The other day I was cleaning out a junk drawer, and I came across the ID tag from a beloved former pet, Zoey, the sweetest yellow lab in the world. I couldn’t believe how this little piece of metal with no remaining practical purpose in my life elicited such a sudden and strong emotional reaction from me. One minute I was sitting on the floor matter-of-factly sorting through a pile of broken pens, thumbtacks, random keys and paperclips. The next minute tears were running down my face as this symbolic trinket brought a rush of memories and feelings for which I was really not prepared.
Zoey was our first “child”. We adopted her from the humane society, and Zoey was her original name. We decided to keep it so as not to add to the trauma of transition, but we did add the middle name “Dufresne”, after Andy Dufresne, the main character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”. She had exhibited such a calm dignity and a quiet sweetness (much like the character in the movie) among the yelping chaos around her at the humane society that this addition to her name was natural. The day we brought this beautiful sweet being into our lives, we went from “couple” to “family”.
Zoey was with us for six years, through all of the joys and heartbreak that came with the births of our two children, the death of my mother, and our own growing into middle adulthood. We moved across the country with her, twice. We nursed her back to health from a spinal injury that left her paralyzed in her hind end for several weeks. She went camping with us, she patiently let our toddlers climb all over her and slobber on her ears (Lily even poked her in the butt with a little toddler finger once, and she just stepped away without drama), she snuggled with us when we were sad. She spent the last two years of her life with the top of her head perpetually encrusted in dried baby food, yogurt, and oatmeal as she never missed sitting at her post under the high chair at meal time. During those years, it would have been hard to imagine life without Zoey. And then, one day, rather unexpectedly, she was gone, and there was a hole in our family, and our hearts broke and the sadness was almost unbearable.
It has been eight years since Zoey died, and in that time the family that she left behind has become almost unrecognizable compared to what it looked like when she left us. We are divorced and live two thousand miles apart. The perfect family with the white picket fence, two beautiful children, and the family dog disintegrated into oblivion. We are all happy and healthy, and life is good. But, seeing that dog tag, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of loss and failure, because it represented the road we thought we were on when Zoey was with us. If you had told me the day we brought her home and started that little family what it would eventually become, I would not have believed you. And it makes me wonder what other unexpected twists and turns are in store. And it thrills me, and it scares the shit out of me.