I’d been putting off returning to the veterinary office to pick up a replacement memorial certificate and name plate for our dog (they reversed his name, Scotch, with our surname on the original materials). It’s a final administrative gesture. Perhaps that finality had me dragging my feet. A phone call reminder prompted me to just get on with it. Twelve minutes in the car, I pulled into the parking lot, took a deep breath to prepare for that sympathetic look with which the well-intentioned staff would smother me, and strode up to the door. It was locked. I just spoke with them 20 minutes ago—how could this be? The sign on the door: “Closed for lunch 1:30-2:00pm.” The time was 1:38pm. Do I wait? Do I try to maximize my time? Do I… ?
“Just take a walk.” An impatient voice in my head directs me. There’s a park across the street. The weather is overcast and edging on more rain. Strange utility poles jut up high into the grey skies. I’ll try and take some interesting photos. I’ll just pause and enjoy being outside. Like the dog would have. Explore. Sniff some things.
I cross Good Luck Road. In my head, I’m hearing that edging-on-lunacy laugh that erupts from Arya’s character in Game of Thrones when she arrives at her aunt’s castle hoping to find some family and safety after a long, dangerous escape only to be informed that her aunt died three days ago. I skipped lunch, which means every partially introspective or maudlin thought turns into a depressive, the-world-is-ending mental digression. I miss my dog. I wish he was here to piss on things. To talk to.
I seem to be expecting some sort of comfort in nature. A respite in this park. It’s a rough, gravel parking lot. Trash shrewn around the periphery. Locked gates prevent access to the grassy playing fields. The outdoors made uninviting. I take some photos of an electrical structure—a towering pole topped off with rectangular panels like a Brutalist/Cubist sculptural mash-up. I wander along the edge of the woods. My throat constricts as I come across a deer carcass. The head is turned back at close to an unnatural angle. The area where a white tail once was now devoured leaving a meaty window into the beast’s insides. Life is brutal. Or, rather, death prevails. Everything is wet, leafless, and steps away from winter. Solace. There is no solace. Am I being mocked by nature itself or has my blood sugar just dropped enough to turn everything into some sort of melancholic sign? I clench my jaw as if to bite down while swallowing the message: He’s gone.
I leave the park and walk along the shoulder of the busy road. It’s an unwelcoming road for a stroll. The shoulder is ample, but it’s not the type of road pedestrians frequent (no sidewalks). A single lane in each direction with cars whizzing by at 40 mph or so. Mostly, or so. I pass under a bridge. I considered the dog one of my closest friends. A good listener. Always curious. Excited upon my every return. A companion in the late hours of the night. A constant adversary in the struggle for territory in the “big bed.” I think about how Scotch approached the world. Enjoying the simple things: a meal, a nap, a walk. I’m taking myself for a walk. I explore with my eyes the way he would have explored with his nose. Fast food wrappers, barren shrubbery, a used condom. No solace. I should take myself for walks more often, I think to myself. I wish I had taken Scotch for more walks. I think about how I have no “bucket list.” There are endless things I want to do and experience, but nothing that makes me feel my life will not have been full or fulfilling should I miss it. It feels like I’ve been out here for at least an hour, but a glance at my phone when I get back to the parking lot reveals a mere 20 minutes passed.
The front door opens. A kind, familiar face greets me and I wait behind one other customer, a man trying to get an instant appointment for a friend’s sick cat who is minutes away from arriving separately. I ask for the memorial certificate—I look it over together with the woman at the front desk. All is correct. It means nothing to me, but I’m glad it’s correct. That it’s over. I’ll slide the envelope under the decorative box holding his cremated remains at home. I’ll try to live a little more like a dog. In the moment. But moments without him.