As a child, I remember my parents crying. A quiet tear from my mother as we drove past our old home. A short breath and watery eyes from my father while sitting together on the edge of my grandmother’s pool.
I could not understand why these seemingly innocuous moments overwhelmed them. When I asked what was wrong the answer was always, “Nothing,” said with a wry smile. If pressed, they might share a hint of a stirred memory, but no more. Then they’d wipe their eyes and quickly return to the present moment.
Life is inextricably lived in one direction – forward. But it can be understood through an infinite number of vectors, intersecting at angles and times known and unknown. I now recognize that in those moments with my parents I witnessed a juncture of self-discovery through some revelatory vector. A moment they had once lived, experienced again with new perspective.
This past Saturday was a juncture in my own life. One I pass for the second time living forward, but a crossroads well-worn in my heart. September 29th marks two years since Eko died.
Newly born grief is a nightmare brought to life, but it has a predictable, if unforgiving, rhythm. The first day of your loss. The first weekend. The first Thanksgiving. The first winter. A relentless succession of moments you are forced for the first time to spend without the one you love.
The one-year anniversary of grief brings a strange sense of closure. A knowledge you have somehow found a way to survive every bitter first the calendar put in front of you. At that mark, for me, time no longer felt like the most meaningful way to remember my puppy. To say it was the second September I lived without Eko elicited no feelings. But when I pulled out a clean blanket for cold nights on the couch, I winced with the realization it would never again hold his comforting scent.
This is how grief matures. A transformation from a unit of time into a unit of space. No longer bound by date it instead permeates experience. Visiting unannounced during sunrises at the beach, while curling up in front of a warm fire, or on a gust of fall wind rushing to meet you. So powerful you must lean against it to stay upright, so suddenly past that you stumble to find your balance.
In the darkness of Saturday morning I awoke to a forlorn cry. Penny and Zero dutifully escorted me down the hall and I gathered Lincoln into my arms. “Good morning, baby dog,” I crooned. A familiar tradition begun years before his birth that is now a small part of his inheritance.
I rocked him, but Lincoln’s tears only stopped when Zero nuzzled against his leg. One piece of my heart comforting the other. A tiny finger stretched out and pointed.
“Dog!” Lincoln said.
“Very good!” I replied. “Penpen and Zero,” I petted each in turn.
“Panpan…Roro…” Link said, uncertainly.
“That’s right!” I said. “Panpan and Roro!” The boy shook with delight and the dogs spun excitedly. Who am I to tell Lincoln the ones who dry his tears and share his joy need any other name than what he calls them?
Link ate breakfast with the zeal and technique of a Ridgeback then hopped on my back for a walk with the dogs. We met the dawn in a deserted park. The silhouettes of Penny and Zero chased each other in wide circles and Lincoln chased far behind, shouting encouragement or instructions. Either way, he was quite pleased with the wild display.
When I woke that morning I knew it marked two years since Eko’s death, but there in the park I really felt it. Two years of could-have-beens and should-have-beens. Second guessing about second chances and doing it all over again.
If Lincoln were old enough to ask why I was crying, I would have said “It’s nothing.” Which is true. I cried for something which is not. A dog and a life and a world other than this one.
Yet that is only half the answer. “It’s everything,” is the hidden response. A story as long as my life, with layers and connections and meanings I have yet to fully understand, all colliding at that very moment. A realization that no matter how far I travel from Eko in time he remains forever next to me in the spaces of my heart. It was an overwhelming emotional torrent, one which could have easily swept me away from the moment.
But like my parents, I had a much more important reason to stay.
I wiped my tears and joined the chase. Roaring and laughing and lifting Lincoln high above my head. Infusing the moment and the boy with gratitude and love drawn from a well deep within my soul. Lincoln will never know the source of that wellspring, but it makes me happy that Eko’s love will continue to nourish the boy he never got to meet.
When Lincoln is old enough to ask why the sight of him chasing a pair of Ridgebacks across the park makes me cry, I won’t have time to tell him the whole story. The one about a puppy who saves a boy. About a dog who becomes the heart of a man. About a man who has that heart ripped from him one night and the next morning learns he is going to be a father. About a lost father-to-be, unable to find his way forward without the puppy’s love.
The story of his realization that he’ll never be without that love. And that wherever he shares it, there he will be closest to his Eko.
“It’s nothing,” I’ll tell Lincoln. “A well must have sprung a leak.” Then, happy beyond words, I will dive into the fray and join my child and my dogs in their revelry. Each joyful step forward the legacy of dog I will carry with me always.