I remember letting Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper out of the house, through the garage, and into the Houma backyard, and the instant I pushed the outer door open, Lucas shot off at an angle.
I tore after him–Lucas dashing off was never a good thing–and took a second to take in the picture. An opossum was scrabbling along the top of our fence, slipping and scratching and hissing, with Lucas on his back feet leaping at the terrified animal.
I remember in the corner of that backyard stood a tree that grew into the fence. The tree twined around the fence and the fence embedded into a piece of the trunk. We scratched our heads over that when we first moved in because why wouldn’t the owners have trained the tree in the opposite direction? But, they didn’t, and the result was a natural foothold.
I remember the flash of white hot panic when I saw Lucas plant his back feet into that foothold, preparing to launch his entire body up and over the fence after the retreating opossum. I remember the tension in his muscles as I grabbed his back thighs and pulled as hard as I possibly could. It turned into a tug-of-war: He got his paws on top of the fence and pulled with all he had, while I grabbed his legs and pulled with all I had. Thankfully his angle was so awkward and his purchase on the tree was so weak that I won. We tumbled backwards into the yard.
I remember being pissed. Furious. Clearly, fury served no purpose, and it was my fear response kicking in, but I was just. so. mad. at him. “Lucas! You idiot!”
I remember, later that night, cuddling him on my lap and apologizing. I explained to him that I worried about him: if he got lost or hit by a car or encountered another dog or or or or.
“Lucas, I’m sorry. I love you.”
I remember the girl with the Collie. Her name was CeCe. The Collie, not the girl. I don’t know the girl’s name.
I remember the feeling in my gut when I saw them walking. She, the girl, let CeCe roam to the full extent of her flexible leash. Then, CeCe huffed and stared straight into the eyes of passing dogs. She didn’t move at all. Just stood stock still and stared. The rudest of rude behaviors, of course, but CeCe’s person stood there completely oblivious. Lucas would go bananas.
I remember one time, they surprised us. I tried to avoid them at all costs, but one day they came around a corner and took us off guard. Lucas. went. INSANE. His snarliest of launching, pulling, scrabbling, clawing, growling behavior, and he pulled me right to the curb, almost into the street. Meanwhile, CeCe inched forward on her flexible leash and into the actual road. Into the street. And her person? Was literally texting.
I remember trying to pull Lucas as hard as I possibly could to just get away, but he was lunging with his full 80 pounds in the opposite way, and it was a battle.
I remember this concerned woman pulling her car up and yelling, “Do you need help?” And I yelled back, “I just need that person to KEEP WALKING.” She, CeCe’s person, snapped her head up. She looked shocked. Then she glared at me and started walking… in the direction I was headed. Thankfully the car woman waited until CeCe passed us by, and we walked the other way. Lucas got a longer walk to circle around back home, and my heart got an additional jolt of adrenaline.
I remember our neighbor, Hugh. An extremely tall, extremely thin man who lived down the hall from us in our DC condo. He owned a tiny little dog who Lucas didn’t care for but not to the extent of, say, CeCe. But Hugh didn’t quite understand our situation.
I remember him leaning forward and rubbing Lucas’ forehead. “Here, Lucas,” he’d coo. “Let’s get those wrinkles out of your face and then you could calm down.” We were baffled by the thought that if Lukey’s face didn’t have those wrinkle lines he’d feel better, but Hugh was so sure of it. Of course, I remember he also sprayed his dog with expensive perfume. So?
I remember the first dream Lucas appeared in after he passed away. In the dream, he ran far ahead of me along a cliff. He clearly enjoyed the freedom run, something he didn’t get to do often enough in life. His ears flew behind him and his tongue flapped in the wind.
I remember the sudden realization that the cliff dropped off into a vast body of water. In life, Lucas could. not. swim. Some say all dogs can swim. Lucas truly could not. I remember the feeling of panic I felt. He’s going to run off the edge. He’ll fall in the water. He can’t swim!
I remember that dream curse of trying to yell, trying so hard to call out, to shout his name, to stop him. I couldn’t speak. Nothing came out. But, in the dream, I somehow heard his thoughts. Don’t worry. I can fly.
Off the edge of the cliff he went. He plummeted toward the water and at the final second… he flew. His body lifted up and he soared.
I watched him fly away, right over that water he couldn’t swim in. I watched until he was almost gone, and when I woke up, I felt an enormous sense of peace.
He was gone, yes, and he just said goodbye.
Grief is a funny thing.
We’re almost to the three-year anniversary of Emmett’s passing, but all I can think about is Lucas. Not even Emmett stories that feature Lucas. Just Lucas.
I don’t know. Grief is a funny thing.
Well, not a thing. Or a person. Or a pet.
Grief is a place. It’s a big, cavernous place with lots of rooms and spaces. Some are peaceful and calm. Others are dark and desperate.
I must be walking through the Lucas Wing right now, because his stories keep floating to the surface.
Once you lose someone who matters, you move into this place, and the thing no one ever tells you, the thing no one ever talks about, is that you live there for the rest of your life. The loss never leaves you, so you can’t leave the place.
Some spaces are calm. Peaceful. Distracted. Busy. Full of love and hope and joy and meaning.
Then you pass a hallway and enter a different place, a hopeless place, a deep place with more darkness than light.
But, you keep going, and eventually you come back into the light. And this lasts forever. And no one ever, ever tells you that.
If you’re grieving, no matter which space you’re in, there will always be more light. Yes, more dark, too, but always, always more light.
My light? Right now?
You might think I’m crazy, but Lucas messes with his artwork in our home. We have two portraits of him, one of which always falls crooked. The other? Well, just a couple days ago we noticed a huge slobber mark across it that we can’t explain. So, he’s here. I’m here.
This must be the place.
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash