I still see you, you know.
It’s what I want to say to people. When they remind me you’re gone.
Mum was looking at an advertisement in the paper the other day. She said she saw someone just like you. I wasn’t sure if I was angry that she thought she could replace you, or angry that she didn’t take the chance.
We found a feather together. A peacock feather. We found it on the beach. We thought it was odd. It was long and iridescent, green and gold shimmering colour. You hated the beach as much as I love it. But you loved me, so you came anyway. You were a great little climber, although I pretended to help you. We clambered along cliffs and down shallow rock ledges and over sandy beaches. We walked and walked until the sun set and then we danced home under the light of the stars.
I was always scared at night. Maybe it was the situation, maybe it was my brain and its tendency to seek out dark holes. But you sat by my bed, alert, ears up. I woke to the same face, caring and considerate – just watching, waiting, willing me to be safe. And when I woke, you slept, against my pajama bottoms, as I sipped tea and watched the waves through the window. Sometimes I read to you, stroking your soft fur, other times I just watched you breathe. It was soothing, knowing that you were right there. Just resting.
I remember the first time you went missing. It seems like the stereotypical late night ‘scary’ story. The clouds were a fierce grey and rolling fast. The sky crackled with thunder. It was ice cold. You went out on your own a lot, but this time I was worried. There was nothing in particular wrong. You often went chasing horses or sniffing out chickens, adventuring the country side on your own. My gut knew this time was different. I started running. I was wearing a school dress and no jumper, and I was saturated before I got out the gate. I ran, and ran, and then I came to you, your collar caught in a fence. The lightning hit, alarmingly on time for this specific dramatic moment. I don’t know how I knew where to go, or how to find you, but I did. I untangled you from the fence, lifted you into my arms and ran home. I banged on the front door and begged mum for a towel. She brought one for me, but not you, and she was frustrated when I told her to bring me an old one. I gave you a hot bath and you smelt like oatmeal shampoo for a week. I wrapped you in a towel and you shivered into my arms until you felt warm again. Only then did I realise I had blood running down my leg and was beginning to turn blue from the cold. I jumped into the shower and you waited for me.
I remember how much you loved bacon and eggs. I used to smuggle bacon into tissues in my lap to sneak to you. I remember how you licked my fingers to get all the grease off, how you used to sit and your eyes glazed over just at the scent. I would take a glass of water for each of us and you would lap the water with your tongue so delicately, never spilling a drop.
I remember when some bullies followed me home after school one day, and they tried to come into our house but you chased them over the fence and down the road.
I remember when our parents were fighting and I got locked outside, and I cried and cried and you just licked my tears away until I was nearly done, and then you did this funny pantomime where you stole my tissues and ripped them into pieces and were so silly until I laughed, and then you bumped your nose into my cheek and we just lay in the grass watching the sun go down.
I remember dancing in the paddocks, cracking walnuts and sharing the meat, eating berries off the tree, herding cattle and going on road trips.
I think my favorite memory is how much you loved me. How we would hide under trees on a summers day, and you’d put a paw on my leg, rest your head and just stare at me. Big amber eyes reading a book of love to me. I loved how your ears felt like velvet, how your nose was soft and boopy, how you smelled like oatmeal, how the tip of your tail felt like the softest paintbrush.
The feather started to fall apart now. It’s still in a jar by my bed. Still treasured every day as a reminder of the times we had. I don’t know what to do, and I wish I could ask you. I’m sure you’d just watch me sob and play the jester until I laughed instead but, I know you would be what I needed.
People say that grief gets better over time. But it’s nearly been four years and I still love you. I still wake up every day missing you. I still have nightmares where I’m looking for you but I can’t find you.
I still need you.
The clock has changed you see. I remember when we planned a future together. We were going to have a big cottage by the sea, but with a backyard by the forests. I was going to have a great job as a journalist, and you’d ride in the car with me. You’d help carry my equipment and afterwards you’d have steak and eggs and steamed carrots for dinner, because we had enough money to buy whatever you wanted.
Now the clock is counting backwards. Another year since you were here. Another year since my dreams died. Another year since anyone loved me like you did.
I don’t know what I want anymore, because what I want is both so simple and impossible. I just want you.
You were 16, when you died. You did die. It took me a long time to write that. But you did. Not to me, but to the world, for all official purposes.
You had a cancerous tumour we had known about for years. Right next to your lung. The vet said she didn’t want to do anything, she said the anaesthetic was a bigger risk than the cancer. She said you weren’t in any pain, we knew that too. You were still so full of life. So we left it. I’ll never know if that was the right decision.
On November 24th, I was at home with you. We read ‘The End’ by Lemony Snicket. We sat under the liquid amber tree. It was warm, and we lay in the grass for hours. The next morning I left for the city. The morning after that you were gone.
I know you waited, to say goodbye one last time. I know you tried so hard to be strong.
I came home to bury you, but it was already done. Your favorite omni wine cooler turned water drinker was on top, some rosemary – for remembrance, some flowers – because it was proper. I wanted to give you walnuts, and berries, and four leafed clovers. But I couldn’t find any. I think the trees missed you too.
I found your collar in the laundry and I hated it, sitting there in the cold. I put it in a ziplock bag to try and preserve the smell, and I hugged it all night long.
I cried then. I’m crying now. I have cried a lot.
The next time I came home it was just a mound of dirt. I imagined you digging it up and finding some new bone or assorted treasure.
Since you left a lot of things have changed. I changed. I got really sick. Our parents separated. I changed degrees. I left that horrid guy I was telling you about. Got a new house. Soon it’s been a whole year here.
Your photos are still everywhere, I still have your photos on my wall, a polaroid in my wallet. You’re still my screensaver on my phone, on my laptop. I have three albums of photos on my dresser, and a special folder on my phone. I still keep your collar near my bed, your old rego tags in a box. It still smells like your oatmeal shampoo.
Mum is moving into a retirement home and she asked if I’d like to get another dog. I wasn’t sure how to answer. I do of course. But all I really want is another you, and I know another you is impossible to find. But I also think you’d love us to adopt another dog. Give another strange and unloved pup a new chance. I think maybe it’s time to try. Not to replace you but to continue your legacy. Maybe a cat instead.
Time keeps moving, but love instils something in us, this sense of endlessness. Your loss still hurts me, your love still carries me. I miss you now, I miss you forever.