Oh, bugger. Now I have to learn to do this all over again.
It all comes back to me, after eighteen months. I thought I had remembered it all but it turns out I’ve forgotten quite a lot. First of all, there is the thing of having to keep moving. That’s back. In the fine morning light, I walk and walk round the block, under the old oaks, past the amber beeches, by the young chestnuts. Inadvertent noises come out of my mouth, like the creaking groans of 19th century schooners. (It’s hard to describe, but there is something of timber about the noises.) Sometimes I say, very loudly: oh no; or, FUCK; or, bugger, bugger, bugger. I can’t quite remember if cursing was a thing before. It is now.
Then, the crying. I am very hard line about crying. I think it must be done. Mostly, I try to do it privately, where I won’t frighten the horses. (Actual, and metaphorical.) It has to come out, or it gets all twisted up inside and that is when the good grief turns into mulish depression or stuck fury or a black cloud of unknown mood which will never shift. Just at the moment, it bursts out of its own accord, wherever I happen to be. (I think: oh, no, I forgot this, the fact that I won’t be able to go to the Co-op for three days. I remember that, after my dad. I think: I hope I have enough canned goods for the duration.)
There is a part of me, when the tears come, that says stop. They are too mighty; they shall shake my feeble frame apart. It’s a sort of terror, probably from Britishness, from upbringing, from school even; the fear of making fuss, making a scene, being silly. No, no, I have to tell myself, let them out. Out they come, messy, red, raw, painful. They make an absurd noise. Oh, my dog, I think; my dog.
I heard her this morning. I actually turned my head in the kitchen because I heard the click of her paws on the floor. There is a part of my brain that cannot quite register that she does not exist. I try to rationalise this. We were together for ten years, every day. She lay beside me as I worked, slept with me at night, woke me in the morning. Because I work from home, and rarely travel, there were very few days or hours when we were separated. She even used to come and hang her head over the side of the bath when I was washing my hair. We were inseparable. That’s a lot of companionship; of course there is a section of my cerebellum which cannot compute.
I went up at nine to the horses. Red’s View was pale blue and lucid, the snow white and stately on the top of the mountain, the air still as a church. I stood with the mare and looked out at it, and felt all right. ‘Oh,’ I said, out loud. ‘I see. I feel better here.’ This place, this horse, this would be my magic bullet. For a moment, I was restored. Then the wave of missing hit, and I was swamped again.
If I don’t like to cry in front of people, I really don’t like to cry in front of my mare. This is not her trouble; my job is to be good and strong for her, so she can feel safe and happy. But this morning there was nothing for it; out trooped the childish wails. We were in the field without a halter; I thought she would probably wander off, and I could not blame her. Instead, she went very calm and still. She put her head over my shoulder, and rested it there. I could feel it growing heavy as she went into a little doze. It’s a feeling I can’t quite describe, when she does that. It’s profound and elemental.
Horses are quite steely creatures, compared to dogs. Their survival instincts are much more vivid and recent; their ancestral past lives in them in a way that dogs’ does not. They don’t hurl love around like canines do; I’m not sure that word even means anything when it comes to horses. The Pidge would literally jump for joy when I came through the door; Red is mildly pleased to see me, mostly because I represent getting her needs met, which is her ancient evolutionary priority. So I don’t know what that thing in the field was, but it felt like something. I’m not going to give it a flaky human name. I’m not going to sentimentalise it with anthropomorphism. It touched my heart, is all.
I think I had grown a little cocky; the wings of hubris had begun to flap. I think I thought because I went through all this last year, I should know what to do. I even said to The Sister yesterday: ‘we grieved Dad well.’ We did, actually. But what I remember now is that it was not easy, or seamless, or ordered, or neat. It was all a bit of a mess. Loss is a bit of a mess. I shall have to learn it all again.
Last year, on the night of my father’s funeral, my other dog, my glorious old Duchess, died. I went the next day, blindly, into a bookshop. After a while, I worked out what I was looking for. It was a book called: What to do when your dad and your dog dies. That book does not exist. I remember thinking: I shall have to write the damn thing myself. I even pitched it to the agent, who was cautious but kind. I wish I had written it, so I could take it down and slowly read, so it would tell me what to do.
Instead, it’s starting again. I have to learn it all over again, from scratch. My immediate plan: I’m going to eat chicken soup and watch the racing. One of my favourite old horses, Midnight Chase, is running at Wetherby, and I shall give him a bloody good shout, even though he is probably carrying too much weight to win. But he has an indomitable heart, and that may see him through.
It will be the first time I shall have watched the racing without the Pidge jumping up and down on all fours, like a cartoon dog, barking her head off, which is always what she did when I started yelling ‘Come on, my son.’ On that glorious day when Kauto Star won his second Gold Cup, the two of us were making such a noise that my neighbour actually burst in the door, thinking there was some kind of home invasion.
I think: I am going to need an indomitable heart of my own. Those sinews are going to require a bit of stiffening. I eye my new bottle of iron tonic. I suspect it may take a bit more than iron tonic, but it’s a start.
This one is particularly strange with no lovely black silhouette in it:
Myfanwy the Pony:
Red the Mare:
One of the Dear Readers said she hoped I would go on putting up pictures of The Pigeon, and so I shall. I cannot deprive the blog of this much beauty:
Two views of the hill:
The kindness continues. A cousin writes from Long Island; the old friend with the white roses sends me a message of love, which is the first thing I read when I wake up. My Twitterstream is filled with sweetness. I actually have angst because I cannot reply to everyone; too many for me to keep track of. This has never happened before, and is testament to the power of that good dog. I send out general thanks and hope that people see them.
And here, the Dear Readers rise up in a perfect, gleaming regiment of goodness and sense and generosity and understanding. I am touched beyond measure. Thank you.