My friend lost a good friend last week.
In high school, the lead band director would excoriate us in the paramilitary fashion Texas high school band demanded. We needed to show commitment, a hundred and ten percent, total devotion. I don’t want to hear about how you couldn’t make performance because your goddamn dog died. He screamed this, standing on the red and black plywood podium covered with crunchy black astroturf. He meant it and knew I believed it. Or half-believed it, split between the fearful, accepting and hungry-to-please child mind and the nascent but solidifying adolescent who asked uncomfortable questions. Seems like my dog is a lot more there for me than any of you. But I said nothing. There was nothing wrong with my dog.
Cats or dogs we align with because we can read them and they us, mostly. The current craze of infantilizing pets is nothing too strange, I think–more a natural reaction to time pressure, loneliness, and the wide omnipresent hostility that is both unfocused and directed precisely at us. Our little friend is limited, distracted, sparing with advice, but accepting without question–a true friend. They really are always happy to see you.
I have had two cats and a dog that I don’t have any more. The cat my ex-wife convinced me to buy on my birthday soon after moving to Seattle we picked out from the Tacoma pound, and he stayed with us until the medical problems no one could authentically identify and at last became unmanageable. We took that flat, cold trip to the 24-hour vet in the early, early morning. He was twelve or so, not so old. He was purring on the last day and eating a little. Later he fell down.
Max, the dog from my adolescence, lingered far longer than he should have. I came back from graduate school to find my parents had allowed him to molder half-blind and rigid with pain in the backyard. We took him to the vet in the back of the station wagon, and the vet came out to him. I remember the syringe full of what looked like windshield washer fluid.
My friend’s cat had nothing physically wrong with him, but he peed. He peed and peed, and he cried, and he needed handfuls of pills to not be a destructive, nervous screeching mess. He was a nice cat, though, who purred and liked to be held; kind of a shit, but not aggressive, not a biter. She had brought him in from the cold still as a kitten. He peed even then, but she adapted, living in places with carpet she knew would be torn out anyway. The place previous had linoleum and he didn’t pee for years. The new house had carpet.
We all try very hard at some things, perhaps harder than we should. We do not want to give up on things that are true and real that cannot be replaced. Facing mortality forces us uncomfortably into the Now. We want more Now, as much as there is, and we want the old Now that we remember, full of golden light. But nobody gets to choose the Now they inhabit. In the end, we are all faced with having to attend to grievous, natural, horrible, and ultimately mundane truths and acts.
As a kid I can remember that down-pitched, hopeless childhood questioning of happiness. How can that state not be wrong when so many people and creatures are suffering, horribly, all the time invisibly around us? I could hear it echoing in the forest, in the drainpipes, empty halls. Adults had no patience for the question, pushing it away. I forgot about it. Everybody does, until they are forced to remember.
So it goes, Vonnegut wrote. It does go. Every day we go. It is normal. It is fine. We make little spaces of quiet to mark these things, remember what we forgot, and make a little peace with it.
Here is a space for friends gone: