I press my whole hands against the dirt and try not to imagine what she looks like now. Just teeth and bones. Like acorn shells when the meat pulls away. Maddie was born from the purest edges of the earth, from an otherworldly light. We buried her two years ago to the day. In the woods where we grew up, where she taught me how to slip between human and bluebird consciousness, finding the rhythm between flight and stillness.
My father dug a hole next to one of the oldest maple trees. It could survive another hundred years but it’s rings will never amount to Maddie’s wisdom.
We buried her under a gap in the tree canopy, in the only patch of ground warmed by the sun. Maddie loved the sun as we all should, knew it as one of Earth’s most important organs.
Even when she was dying, she would be healed by an afternoon nap in front of a window. For just a moment. Like the moments she healed me – more than any self-help book or yoga class or cathartic journaling ever could – over and over from the day we carried her out of that rotting barn stall.
Until the day her body finally gave in to whatever disease or tumor had begun setting up camp in her brain three years earlier. The vet had given her six months, but for all of Maddie’s gentle sweetness, she held just as much strength.
Until the day she went into her final seizure. The one she would not come out of.
The vet injected enough Valium to still the convulsions but keep her alive. I cradled her under the sun as my mom and I stood outside the office, trying to come to terms with a decision we had no control over.
Back inside the Valium wore off. The convulsions took over but this time with an evil grip. A horrid, unshakeable grip. Her front legs stretched stiff, hind legs kicked against my lap like she was trying to swim but Maddie always hated the water. Her neck strained back over my shoulder, eyes drew huge and terrified and drool ran to the floor. I held her leg still as possible while the vet injected the final dose of Valium. The lethal dose.
I felt her heart stop. I felt her muscles shut down, her body release to a small, formless mass. Like trying to hold together a puddle. I felt her head melt over my arm, felt her sweet caramel fur on my lips when I picked up her head, placed it inside the crook of my elbow and kissed her cheek, whispered best friends forever, lovebug. I felt my spirit leave when hers did, drift along beside hers like we were just walking through the woods.
The vet took her away and placed her body inside a white box. Later, we tucked around her favorite blankets and toys, laid her in the ground and replaced the dirt. Planted two begonias and a fern instead of a cross.
When I looked at my phone for the first time that night, it listed a string of birthday wishes. May 19th. The day meant to indicate my life’s beginning now indicated (what felt like) the end. I only knew about the human I wanted to become by learning from my dog. Because we were not human and dog, we were creature and creature. We were souls cut from the same tree, but she came from a higher branch, one I was always looking up to.
After she died I was blinded for weeks. I had to relearn how to wake up without her in my bed, how to go to the mailbox by myself, how to eat an apple without giving her the last bite, how to walk through the garden without waiting for her to sniff the azaelas. I relearned how to sleep without having nightmares of the personification of her death, some monster with sharp edges and claws.
Maddie was quiet, but her presence was so harmonious that I never noticed a soundless house. When she died, the silence drove me mental. I imagine it’s what the inside of a coffin sounds like. I swear the bluebirds only sang for her and after my birthday, I didn’t hear them for weeks.
After my birthday, the topsoil smelled rich until June. Then the edges of her grave turned a dusty grayish-brown, caterpillars began creeping over the mound, and the begonia petals stole off in the breeze. A few months later and the topsoil settled even with the earth; leaves fell to blanket her for the winter.
Two years later and her grave is the holiest place on this planet. She was all that is sacred. I do sun salutations over her teeth and bones and pray to her spirit, the one dancing with the bluebirds, chasing chipmunks into rainspouts, and meditating under the sun.