Monday, January 3, 2011

A homecoming

Last night was my first back in Magelang since before Christmas and only the third night I've spent here since the first week of November. I headed to bed after watching the first episode of The Wire's third season—part of a pirated DVD set I bought for $12 in Hanoi—and once there read a dozen pages of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire before fading, eyes heavy, past comprehension. It was a comfortable night and it felt good to be back; Song was in the next room and when I turned out my light I could see his still on through the glass transom above my door. I fell fast and deeply asleep in minutes, the electric fan whirring peacefully and the house and campus near-silent.

When I woke several hours later it was in delirium--my body drained, my mind fogged, my heart in my throat, and my throat swollen with sadness. In my dream I'd been crying hard and as I woke I could feel the physical strain of serious, mournful sobbing in my muscles. I'd dreamed of Olive. In the dream, she had come back to life for one day. I don't know how or why, but I understood that I had one more day on Earth with her, to hold her and talk to her, to feel her warmth and her fur in my hands and against my face as I pushed her against me and held her tightly to me. At the end of this single day she would again be gone forever.

Missy was in the dream, or at least part of it. We took Olive for a short walk—Olive pulling at her leash, always walking ahead of us—and as we talked, I reached out, making a point, and touched Missy's shoulder. She paused and turned to me and explained that we were almost out of time with the dog. I said I knew.

How would I spend another day with Olive if I could have it? In the dream, I smothered her with my body and with affection. I pinned her to the ground and pressed her to my chest. I told her I loved her and would always love her. Which is true. I told her I would think of her and miss her, which I do. I said it over and over: Love you, miss you. Love you, miss you. Oh, Olive. So fucking impossibly great to visit you, Muttly, in black and white and skin and bones, and so fucking devastatingly sad to say goodbye again. All of those bottomless feelings again in free-fall.

I don't know where the dream came from. Olive's been on my mind but no more than usual, which I'd say is regular but not obsessive or depressive. I saw a lot of dogs in Vietnam and Laos and often compared them to her or was reminded of the way she twitched her ears. But I didn't dream about her until I got back here, weeks out of both countries. Maybe it was a New Year's sucker punch from the old. If so, it landed. And hurt.

Or maybe I am thinking about home and where that is.


I have a hundred pictures of Olive here on my computer. I have a dozen or more video files of her, too. I also have her old collar and tags with me, and of course I have a head full of memories of her and our time together. But the truth is I don't much look at the pictures and I never watch the videos. I tried doing that shortly after she died and it just supercharged my feelings of loss. Serious sadness-making. I once hung her collar, which still has a couple hairs from her undercoat in it, from a nail inside my bedroom but I took it down and put it away. I just couldn't look at it.

So I've carried Olive around in my heart for months but rarely looked at her. And maybe that's what's wrong. Maybe it's time to let her out again, so to speak. Maybe that terrible dream is telling me I want her back with me, in my life, however she comes.


  1. So sad. Read David Wroblewki's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a wonderful novel about dogs and Wisconsin with a lovely, understating scene of loss.

  2. That sounds like a book for next summer, when I plan to be in Wisconsin as much as they'll allow it. Very hard dream. But a good looking dog, no?

  3. Yes, she's a beautiful dog. Looks a lot like our own mutt if you change the black to brown.