It’s 6:19 and ungodly quiet in my house, except for the hum of my refrigerator about four feet away. I’m writing in the “dining room” (our house is too small for this to be said in anything other than air quotes), where I’ve been writing since the third week of March, the beginning of taking the pandemic seriously in CA. This was the same time our beloved beagle began his final downward slide—so slow then that it wasn’t absolutely certain it was coming, unless you believed in reality and science, and 2020 hasn’t been the year for that.
I initially set up shop here because this table is far from the bedroom where my husband would sleep for another hour or so, and because of the proximity to coffee, and because as he got older, Baxter’s bladder seemed to get smaller, and I could lean over and open the French doors to let him out to the yard and five minutes later back in again, in a more or less continual cycle.
I did this daily for almost seven months. After a week, these mornings quickly became a pattern. I did my writing here, my quick morning skim of social media, my patting of the sweet dog who lumbered past, down the steps and out into the yard.
But we brought Baxter to the vet for the final time on Tuesday, and now it’s Friday, and there’s no reason I can’t carry my cup of coffee to the room specifically set up to be my writing room. The lighting is better there, and there’s no constant hum of the refrigerator. LG, our rat terrier, is a late sleeper, and no one needs to go in and out of the French doors. (It’s blissfully cool outside, but the air quality index is in the unhealthy range from nearby fires, and the door—all doors, all windows—must stay closed.)
And yet I can’t move.
There’s a story hovering at 68,000 words that needs my attention, and I can’t open the document.
I know what this is, the heavy weight on my chest, the purposelessness. It’s grief. Even when I’m not directly thinking about B, I’m noticing the way our lives have changed. I came home from the vet’s office and gathered all of B’s things—his bed, his water bowl and leash, his shoes (really, he didn’t have many things)—and carried them out into our garage. Now our hallway, where he slept on the hardwood during the warm nights and in his bed on the cooler ones, is empty. We bought LG a new water bowl, one I will fill once a day instead of a dozen—toward the end, B drank long and hard throughout the day, reacting to the heat or his own natural thirst or maybe because he’d forgotten he drained the bowl five minutes earlier. There is no longer a four-times-a-day medication schedule to keep, and anyway those little orange cylinders have been tucked away, out of view.
Part of the grief is the consciousness of these thoughts, the guilt lurking right behind them like a shadow. B was almost a full-time patient at the end, needing help to stand and go outside or come back up the porch steps. My life, it is true, is easier now. My floors, without B’s drips and leaks and daily accidents, will be consistently cleaner. I have slept, three nights in a row, for more than six hours at a stretch.
And yet the house is unbearably quiet. There are no toenails clacking on the floor, no sounds of panting next to the oscillating fan, no one lapping up water from a stainless-steel bowl.
This newness is my life now, and it doesn’t seem to fit. I wish I could have the noise back, the messiness. I wish he would distract me in the middle of a sentence, so that I would have something to grumble about when I returned to the screen. I wish I could even open that document and write one lousy sentence, but I’m not there yet.
I’m here, in the quiet.
Paula Treick DeBoard