What We Talk About When We Talk About Losing a Pet and Living Alone.
Growing up, having a family pet was always part of the portrait. Mom, dad, brother, sister, dog or cat. All wearing matching christmas sweaters. When Fluffy or Spot pass away while you’re in college its always like losing another sibling. But at least you had mom and dad and pictures of Christmas sweaters to help you with the loss. When Spot passes, and you weep in your dorm room wishing you were there, your parents are the ones that take care of the remains. “We’ll bury Spot/Fluffy in the back yard when you get home next weekend” They say. And you do.
When you move out, get a real job and live alone, loosing a pet is more complicated. Not more difficult or less or more meaningful, just complicated. There is no mom, dad, brother, sister and family portraits to support you. You and your pet ARE all those things. Its just you two. As much as they rely on you, you rely on them for company and late nights of fresh break ups. Its selfish because you often forget how much you rely on having another living creature other than yourself sharing your personal living space. Living alone is a big city is a strange creature. Its a mix between complete independence and “living the dream” but it also has to be one of the more pathetic things in one adults life. Having a pet or even a ten year old cactus takes away from that pathetic feeling more often than not. At least you have a reason to come home every night. At least there is something waiting for you when you come home. You may not have a lot, but at least you have that.
These things though, they die. Everything does at one point, and as you witness 50% of your team of two getting older faster than you, you reassure yourself that you are indeed independent and like a big girl, you will survive and deal with it when the horrible thought becomes a reality. You prepare yourself before you enter your apartment made for one and a half, take a deep breath, this might be it. This might be the day when they won’t be waiting for you with open eyes. And you are adult enough to know and deal with the next steps of that. But they are still waiting for you. Everyday turns into a little miracle that you start to let your guard down. Maybe you two have that exception in life where neither of you ever have to be with out the other.
That day comes of course, when you least expect it. Only this time you’re not in your dorm room crying over the phone with your strong mother who brought you the news, you’re standing in a now very empty apartment, fully and utterly alone. Losing a pet while living alone, its like the wind has been knocked out of your home. The lighting in the living room has dimmed some how, and you know you’re being dramatic thinking that, but you think it anyways. Your parents aren’t going to move the body and prepare it for cremation for you this time, you don’t have until the weekend to see the remains of a loved one all wrapped up and packaged nicely with a bow and plaque. No, you are staring at a very real dead thing in your apartment. Twisted and stiff. There is no romancing the idea that death is a very real thing and you have to deal with it. Physically deal with it.
The freezer is the best place until you make the right arrangements. Its weird, and and like a poorly written dark comedy. But you have no choice.
Today I’ll be sitting on the E train with a cold shoe box on my lap. I’ll be riding the E train to the upper west side where I’ll hand the box to an intern with thoughts of some day saving animals. Where they will just put that box in another freezer, then ship that box up state to a place where that box will be torched, ashes collected, placed in a different box with a name stamped on it. A week from now I’ll return to the upper west side and then sit on the E train carrying a different box with the exact same thing inside of it.
Its not the remains, and its not even losing a pet, its living alone and losing the reason you came home in the first place. Its what I’m talking about when I talk about living alone and losing a pet. Things will get easier, there is no doubt about that, but I miss the days when having a pet meant Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Fluffy, Spot and that Christmas family portrait on over sized cards.
Happy Holidays from the Family.
(photo of Francis by Jeff Rubin)