by Jan Baughman
(Swans - May 20, 2013) Mestor disappeared again. Normally he's a reliable free-range dog -- he has his favorite promenades, usually 45 minutes to an hour, invariably involving water; too often ticks; sometimes sheep dung or deer hide. Aida, on the other hand, is an escape artist and thus is kept on a 40-foot tether when outside. On those occasions in which she escapes alone, she eventually returns in a short while, but when the two of them go together, always with her as the instigator, it becomes an overnight adventure for them, and an overnight hell for us. She is the first to return, in the middle of the night or early morning, and Mestor typically comes later, sometimes a day later, usually barely able to walk. He's older and slower, but must give it his all and rely on his alpha/male dog ego to keep up and accompany her.
"Don't worry, they always come back," I optimistically tell Gilles when this happens. If it happens when I'm out of town, it's easier to convince myself -- there's no use in worrying, and there is nothing I can do from so far away. If it happens when I'm home, the words are emptier. When I'm home, I have to do something. I drive around searching, walk around calling, sit inside listening, watch out the window for his inevitable -- please make it inevitable -- return.
And yet there are those times that linger in the back of the mind....the one when Mestor disappeared and as I walked around calling his name, I could hear his answer. From whatever spot I called, his answer never changed location. After some time I summoned Gilles and we hiked toward his voice and eventually found him, up the hill on a neighbor's property, trapped in a snare meant to trap the foxes that were eating the valuable pinot noir grapes.
He could have died there, caught in that snare. Lost.
There was the time, not long after we adopted Aida, that she disappeared on a November Thursday, and after an emotionally-draining, heavily-raining weekend, a call came at 9 a.m. Sunday morning from a kind turkey-hunter who heard her cries and found her caught in a snare.
She could have died there, caught in that snare. Lost.
The fact is that Mestor is probably not lost. He probably knows exactly where he is. On numerous occasions, in unknown settings, he has demonstrated to us his keen sense of smell or direction when the urge to chase a deer overcame him and we waited impatiently for him to find his way back to us. No, perhaps he just overdid it on this latest deer chase and decided to lay low for a day or two before coming home. Or maybe he hurt himself and cannot make it up the long hill to our house. Or maybe he got caught in another snare. Or maybe a deer hunter or sheep farmer shot him. Or maybe a mountain lion killed him. It's the "ors" that make us crazy. "It's usually not the bad things you imagine happening that actually happen," my therapist tells me, yet I get no comfort knowing that it's the unimaginable that is likely to happen... What is worse than that which I can imagine?
Loss is completely subjective, cannot be compared to another's loss, or ranked, like pain. I'm reminded of a haunting short story by Eula Biss, The Pain Scale, narrated by a woman who struggles to come to terms with her absolutely debilitating, yet undiagnosed pain.
Left alone in the exam room I stare at the pain scale, a simple number line complicated by only two phrases. Under zero: "no pain." Under ten: "the worst pain imaginable."
The worst pain imaginable...Stabbed in the eye with a spoon? Whipped with nettles? Buried under an avalanche of sharp rocks? Impaled with hundreds of nails? Dragged over gravel behind a fast truck? Skinned alive?
My father tells me that some things one might expect to be painful are not. I have read that starving to death, at a certain point, is not exactly painful. At times, it may even cause elation. Regardless, it's my sister's worst fear. She would rather die any other way, she tells me.
I think about Art and Florence Shay, whose eldest son Harmon was murdered in 1972 at the age of 21 but whose body was never recovered. Vanished. Never found. For how many seconds, minutes, days, years, decades, lifetimes does a parent still look out the window waiting for their son to appear, or answer the phone in the hope that it's him calling, their hearts sinking each time it's not? How does one gain closure? How does one make sense out of something that can never be made sense of?
I think about the Boston Marathon spectators who woke up one morning excited to watch a race, and woke up the next to learn they had lost a foot, or two legs; a son, or a daughter.
I think about my father, who will never again be at the receiving end of my phone call, or call me for nothing other than to ask how my lemon tree is doing and give me some pruning advice. Seven months have passed since he passed, and still I cannot bring myself to delete his number from my cell phone. Once it's gone, it's gone for good.
I think about the profound losses Gilles has had, and the near-loss of himself that is slowly, hopefully, thankfully, being re-found.
Lost. Just how we feel right now without Mestor. Each time he disappears a piece of our hearts does too. It's all relative; completely subjective. Loss, nonetheless. The torture of not knowing where to find him. The longing to cling to the kindness and loyalty, the trusted and familiar, the unconditional love that provides comfort in the face of so much loss.
Monday morning I walked down the hill to where after a previous experience I had found Mestor lying on his side, too sore and/or weak to make it the rest of the way to the house after only he knows how many miles he'd traversed in two days. I stopped at that spot, bellowed his name to the hills, and in an instance, up popped his head above the 3-foot-high grass. Found. We walked together -- slowly, gingerly, painfully, joyfully -- home.
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