In short, my dog is dying, and I feel heavy with that certainty.
She is 16 years old; I’m 20. I have no articulable sense of what life is like without her. I’ve grown up with her, cared for her throughout primary school and said goodbye when I went off to college. Now the word goodbye pearls like a drop of water on my tongue. It just hangs there, reticent, but I know someday it’ll fall from my mouth into the shape of absence.
What does it mean to leave? To leave something? To be left? What does it mean to keep? To keep too much? What does it mean to be kept?
The past eight or so months have been rooted in leaving. I left my college dorm in March and returned to live in Connecticut with my family. I left most of my possessions — some tarot decks, raw chunks of crystals, a porcelain skull lovingly named Skull, most of my clothing, a signed setlist from my favorite band — and they still linger in a University storage facility. I left my friends, my roommate, my acquaintances, the baristas who knew my orders. I left things undone, too: books, boxes of tea, papers, emails, conversations, smiles, secrets... you know, you know how this goes. At the end of the summer, all my childhood friends left me to return to their campuses. I have been by myself and of myself, waiting, waiting, waiting.
I can’t help thinking about Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art.” It rattles in my brain: a saving chant, a mantra, a maybe manifestation. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” she writes, but the art of leaving isn’t one I’ve mastered. No matter the circumstance, it still stings. I do think it’s a good thing, though, the immensity of my care. How difficult it must be to care about nothing, all that pressure to lack passion.
Now, I suppose, my dog is leaving me.
I’d try to explain how I feel in writing, but I don’t want my thinking to cannibalize my grief. Perhaps the problem is that nothing has actually happened yet. My dog is still with us, and I’m only anticipating my sadness. It’s a steady thing, this preemptive grief, a candle slowly burning down to the wick. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to. The wick keeps simmering whether or not the sentiment makes sense.
Sometimes, there are things better left unsaid, better to keep them hidden in a stone well or a box under the bed or planted in the garden near the rhododendron. But sometimes you should just go ahead and say it. Out loud. To the mirror, to the sky, to whomever. Isn’t that the problem of wishes? On one hand, we’re told that saying a wish out loud jinxes it. On the other, there’s no way to get what you desire without articulating it. You either ruin everything, or you get exactly what you want. You leave fear and you arrive... somewhere else.
It’s up to fate to see where you end up. But no matter the outcome, it requires you to be vulnerable, to bare yourself. It’s at once utterly foolish and recklessly brave. It’s awful and a necessity. Mostly it’s something that I’ve been grappling with forever; how much should I say? What is that first step? How can I be both foolish and brave? All I want to be is both foolish and brave.
It’s fair to say that my wishes bloom like ice on a cold night. What I mean to say is that I can see myself in my wishes; when I look at them, I see myself staring back. And then I leave, letting those wishes either blossom more or melt. That’s the hard part, the releasing, the leaving it — you and I have to eventually trust that what we’re doing is enough. Not all leaving is sad. Instead, it can be exactly what you need to do to get what you want.
Because no matter how you see it, to arrive where you want to go, first you have to leave. As the legendary Fiona Apple sings, “Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long.” Leaving can happen to us, but we can also leave. We can take the initiative to pursue something better, something new or even something different. Out of the cage...
...and there’s the door out of the dark. There’s the ending of the maze. There’s the path through the clearing that will take you out of the woods. There is a future waiting for you to take the first step into it. There’s a way to have it; there’s a way to have your wish. You will have everything you want, even if you have to leave something along the way, even if something leaves you. Even with grief, even with the certainty of endings (a last bark, a wag of a tail, a murmured I love you, goodbye), something better is a promise we make ourselves every day. Maybe that’s all a wish is: a promise. And to get your wish, all you have to say is...
Ryan Aghamohammadi is a junior studying Writing Seminars from Woodbury, Conn. His column uses the occult and the supernatural to cast a light on his ongoing journey of self-discovery.