Y'know, Joni Mitchell was right when she said "...you don't know what you got 'till it's gone." When we put Marley down three weeks ago, we knew we lost a big chunk of our household. She was an outsized personality that affected everything and everyone around her. Each of us have had to re-learn parts of our lives in order to plaster over the void she left. Not quite painting paradise and putting up a parking lot (ooooo la lala), but just learning to do without, discovering who we are now that she's gone.
It's not easy. I've caught myself referring to our dogs, plural, in conversation since Marley died. Mostly it's the small things. The little pause I used to take before stepping into the hallway in the morning, waiting for a blind Marley to trundle by for breakfast. The quick glance into my office - where her kennel used to be - to see if she was asleep. Likewise when I walk into the living room toward her old chair, a throne where she'd perch herself and rule over the house.
Those fleeting moments (and many, many others) are almost worse than the more obvious indicators - her ashes in a box on the mantle, pictures of her around the house, the tree we planted in her honor in the backyard - because they're so ingrained that you keep doing them even though the reason is gone. It still feels strange to see only one dog dish and not two.
I'm trying to strike a balance between re-learning those fleeting moments and holding them fast in my memory. Letting go without letting go, I suppose. It's been hard. As much as I'd like to be detached and say that Marley was just a dog, I know that's not true. Not to us and not to most everyone she met, either. She was a smart, clever girl, but she also had a spark that lit up and energized the whole house.
That spark burned so bright that it took years for it to finally go out. For the past four years, she'd been fighting something or another. First it was the cancer. Then it was sudden blindness. Then arthritis, polyps, and thyroid problems. Finally, it was kidney failure and infection. Marley was a strong, willful girl, and I always knew that she'd die hard, that she'd fight and scrap as long as possible. That is exactly what she did.
Now we're on the other side. We have to find out who we are without a Marley in our lives. As hard as this has been for Sara and I, I think the one who it's been the most difficult for has been Marley's little half-brother, Fargo.
Fargo is a consummate runt. When he was young, he was the furry equivalent of a shit-talker. He would snap at and try to challenge Marley from time to time. But he quickly settled into a beta dog role, subservient to the larger, smarter, stronger Marley.
The first days after she died, he'd seek out her scent. He would sniff around the house and lay in the places she used to frequent, sighing heavily and whimpering. He never acted like this before, and I can only assume he was missing his leader. When he would bark at the mailman, he'd wheel around to bark at Marley to join him, only to be confused when there was no response. It was hard to watch. It was hard to see this little guy, who pegged so much of himself in response to his older half-sister, slowly learn that she is gone and isn't coming back.
This past week, Sara went down to visit her aunt in Orange County, and I got to watch Fargo come into his own. Its almost like discovering a whole new dog, ten years on. He was always the court jester to Marley's fuzzily tyrannical Queen. He was spastic, frantic, and goofy. This new Fargo is so much different. He's quiet, patient, and curious. Instead of being ADHD dog, he's obedient and calm. Not a bad change, obviously. I'd been noticing it over the course of the week, but it really hit me Sunday afternoon.
It was beautiful outside - 70, sunny, a warm spring day where possibilities are endless. I decided to take the little guy up to Forest Park for a nice walk.
Every time Fargo gets to go somewhere, he gets really excited. He can't jump up into my pickup anymore. He puts his front paws on the floorboard and looks over his shoulder at me for a boost and I oblige. Then he jitters around on the seat until we hit the road. Replay that in reverse and that's what he's like once we get to our destination, Fargo clamoring over my lap to get out of the pickup first while I try to collect my keys.
The trail we ended up taking skirts the Hoyt Arboretum in the middle of Forest Park, and it's one that Marley and I used to run pretty often many years ago. Marley loved Forest Park. When she was younger - well, when we were both younger - she and I would go for trail runs in the park. I'd pound down the winding dirt trails and she would bound along, her cords flopping everywhere. I tried taking Fargo along once he was old enough, but he was never as invested in running like Marley was. She loved running around and I think being on a trail and trying to keep up with me gave her a sense of purpose. She was always a dog that needed to have a purpose. Fargo, not so much.
Later on in her life, Sara would take her for a short walk near the Audubon Society to sit on a bench up the trail and enjoy the park. Even though she had trouble with longer walks, Marley would lick her lips the minute she got out of the car for that hike, and she sat on that bench, taking in the musty, bright green aromas with a regal look on her face. Somehow, she knew that Sara taking her up there was special, and she soaked it up.
This was the first time I'd been up into the park at all since her passing. Being on this particular trail was difficult. We covered a big chunk of the trails in this 26 mile long park over the course of our runs. But this was the first trail Sara and I ever took her on when we got her as a pup. We still have pictures of Marley and I sitting on a log just off the trail. I can still picture that little fuzzball bounding down the path.
When we'd take Marley and Fargo for hikes, Fargo was like a hummingbird, flitting around us with manic energy, barely able to concentrate on any one thing for more than a few seconds. Marley set the pace. Fargo had to be corralled and minded.
This time out, he trotted along side me or slightly out in front, cool and collected. Part of this, obviously, is the fact that he's ten years old, but it's still a large departure, even from just a few months ago. His massive change of personality this past week hit me like a ton of bricks. This was probably who Fargo always was. But this side of him was eclipsed by Marley's outsized personality. We always treated him as the runty sibling and so he filled that role. Now he's free to be himself. It will be interesting to see who, exactly, Fargo is.
In light of that revelation, I suppose its time for me to let the cat out of the bag. Fargo's time as a lone wolf is going to be short-lived.
We're getting a new puppy.
It's another puli. A black one with a white patch on its chest. Tentatively named Sammy.
It's nearly been a month since Marley left, and in a way it seems too soon, but there are only a few puli breeders in the country and it was either get a puppy now or wait until the fall or winter for a new litter, and we'd rather not wait that long. Our newfound Fargo will get to meet an altogether new Sammy.