August 10, 2013

North Cairn: No keeping dog's death at a distance

I never dreamed it would be so hard to go back.

Last week I returned to Cape Cod to take care of some personal business, pick up the dog's ashes and briefly visit with friends, one night here, the next somewhere else, taking the gypsy tour for several days.

The midweek morning I left to make the short drive down two states to where I used to live, I was tired enough to cancel everything and spend my time on the little piece of the shore of Casco Bay that will always epitomize Maine to me. I hadn't had much time this summer to spend there -- what with the dog's health crises and, finally, her death -- and I had been feeling an almost physical hunger for the rocky shore, for the seascape of the Gulf and the vast Atlantic, for the colder, wilder waters here.

Pinelands.

But I had a few matters that had to be dealt with in the Commonwealth, and I had made promises -- and exacted them -- about scheduling and time to be spent on-Cape, so I resolved not to bail out at the last moment.

I shifted my weary mood to automatic, stuffed a bag with clothes and beach attire, loaded up on sunscreen and insect repellent, and packed the car. There was a whole subset of packing -- dog food, chew toys, tennis balls, rawhide, stuffed animals -- that didn't have to be done now that I am living alone.

When I pulled out of the tree-darkened drive, the dappled sunlight sifting through the oaks, the feathered lumination of the conifers softening the clear bright morning, it hit me: No golden retriever was sprawled on the back seat, ensconced like a billionaire, napping while I, the designated driver, did the work of transport.

A maw of emptiness seemed to lie at my back during the four-hour drive -- the vacancy of the big red dog. I did what I could to fill the silence of the car by sliding an audio-book disk into the CD player and trying to take my mind off the grief that has seemed to make tatters of the edges of every day since my golden succumbed to epilepsy and old age.

The closer I got to the Cape, wending my way through the heavy traffic just south of the Tobin, a small tightening, the size of a cherrystone, seemed to gain substance in my chest, a hard pit of longing for her presence, a pit of sadness that would not dissipate or be driven away.

It came on as the landscape changed, and the light -- the muslin-like ivory shimmer of the Cape predominating as the miles from Maine slipped away under the tires' spin. It thundered in as I passed the Sagamore Bridge and the canal walks where the dog had padded alongside me as I biked along the waterway. Then, like a pulse or sudden palpitations of heartbeat, the loss of her -- and remembrance -- beat against my rib cage, because everywhere I looked was a place we had been together, every site exuding memories.

I stopped first at the vet, where one of the assistants was already prepared to offer condolences and hand me a paper bag full of gifts and the other items -- the dog's ashes, contained in what looked like a large, locked, cedar pencil box; a clay cast of her paw print, done by the vet on the day of her death; and a piece of black obsidian, a stone Apache Indians, it is said, believed could draw out, like poison, the tears of mourners.

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