The last 8 months have been gruelling in a way I didn’t think life could really be. I haven’t written about it, partly because I didn’t have the words, and partly because I didn’t want to think or process it, but mostly because I felt like it was too much. Most days I feel like a very full bowl of water, being told that I need to be an aquarium, and wondering why every time I try to take on basic tasks, I spill a little bit. Maybe I’ve been reflecting too much today, but I think it’s time to write it out, because I don’t want her to be forgotten. I don’t want her loss to be silent.
I lost my baby Patch. Tears well even as I write those words – I don’t want to commit them to paper any more than I want to say them out loud. I went to visit last November. My last memory of her is lying under the amber tree in the sun, reading ‘The End’ by Lemony Snickett. Her paw was on my leg, and I was patting her ear, in her favourite scratchy spot. Sometimes she’d stare into my eyes, and other times I stared into hers. I whispered, ‘I love you’, frequently. I think we both knew that time was limited.
Life with her was always perfect – I felt safe, and loved, and like I mattered in at less one persons universe. We ran away together often, down the road or the paddock or the beach, and time sat still for us. I was just 6 when she came into my life, and quickly she became my entire family, the only person I had every felt a sense of connection to, the only person I trusted, and loved, and felt safe with. She wasn’t a person but she was a soul, a very special, beautiful, loving and kind soul. She was protective of me, and I to her. She chased bullies over the fence and waited for me by the fence every day after school. She knew when to run ahead and when to stick by my side. She knew when to lick away my tears and when to make me laugh. She knew me better than anyone.
The day before I left, I noticed her stumble and fall. It filled me with fear and I ran to her side, but in that 3 second gap she was ok again, eyes bright, tail wagging, licking my face and telling me it was all ok. It niggled at me, but she had some arthritis in her foot and she seemed ok. I thought she was ok.
Two days later, mum called. I was sitting in the library hiding from my housemate (more on that later), working on a review from the night before. She said she was taking Patch to the vet, that it didn’t look good, and to expect the worst. She hung up and I cried, and prayed (even though I wouldn’t consider myself religious), and tried to make deals, and generally felt my stomach plummeting into my worst nightmares. None of this helped. Mum called back to say that a cyst had bust into my baby’s lungs. There was nothing they could do. Mum held her and put the phone near her ear so I could say goodbye. I don’t know if she heard me, I don’t know if she went peacefully, and I didn’t ask. I wanted to. I wanted to ask if they could keep her comfortable for an extra day – just enough time for me to be there for her. I wanted to ask them to take her home, to let her go to a safe and warm place and not the clinic-y walls that made her feel anxious. I wanted to ask them to stop, to let me be the one to bury her. I wanted to say a proper goodbye, to tell her how much she meant to me. All I wanted was to be there, for her to not be in pain and for me to be the one holding her. I just felt this ripping, gasping feeling inside me and howled until I whimpered.
I just wanted my baby back.
The next day I took a bus down to the farm to say goodbye. I wanted to bury her under the amber tree, but mum had already laid her to rest behind the greenhouse. I know she was trying to do the right thing, but I felt angry. Mum had set up a cross (which kinda made me laugh – do dogs believe in god? I’m pretty sure Patch just believed in me) and left her pink Omni drinking bucket, and some flowers. I added berries (she liked walnuts better but they weren’t ripe yet), and some rosemary for remembrance, and some tissues that I’d cried into. She always used to steal my tissues when I had a cold, the grosser the better. It always made me laugh. I stumbled out of the car and followed my gut to her resting place – but mum followed me, she was crying. I know it was her loss too but it felt private, and I felt robbed. I wanted to talk to Patch, I didn’t want anyone else there. Nobody else was ever there. I didn’t want the pressure of having to comfort somebody else, I just wanted to be left alone.
I kept going to the door expecting to see her face, forgetting that she wouldn’t be there. I went into mum’s room looking for her collar. I had a dread that she had been buried in it, and I just wanted her to be free of it. I eventually found it in the laundry, the metal cold but the scent warm and like just-washed-oatmeal-scented-fur. I put it in two glad bags to preserve the smell somewhat, and hid it under my pillow. I think I just didn’t want anyone to take it from me.
That night we watched Fiona O’Loughlin, and Claire Hooper (brilliant comedians, go look them up), which was great largely because it meant avoiding talking about feelings or thinking about anything, and also because comedy is always great and laughing is much better than crying, and particularly so if you want to cry but can manage to laugh instead.
I went to go home and realised that I had no home to go to. My home was buried now, in the wrong place, and away from me. I realised the place I was going to was possessive and controlling and exacerbated my feelings of unsafety, and I had known that for a long time. I knew I needed to leave.
I recorded myself talking about what had happened (to myself), because that’s just how I think best sometimes, figuring out what I actually mean and feel. I was talking about how we were one soul together, how losing her should affect me more, should affect life more, the world more. I felt like my time had stopped and yet nothing had paused, it ran away from me and made me furious. Couldn’t anyone else feel it? Didn’t anybody else know? It was always Patch and I, one team, one being – against everything else. And suddenly here I was, and that was the absolute opposite of what I wanted to be. I wanted to be with her much more than I wanted to be here.
A few months later I did. It was terrifying. I tried to do the right thing, and it didn’t happen. Instead I ended up homeless for a few weeks (which was actually fine, and my friends are so incredible, and I was so totally grateful and lucky – but it brought on a lot of bad memories from the last time I was homeless, in a much worse situation and with much less support), and had to learn a lot about contracts (which is a wonderfully powerful thing to know honestly), and rely on other humans in a way that makes me very uncomfortable, and end up panicking and house searching and mostly just feeling numb to everything. It started with me telling my housemate that I wanted to move out, that I was happy with taking on the responsibility of finding a replacement, which moved to threats and yelling and insults, and then being evicted illegally from my own house, and then being told I could come back inside but only if I agreed to sign a further 12 month lease. I ended up suicidal and powerless and pretty pathetic. I ended up in a train station at 9pm, feeling too scared to go to my own house, and called someone who wasn’t even really a friend at that point in tears. Luckily this human is a powerhouse, and told me lots of insightful things, and made me feel more appropriately scared, but also empowered, and strong, and like I had someone on my team. That night while my housemate slept, I packed a bag of ‘irreplaceable things’ – enough clothes for a week, my photos, Patch’s things, and my camera. The next day I left. I went to a housing and tenancy legal service (who I’d previously volunteered with), and got support around knowing my rights and obligations. I discovered that all his threats were unfounded, my contract supported me – had expired, and I was under literally no obligation to remain there. I was only obligated to continue to pay the next 30 days in rent, and then I would be, essentially, free. I went to stay with my best friend, and then another best friend, and we watched a lot of movies, went on a lot of walks at the beach, and they pretended not to notice how awful I looked. Another friend wrote jokes for me (about the situation), and helped my write poems, and I really treasure those moments. It made me feel like I mattered. My friend took me to collect the rest of my stuff, with one of her friends who kindly brought his giant truck-car and trailer. We received more threats, and ended up needing to take a police officer with us. We managed to pack and load and clean everything in a couple of hours, and I shook like a leaf the entire time.
I moved into a lovely share house in a lovely area. I’m halfway between the beach and the city, and there’s a library nearby. I have flowers on my mantel and a giant desk. I feel less threatened and am continuously being surprised by how much day to day things don’t need to be so scary. I have a lot more freedom and can live my own life without being questioned, and that’s a super lovely thing.
I started getting really sick though – I’d been fatigued for quite a while, which I’d assumed was stress related – but it wasn’t going away. I was really struggling to read or write, focus and memory was just really quite terrible, and I started to drop things because I’d forgotten I was holding them. I also had a constant and persistent cold. I went to see a doctor and we found out that I had pneumonia, a secondary bacterial infection from the pneumonia, and some seriously low iron levels. Because my veins are awful, this meant weekly injections of iron, and a few courses of antibiotics – but a few months later and nothing was better. I’d started experiencing a lot of migraines and general widespread pain, as well as cramps in my legs that would last for hours, and numbness in my fingers and toes. They’re still trying to figure out what it all means. I’m on more antibiotics at the moment, which is my 5th lot in the last 6 months, and my iron injections are up for review (which means they think I have enough iron but I need to get another blood test to make sure). They’re also doing more blood panels to check for things they haven’t yet checked for, x-rays and running a few more panels.
PTSD found me again, but this time I have a team – I’m finally seeing a trauma therapist, and I have the support of a lovely human friend, who understands me quite possibly better than I understand myself. I’m immensely thankful for her, especially for letting me spend dark days in her inbox, and happy days in her inbox, and any day in her inbox. I’m so lucky to have you on my team.
This semester I have a poetry residency and my social work placement, and last semester I started a new degree (so I’m not studying a Bachelor of Social Work and Social Planning and a Bachelor of Creative Writing) – even though my grades dropped significantly from, well, all of the above – and things are improving in a strange way. I miss Patch every day, and cry frequently. Sometimes they just fall out of my face and other times I sob so hard I can’t breathe, and end up doubled over on the floor. It feels weird to do well without her, weird to be alive without her, weird to find things beautiful without her. I realised that I see things the way she taught me to, live the way she taught me to, and that makes me feel a little better.
I visited Patch a month ago, and grass had grown over, and the cross had disappeared (although the tissues were still there…) and it made me feel better, like if the earth could be at peace then so could I.
And in a lot of ways, life is ok. Brutal, but ok. Even if I feel like it shouldn’t be. I’ve learned to trust people when I can’t trust my own brain, and to reach out to people when I’m sad instead of holding it inside. I’ve learned to work through pain, to rest more frequently, to believe in myself a little more. I don’t want to name her, but a special human has taught me a lot this year, and I’m thankful.
I want some kind of conclusive paragraph, some kind of ending, but the end is never the end. Death is never the end. She lives in me and now so does grief, but mostly love – the love she gave me and the loved self I saw reflected in her eyes. I miss you pumpkin, I love you always.
In the words of Lemony Snicket in ‘The End’; “Sometimes the things you’ve lost can be found again in unexpected places” – and I see you in all the bright eyes and kind hearts of the world Digby.