I waited my whole life to get a dog. I grew up in a dogless house; when I was old enough, I used to visit dog parks and dream about the day that I would have one of my own. I knew I would name him Radley, for "To Kill A Mockingbird” character Boo Radley. I think I even practiced calling his name, out loud, to the air, when I imagined what life would be like when I finally brought him home. I had my heart set on a Boxer…. large, bumbly dogs that remain puppy-like their entire lives.
Once I got tenure, I knew it was time. Like any good academic, I bought and read 5 books on training dogs before I picked him up. I was a neurotic, first-time dog Mom, calling up friends anytime I had a question.
I had spent most of my life avoiding any commitments, and when I decided to begin my own family, he was the first one I chose. For a long time, it was just the two of us: he would ride shotgun on road trips, stay with me all day in the studio, and slept curled up in my behind-the-knee nook each night.
I am still bursting into tears a few times a day, even 6 weeks later. The relationship I had with this dog was more constant and physical than any other relationship in my life. I work from home 5-7 days a week, and he was always by my side. He lived in my studio with me.
Through the tremendous personal difficulties of the past five years, Radley was constant, likely happier than ever that we went from living in a 4,000 sq foot house to being tightly packed in a small two-bedroom apartment with 2 grown-ups, a newborn baby, and a cat. Through several moves, 5 months of six-hour drives (with a newborn) every weekend to NC to pack up a house, and yelling at him because he was underfoot in the tiny apartment, he was just happy to be with us.
And now, since we had to put him down, he is teaching me again. I have always been a workaholic, but my life before the recession–based-shit-hit-the-fan was one where I fluidly moved from working on furniture projects for the house, to sewing something awesome for myself or my niece to wear, to “real” art projects and back again. I was blissfully happy, and I knew that each thing fed the other and opened up new possibilities. But once my husband was laid off from Labcorp two weeks after I became pregnant, I gave that life up, and have been living in “survival mode” since. Five years of relentless pressure put me close to a breaking point: I slept less, worked up to three jobs at a time, was a mother to my daughter, and every spare minute I had was spent working on my art & art career. I have always been driven, but I was determined that I was not going to “disappear” once I had a baby, despite the fact that our circumstances had changed dramatically for the worse. When we finally moved into our present house, other than preparing a nursery for a now-one-year-old daughter, I decided that there was no time to paint rooms, work on the lamp, or paint the couch the way I imagined it in my head, even though it pained me every single time I walked into my living room, seeing only the gap between my vision and the reality.
Six weeks ago, after we put my sweet puppy into the ground, for the first time in my life, I was incapacitated. I have made work through a major breakdown in my 30's and through various episodes of depression and anxiety over the course of my life. When my father was in hospice this past Spring, I sat by his bed, playing music and movies he loved, while working on a hair embroidery. But, this time, I could not bear to go into the studio without my companion. I spent about two days sleeping and crying after the hour of buoyancy required to get my daughter off to daycare. I watched a movie or two. People gave me permission to be kind to myself. I decided that it was finally time to paint the lamp and the couch. For several weeks I devoted myself to making beautiful things, things that were NOT going to be immediately shipped off to a gallery or an art fair the minute they were made, but objects that would give me joy EVERY SINGLE DAY by sharing my space…. just like Radley.
This was a life lesson that I needed to be reminded of, and it would not have happened without the tragedy of Radley’s death. He has shown me the path out of a very bad rut.
I have never had much use for organized religion: I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife, but I finally understand a bit more about why religion seems to be a necessity for many people, and why we have developed platitudes about death. This year was the first time I have lost beings that I was really close to: it changes you in dramatic ways. I want so desperately to believe that I will see Radley and my father again, and that they are happy now. I understand what people mean when they say, “He will live on in your heart…”, because he does, right next to the hole that his death created. I am shocked to find that my mentality has been reverting to that of a five-year-old. A few weeks back, it was raining really hard, and I wept because, three feet under the ground, he was getting wet in the backyard. He didn’t like to be wet; he loved coming in from the rain and being toweled off, ferociously. In my worst moments, I make angry demands of the universe, screaming to no one in particular, “I want him BACK! He’s MY dog, and I want him BACK!”