the action of leaving, typically to start a journey.
I you want to understand two of the most important men in my life, you’d have to consider their dogs as well.
It’s July 2017, and I’m in the Adirondack mountain range by myself in our small family cabin. I’ve set up the space to moonlight as a makeshift writer’s retreat. I’ve stocked the fridge with vegetables, meat, and, of course, chocolate. Numerous bags of coffee line the antique pantry, where we try to keep the food away from the country mice. I’m up here to write a memoir about my dad, the late and great journalist David Carr. I wake up in my twin bed in the early morning, unsure and uneasy about the day ahead of me. I feel like there should be a sign at the door that reads: “CAUTION: Psychological mining taking place.” I’m here because there is little to no distraction. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day, a task I could never accomplish in my small apartment in Queens. It’s ambitious, but I remind myself that is one of the traits he gave me.
I storyboard the book, a skill I learned from making documentary films. Each brightly colored Post-it note is a chapter or a feeling I need to put words to. Odd phrases line the walls, from “did you know?” to “because I said so.” I fall into a rhythm, making words come out of my fingertips one by one. On the fourth day, I get a call on the house line and expect it to be my sister. It’s my boyfriend Jasper. He asks if I have a second. I know what type of conversation this is going to be because I have had it before. My body has a reaction to those words.
He tells me his dog, our dog, Gary, has taken a turn for the worse. A spitfire of a dog, Gary is now unable to walk, and it’s time to put him down. I hear myself telling Jasper that I will leave immediately, and I quickly pack up the cabin so carefully arranged and strip the Post-it notes off the wall. I consider what it’ll be like to do this again. As a human who has suddenly lost a parent, I bristle when people talk about losing pets like it’s a sibling or mom. I’m sorry, but losing your cat Taco just isn’t the same thing as not being able to call your parent when you get kicked down, metaphorically or, ya know, literally. But my rational side tells me grief is grief, and death waits for no one.
I consider the departures in my life. First my grandfather, then my father, and now Gary. I prefer the word to loss, as I know loss is finite, and departure has a ring of potential. I’m not a religious person, but I want for a second, perhaps a split second, to believe that it is possible to see these individuals in my life again.
Gary is a handsome Jack Russell terrier. He is energetic, smart as a whip, and knows how to spoon in bed. He could be mean as a bag of snakes to just about everyone, but he was elated every time I opened the door to that small apartment in Astoria. I think about him as I drive back, and I realize I could not have worked through the death of my father without the unconditional support of this little being. I worried sometimes about crying too much around him—don’t dogs tend to pick up on what their humans are feeling? My boyfriend assured me it was okay, Gary didn’t mind.
Now it was our turn to take care of him. My boyfriend is Gary’s actual owner. They have been a synonymous duo for 11 years. Never one without the other. I watched as he took care of Gary and sat with him for hours, pained at every passing minute. The grief hit the nerve I had been feeling the entire time working on the book, profound sadness due to a departure from a life that used to be mine. A version of life that is not there, because they are not there.
I grew up around dogs. Our family had a white lab named Charlie. She was a fluffball with an easy smile. I think Dad and my stepmom, Jill, got the dog to teach us girls responsibility, but it was my dad who bonded the most with this great beauty. They sat together, outside on the porch, and while he typed away, Charlie sat at his feet, content as ever. When he died, I looked into her eyes and told her that I loved her, the way that he did. I reminded her that we were sisters and I would look after her. She died two weeks after he did; I knew it couldn’t be coincidence.
I don’t want to go into the specifics of Gary’s last couple hours. It’s too difficult, and I don’t think Jasper would like it. But in those hours I reminded myself to be grateful for having been close to this dog for four amazing years. I thanked him for helping me through the most painful years of my life. Again, I worried about my tears; he didn’t mind.
Jasper and I broke up recently. I moved out of our shared apartment. Once again, I stripped the Post-it notes off the wall. The morning of the move, we sat quietly on our bed, and I asked if I could have some of Gary’s ashes to take with me. He filled up a little gray canister, and I slipped it into the pocket of my jean jacket. I gripped it throughout the day, gathering strength once again from this little dog.
I sent my dad a YouTube video on October 17, 2014, four months before he died. It was an English bulldog and his owner waving on a motorbike; my subject line read “really important video.” I knew he would get a chuckle out of it.
He wrote back, “Dogs are us. Only cuter.”
Couldn’t agree more. Thank you, Gary.