fire, that we know the things we’ll grab.
I imagine more than a few people have been roused to a burning house and found themselves in the yard with little and less of the things that they would have put on their proverbial list in that hypothetical world.
I did not handle his loss as well as I thought I would. Knowing that it was coming, and coming soon meant little and less in my hypothetical world.
My next dog was Lux. The remainder of a litter of pit bulls that had yet to be claimed. The owner didn’t want irresponsible people to have dogs that were already labeled as being prone to violence. If I’m being honest, I didn’t want that either. Nor did I want to think of a dog that lived its life at the end of a chain, or that it lived even one of its days proving that it was better at killing than another dog was.
A year later, he had another litter. Same situation. Lux, I decided, could use a brother. His name was Ino.
Seven years later, I’d let my dogs outside and fell asleep. They found a weak spot in a fence. They decided to embrace that freedom.
I lost my dogs that day.
I called the police when I found out they were missing. Told them they weren’t human aggressive. They’d never been.
When I got a call an hour later, I was told that the responding officers took the situation into account, saw the dogs, hadn’t heard of their disposition.
They shot and killed Lux.
It was my fault.
I knew it was the moment it happened.
While others who knew me and who knew Lux were upset by the actions of the responding officers, I was upset with myself. While they lamented the misfortune that befell him, I lamented a dog that I loved who I allowed to come into the same kind of harm that I wanted to protect him from.
I had failed him.
I did not see his death coming. He was not old. The end was not nigh. It was an unexpected fire in the night in my world, and I’d no plan…hypothetical or otherwise.
And now, you, my astute reader, can probably see the trend here.
Ino, as of this moment, is alive. He is old. His mobility is failing.
When I look at him, I still see a puppy. That same fat-bellied dog that ate and drank with reckless abandon the first day I brought him home so that he looked like he’d swallowed a balloon.
But he is not a puppy.
I’ve lost a great deal in life. Most of those losses have taken forms that, at least on some level, had at least one variable that I could not control. I can take responsibility for those variables. I can understand my part in these moments and in these losses. I have pulled a trigger, metaphorically speaking, but I have never felt as though I had to pull it literally.
I will be with Ino when he passes. I would likely be with him whether it was a decision I made or a decision made by life and the passage of time. Either way, I know that the end is nigh. This time, however, I know the name of that ending.
I wonder, in some small way, if that makes it better or worse.
I feel quite sure that it makes it better. And that it makes it worse.
It is a painful thing to know that to save what you love from pain, you must let it go. That the only way you can make it stop hurting is to do something that will hurt.
It is not a decision to make lightly.
This Thursday at 7 pm, I will spend my last day with Ino. He does not know this. There are no words I can tell him to make him understand this.
Part of me wonders if that makes it better or worse.
I suppose it comes down to how it’s worse and how it’s better, and for whom.
When I go home today, I will still see him as I’ve always seen him – as that same little dog that ate and drank so much that he looked like he’d swallowed a balloon. I will see a puppy.
But he is not a puppy. Has not been for a long time.
I will spend the next day and a half trying to tell him that I love him and I’ll miss him using words he’ll never really understand. Words that, at their best, will only suffice in fractions.
And later, I’ll find myself again on the opposite side of that metaphorical fire. But unlike the others, I will have seen this one coming… building over fourteen years. And still, no prepared list or hypothetical plan will have mattered.
I will find myself once again realizing that the one thing I would have wanted to save could not be saved.
As a closing note. It was after Lux died that I decided to go to college. I can’t explain why that spurred me into action, I only know it did.
There is a strange and sad irony that as I find myself now in the final month of my final semester of my final year, that this death serves as that final point of punctuation.
I do not believe in fate. But I am willing to admit when coincidence looks a lot like it.