border collie-shepherd mix looking at camera, outside, wooded, blurred fence and gate in background

Our Silent Language

Originally posted on: Crossing a Continent

I still see shadows of her.

I walk out of a room and see her laying there, her head lifted up and a questioning look on her face. The tufts of golden brown and black hair on the side of her face are flattened from where her head was resting.

Despite unshakeable absence, her eyes still read me.

We took her to the beach on that last morning.

We took her to the beach on that first morning, too. Letting her off leash that day, she ran. She ran faster than any dog I’d ever seen, legs extended, gliding over a universe of shells. I sucked in my breath for a minute, thinking she wouldn’t come back.

On this last morning, we knew she wouldn’t come back. We knew she wouldn’t turn around. We knew we had to say goodbye.

There are certain impossibilities to communicate. Color. Air. Faith. Impressions on our lives that are so essential to who we are that their loss feels as much an impossibility as the object itself. How do you begin to explain that connection, that bond, that inseparability? What language can be powerful enough to construct that meaning?

P1060361On that beach, those first mornings of our first years, she loved to run. One-tenth of a mile down the wrack line. Two-tenths. Half a mile. She would go until we knew our voice wouldn’t carry any further over the wind. She would go until all our senses, save sight, were snapped. We couldn’t call her. We couldn’t touch her. We could only see her. In those moments, trust rolled in with the waves. It became our communication, our silent language. In as much as she knew when she made that slow, smooth arc back towards our direction that we would be there, we knew that she would come back.

There is no silence since she left us.

The last morning, after a restless night, we let her out. Twenty minutes later, we were searching the farm, calling her name.

She was always the first back to the door, ready for breakfast. Ready to jump up on the bed and kiss us good morning.

We walked the woods around the property. The cardinals were deafening, their song piercing this new, unwelcome vacancy. The calf-high grasses were cold, wet with dew. The crackling of the detritus below my feet and the swishing of the grasses against my legs were a bubble of noise I couldn’t escape. Inside it, I couldn’t breathe. I shivered, and my eyes teared. I needed her to turn around. I needed her to make that sweeping arc back to us. Back to home. Our twined rope of unvoiced connection was slipping.

She left us like she ran: fast, with unbridled trust. We learned of the tumor in her heart less than two weeks before her death, when blood had enveloped the sac around her heart to the extent her heart could barely beat. The blood was drained and our sweet girl returned to us, alive in recovery.

We had six full days to watch her make that sweeping arc back to us. Six full days to know that there was a new partner in our relationship. A new member to get to know. Hemangiosarcoma.

Is hope impartial? Does hope feel more rewarding after accomplishment or more bitter after defeat?

Hope is like the shorebreak at the edge of the ocean. A transitory period between two worlds, sucking and pushing, crushing down and smoothing out. Hope steals away doubt and returns chaos. As impermanent as that space between the salt and the sand, hope can never be trusted to remain. To be true.

On her last day, she would stand, distant, unable to rest. On her last day, she still would look to us, she still would speak our silent language.

On that last day, we still searched for signs of her running back to us, legs outstretched over a universe of shells, her soft hair dripping with tidal wash, dripping with spray from the shorebreak, dripping with hope.

CallieIn three days Jodi and I fly to Seattle, Washington to begin a bicycle trip we’ve been planning for more than a year and dreaming of for nearly a decade. We’ve done long-distance trips in the past and have covered thousands of miles under our own power, with some combination of belief, trust and hope.

Those trips have provided their own rewards, journeys of stubbornness, of accomplishment, of discovery. Of all I have gained from months in a tent and under the sky, self-confidence is perhaps the most identifiable. The ability to trust in yourself. The ability to see something through.

Three weeks ago, there was little more to this trip than that. Little more than spanning a continent from ocean to ocean, shedding the stresses of adult life, connecting with the kindness in strangers and accomplishing intent.

The death of our companion has changed all of that, has changed our lives, our relationship, in ways we are only beginning to be introduced to. The loss of our sweet girl has changed this journey, adding unexpected heaviness to our load.

How long will we carry this heaviness? When will her absence not sear my soul? On what lonely road, on what numberless mile, will these wounds begin to heal? On what day would I even want that?

I cling to the tendrils of our unspoken language with ferocity and desperation.

I re-braid that rope between us with a stubborn insistence.

I lean into my partner.

We listen for the sound of trust rolling in with the waves. Rolling across the Pacific Ocean. Rolling towards the Great Plains. Rolling towards the Atlantic.

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