Monday, March 30, 2020

Requiem for a Tiny Dog

On August 13th, 2008, Carlisle was born.  On March 1st, 2020, he died.

As is the case of most lives, Carlisle's is bracketed by two dates, quantifiable markers of the time he occupied.  On a gravestone, the life itself would be represented by a small line.  A single dash that cannot communicate the life lived and doesn't try to.  It accepts its impotence and rushes away from itself to offer the date of death.  Birthdates and deathdates can be contained by themselves.  Lives are too many (but also not enough) days, and no inscription can do them justice, so we put a mark of inadequacy instead and leave the rest up to the memory of those who remember, and the imagination of those who don't.

It's been a month and I have a lot of memories, some of which I'll try to put down here.  Like the dash, they won't be enough.  They can't capture the essence of life.  They're a pale imitation.  But they're all I have left, aside from still photos, and so they're what I'll use.

Carlisle was a beloved pet.  He was my companion and confidant for over a decade.  He was also - and I say this with a lot of love - an objectively terrible dog.  He was severely mentally challenged.  He suffered from epilepsy, and a heart murmur, and thrombocytopenia.  He had only three teeth left, and the lower left canine was wiggly.  He was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, and he was never truly house-trained.  He had a jagged scar down his front left leg where it had been broken, and a crooked tail that had also been broken, and when he blinked he did it out of sync: first one eye, and then the other.

Carlisle had a string of strange behaviors.  He liked to drink from glasses, though he wasn't very good at it.  He liked to dig on the couch, though he wasn't very good at that, either; he never quite got the hang of using his forepaws in sequence, and instead would dig both of his long-clawed, skeletal paws into the fabric and then yank back, often rearing onto his haunches and looking surprised every time that he almost fell backwards.  He needed to be tucked in to sleep; he would dig at the covers with a tense, curled, gnarled hand until the sheet was lifted for him to crawl under.  At the slightest inconvenience, such as a partially-closed door, he would bark, and his bark was shrill and questioning, like he wasn't really sure it was his.  At night, he would get up frequently and wander around in a haze, presumably to pee, but seeming to forget this even after he'd relieved himself on the floor.  He wore sweaters (an embarrassing thing for a dog) and never quite entirely understood the purpose of a toy.  He was gentle to a degree that was faulty; he would let the other dogs take food right out of his mouth, and when confronted, would roll over immediately with a series of piercing, bird-like shrieks.  He enjoyed human company more than any other and would aggressively seek it out, wedging himself under elbows or in laps, his joints jabbing uncomfortably.  He demanded to be loved, and so help us, we did, even though he was one of the worst and dumbest dogs I've ever met and probably ever will meet.

Carlisle was loved and in turn he was himself a deeply loving and forgiving dog.  He defied all veterinary suggestions that he was on his last legs, right up until the end; he always seemed to have one more day in him, until he didn't.

Carlisle was a little dog in a big world.  In life, he took up very little space.  In death, his absence is much greater than the space he left behind: a loud absence, piercing, jabbing, as sharp as his claws, his elbows, and his high-pitched, helpless yips.  Unlike him, the absence he left is cold, and it lacks the distinctive, heady smell he had: one of contentment and sunshine and peaceful sleep, something warm and rich, the width and breadth and weight and value of a living thing. 

The best things about Carlisle were ethereal qualities that defy and resist translation into words.  It's easy to list his defects, because there were many, and they took up pages and pages and pages within manila folders that the vet stored in heavy metal filing cabinets.  But the things we'll miss, the things that had passed, like his warmth, and his smell, and his gaze, cannot be defined.  They could only be experienced.  Like life itself, they were small, and constant, and then once they weren't, they were suddenly weighty and enormous, shadows you could drown in.

The paradoxical nature of those things we love in life, things that are small yet big, immaterial when they exist and suddenly heavy when they cease to be, are, in the end, maybe best represented by the dash between dates.  The dash is aware of its own ineptitude in communicating what was, and gives no pretense that it can capture the uncapturable.  It leaves the life that was lost up to the grieving to remember, and doesn't impose anything to soil or alter the memory; it knows that the memory is as fragile and unknowable as the thing that is life (what some call the "soul"), and lets the life be at rest, knowing that any effort to emulate, capture, or recount it will be at best a pale imitation and at worst a disrespectful caricature.

Carlisle lived his life in a dash (as befits a sight hound), in a small place that meant more than it was.  Carlisle's was a little life, no less loved.

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