Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Paw Print and the Dead Child

When I got into the shower this morning I saw it there and for a second, just a split second in my mind it was what I had always seen on the floor of the shower and for that second the past came to life and then that second was gone. Bert used to walk around in the shower after I had bathed. I have no idea why, except that he was a Water Dog, and he knew it irritated me that he did it. A girlfriend once went into the shower to shave her legs and Bert was there licking water off the shower floor, leaving paw prints behind, and she complained bitterly about the dog, the big dog, in the house because she was a foo foo dog girl and she didn’t understand large dog people at all. Bert knew she was on her way out and one night he growled at her, just to push it a bit, because Bert was like that. But the paw print this morning was the result of leaving the windows open in very warm weather and there was a spot of mold that needs to be cleaned up.

There once was a woman I knew that had lost a child and there isn’t anything in the Universe to compare to that event. All was well until the child turned three then there was sickness and more sickness and for a year things went from why is my child sick to why is my child dead. There was a year of tests and doctors and hope and then suddenly there was a dead child. She and her husband went to church they went to specialists they went to Mexico to talk to a man who claimed he could cure anything for the right price and no matter what anyone told them to do they did it because there had to be a way out of where they were going. The preacher at their church assured them that God would save their son, that their son wouldn’t die if they just held onto their faith and that same preacher wanted to assure them that God moved in mysterious ways but she attacked him with her nails and teeth and tried to kill him right there in the middle of the funeral.

She told me she didn’t feel anything after that. Nothing. It was if everything she had left was spent on that one moment of rage, where she felt a fingernail break off in a man’s face but the plug was pulled and she was dragged away and even the screaming stopped. There wasn’t anything at all. She and her husband went home and he packed to leave and he did. She said she couldn’t stand the idea, the thought, the way it felt anymore, to be in the same room with him. This was long before a lot of DNA science was developed but she understood that the two of them had, in a moment of passion, mixed a poisoned brew of genetics and while they lay there panting for breath afterwards they had no idea they had just killed their son, just destroyed their own lives, and in less than five years later they would take that bed to the edge of the street and leave it there, sheets flapping in the breeze, and free to a good home.

The divorce left her with a lot of money because they sold the house but she didn’t care. She quit her job and moved. She didn’t want to be known as the mother who had lost a child. She didn’t want to know her friends anymore. She wanted to get as far away from her family as she could. We were riding one night and she told me to stop, stop right now, back up, you see that? Someone had scrawled graffiti on the side of a building that read, “SR 87” and she told me her son would have been old enough to write that had he lived. It was the moment of realization for me that what had happened wasn’t something that was recent, maybe four or five years, but something that had happened over a decade ago. For over ten years she had not lived again.

I hadn’t considered that, really. I knew she had had a hysterectomy. I knew she had quit her field of study and taken a job in retail so she wouldn’t have to think. I knew she had taught herself to drink and to smoke and that she didn’t care who she slept with. But I never thought to ask her how long ago it had been. Speaking to her was like putting my hand on the raw flesh of an open wound, still quivering with fresh pain. I had no idea it had been that long ago.

I asked her one night, why she slept with me and she said it was the only thing left she felt. Even if her soul was dead her body was still alive and she still ate and drank water and went to the bathroom and she slept with men she didn’t like. She didn’t care if I reacted poorly or didn’t react at all.

Sara Poole got involved with her, briefly, and tried to get her out of her shell, to bring her back into the world of the living but Sara’s own world was full of venom and traps. They orbited each other for a couple of months then separated. I think Sara had finally found someone with so much damage there wasn’t a way for her to do anymore. Or perhaps it was there were people who so deeply cared for the injured woman Sara knew they might have come after her in a way that mattered, if she made things worse.

My friend Eli kept this woman under his wing for years without ever telling me why. I could only guess but never did openly. He and I would sometimes sit for hours and never say a word and he was like that. We never talked about her and the subject never came up but he had an affinity for her and her damage that bordered on a religious quest. I went over to his place in the woods one night and found her in his lap, sobbing, while Eli’s wife was in the other room working a crossword puzzle. She and I tried to figure out eighteen across while just a few feet away the past had come to revisit. That was what set her off that night. She had seen a toy on the side of the road, a paw print in her shower, that looked like it belonged to him.

In the vastness of the Universe, if some ethereal creature were to approach me and offer me one day, just one day with my little brown dog, but in exchange, somewhere a billion light years away, an entire star system would blink out of existence I would make that bargain. Who wouldn’t? Who among us hasn’t lost someone so dear they wouldn’t rip a hole in the Universe to heal that wound in their own heart? But what of the beings there and their families and pets and passions? Would they understand that they all were bargained away for a single day for a Husky Chow Mix with a splotchy tongue? No, there can be no deals cut with The Universe. There can be no bargains at any price. No kings, no nations, no dogs and no children can be brought back with any offer, can they? Because if they could, I would, you would, and everyone would.  I know a woman who would and would do so with a smile on her face.

But there are no bargains, are there? The Universe spins and rotates and we lose what we lose without any regard what so ever from the gas giants or the red dwarfs or the black holes that leak light and time. Parents, grandparents, lovers, friends, and even dogs are lost and no matter how large or how small these losses are, they are losses.

I know another woman who lost a child and went on to have two more. She and her husband grew closer for their ordeal. They now have grandchildren. There is a galumphous dog in my house now that never goes near the shower. My elderly Lab/Greyhound has long since given up on bathing. My Girl Dog won’t get near water. There will be another dog one day and on another day I will lose one, too.

I cannot, will not, should not, ever, judge the losses that others have suffered. Please, I beg of you, do not think this compares my loss with that of someone else who has lost more. I have never had a child but I do understand what I am writing here. Everyone has lost someone dear even if it is a small foo foo dog or a favorite book or a captain or a king. Yet we are not made entirely of our losses, no. I don’t believe that. I can’t.

In the Universe our lives, our entire planet, the galaxy itself, is so very small; less than a grain of sand on all the beaches on earth. The little brown dog will one day be totally gone. There will be no one left to keep the photos or videos and one day nothing of me with exist either, and you too, yes, even you, will disappear forever.

Only how we feel makes life bigger. Only how we love makes any of this real.

I wish I would have said that a very long time ago, even if it didn’t made a difference.

Take Care,



  1. That's beautiful, Mike.

    After my mother died, my father stood in the hospital room and pointed to me and yelled at God, "Take her and give me my wife back." He tried to kill me a couple of times after that. Which is why I would never agree to trade anyone else's universe for one more day with anyone. But...I understand the desire.

    I don't believe in a literal heaven, but sometimes I wish I did, for the sake of seeing those little brown dogs or lost children one more time.

    1. Hi Nettle, I had a friend whose mother said the same thing when her brother died. She never quite got over it. I think heaven is more or less a concept of where we would like to be but like the bargain, I do not think it possible.

    2. Your father was truly insane. To tell you to not personalize that, is just being blind to the impossible, because I know there is no way you could just hang that up in a closet somewhere and close the door forever. But that is him. That is not you. I'm just so sorry for that pain. Stupid, senseless pain. I'm so sorry.

  2. Thank you Mike, I understand. I lost a friend 3 weeks ago that I hadn't seen or spoken to in nearly 40 years . Her loss leaves a hole in my heart.

    1. I'm coming up on the first anniversary of a friend I knew for most of my life, Geoff. I think that might be what triggered this.

  3. WOW, man, that is some powerful stuff.

  4. "Yet we are not made entirely of our losses, no"
    I think you're right, but can't deny the losses seem to have a more traumatic impact.
    I saw the transformation in my mother, after losing a 14 year old daughter.