In one of those classes I mentioned in my first post, my professor required us to write journals about different times in our childhoods (the class was called “Writing for Children”). She gave us a page of prompts, and one was about loss: of a pet, of a person, of a friend. I have never lost anyone (thank goodness) except my German Shepherd dog, Clancy, who my family got when I was ten years old. I wrote a journal entry about a moment I spent with her and her four-year-old puppy (and my personal dog), Bella, after I had returned from a summer-long trip to Europe and was suffering from jet lag and a vicious cold born of lack of sleep and airplane germs.
My family had recently moved from Montana to Arizona, and I was about to enter my junior year of college. I never thought I would share this piece with anyone, but I consider it a tribute to Clancy. Her loss inspired one of my favorite essays of my college career (which is not what I am posting here–it’s too long). It is written, in present tense, to her from nineteen-year-old me.
(Above: a self-portrait I took with Clancy in 2012. She is standing on top of her dog house in the backyard in Montana, the ever-present tennis ball lodged in her mouth. Bella is trying to get the ball for herself 😉 .)
I open the sliding door to the porch, and Bella jumps to me, but you make your way slowly, carefully. The stars are brilliant tonight, and so many: do they remind you of Montana, and the back porch there, and the days when you ran to me like Bella does now?
You are older than you were then. Your eyes tell me things that you cannot say. They tell me that the move to Arizona hurt you, that you’re not young enough for a change like that. You wag your tail and it thumps against the house’s brick wall, and you lay your ears back so I can stroke your softest fur, the place between your triangle ears that I have touched since I was ten. Do you remember the first day we got you? Do you remember how you cried and cried and would only stop if I put my small hand on your little body? You fell asleep that way, and joy bloomed in my sore heart. You knew I needed you, and you needed me too.
You were the pride of my childhood. Once a man from the church jumped away from you because you growled at him, and he said, “Is that a wolf? Gosh!”
I tucked that away in my heart. I, a girl of eleven, had a German Shepherd that looked like a wolf. Nothing could make me feel braver and fiercer than that. I could walk anywhere with you and not feel the fear sneak into my bones the way it did before we got you.
And do you remember the time you fought with a giant dog at the Missouri Headwaters when we went there for a Sabbath excursion? The dog came to you, to your territory (our Toyota pickup), and attacked you. Dad let you fight, as he usually does, and you snarled and gnashed and showed that dog what courage meant. I had never seen you that way, Clancy, and my heart pounded with amazement and love for you. If you could protect us from that dog, you could protect us from anything. You won that fight and many others, but to me you were gentle always.
How many times did I creep to your bed in the laundry room in the Montana house so I could whisper you my troubles and grasp your proffered paw? And how could I forget how kind you remained to our whole family when you gave birth to Bella and her six siblings? Many dogs would nip at two inexperienced teenagers handling its day-old puppies, but you trusted Sarah and me the way we have always trusted you.
You are nine years old. I am nineteen years old. I lie on the porch and gaze at the stars, and Bella whines before she curls on my right side. You follow her lead and sigh as you settle into the rug on my left. We stare at the night together, the silent night. I can hear the tumor as it expands on your thigh. I feel your joints groan as you move. I see the white that sweeps your chin’s black fur into a realm of memory. I know you will leave us soon, Clancy, but I don’t want to think of that.
I hope you know that you have always been my best friend. When you drift away, nine years of me will join you, and we will have to meet each other in my mind alone.
Clancy died two months after the time in which this journal is set. Death is part of life, but that does not make it easier to handle. Writing is my way of healing from things like this, and I know millions of people have had family-member pets die and have carried sorrow with them for it. This piece is for all of us. 🙂