My Dog, Buck
For the past several months, I keep thinking about my dog. A couple of months ago, I saw the first trailer for the remake of Pet Sematary, in theatres. Besides it being a popular reference in pop culture, I knew nothing about the actual premise, until the trailer enlightened me: a place where buried things come back to life--but not in the same capacity. In the trailer, they say, “Sometimes dead is better.”
My dog is not dead, but he is getting old and showing it, and I’ve become fixated on his death.
He’s a sweet boy, a mutt we picked up from the shelter over a decade ago. Most of his body is a rusty red color, with a white patch on his belly, and black coloring on his snout and ears and around his eyes. His ears flutter like butterfly wings when he gets excited, and they look like the type of ears that Dobermans or rottweilers have before their owners crop them, short but floppy. He has a knot on the top of his skull, like a lot of Setters do, that I rub really fast to make his ears wiggle, and he has some extra skin around his neck, like some hounds, that bunches up when he runs down the stairs.
We don’t really know a lot about his past, except that in the year and a half before we adopted him, he had lots of owners. He’s still a fairly anxious dog, who runs up the stairs away from any loud noises or yelling or any sort of technology. But he’s sweet and serious and a diva. He’s named after the main character in Jack London’s, Call of the Wild: A dog stolen from his owner to be used as a sled dog in Alaska during the Gold Rush. Buck.
Buck doesn’t mind sleeping most of the day, now, besides his once-daily walk to the park on the next block over. He doesn’t zoom around and get as excited as he used to, excitedly dropping his toys at my feet, daring me to play. He isn’t as swift when jumping up on my mom’s bed for the night, and sometimes needs a little assistance doing so. He’s put on a little weight. Now, he’s got a little white and grey appearing around his muzzle.
It’s not that I haven’t lost pets before: My dog, Jack. My cat, Sunshine. My dog, Queenie. Lots of fish. But something about the possibility of Buck being gone is too much to bear. And yet, I cannot stop thinking about it, every time I see him.
The Pet Sematary trailer gave me the impression that it was about a father who tried to use the magic place with the magic soil to bring his dead daughter back to life. But, as the trailer warns, “Sometimes, dead is better,” as his daughter doesn’t come back truly the same person. As I said, I never watched the original movie nor read the Stephen King novel of the same name, but from the clips, it seems to espouse the moral of letting go, moving on. Not allowing grief to consume you, haunt you, or transform you.
I’m not the most organized person, but I like to be prepared. And I think by considering my dog’s death, I’m trying to convince myself that I’ve got it handled. It also seems easier to focus on something abstract and vague, like my old puppy’s possible end, than something more concrete, definite, like graduation.
That might seem like a stretch. But it’s like, whenever there are big shifts in my life, old trauma and repressed fears start bubbling up through the new cracks. The mind can only deal with so much. It’s referred pain--like when my teeth hurt because my sinuses are inflamed--I start worrying and feeling so much about literally anything else than what’s right in front of me. I’m a person who thinks I’m great at goodbyes when I’m the worst at goodbyes. What I’m really great at is denial. I convince myself that it’s all water under the bridge, but the water’s stagnant, standing, festering with mosquito larvae and algae.
My dad was the one who named Buck, Buck. He was a huge Jack London fan. He died just under two years after we adopted Buck. He’s not going to be here for graduation.
I understand why Stephen King often wrote about grief, especially in a horror context. Grief is a horrific emotion that has the capacity to warp people and their entire lives. Twist, crumple them like tin foil. But it’s also natural, as are goodbyes. Endings. We’re not robots, and it’s dubious that we all follow textbook stages of grief. But it’s when we either allow grief to become a new lifestyle or pretend it's not happening, that it becomes dangerous, and it always comes around. It’s important to acknowledge it, at least in some capacity.
This was originally featured in The Brink Mag’s Issue No. 3: Goodbye To All That