Dead Dogs and Birth Certificates

When we moved two years ago the files containing all our passports, birth certificates, social security cards and such went missing.  The urns containing the ashes of our three dogs, including the original pair that set Matthew and I on our path together, also could not be found.

It’s a chronic itch on the back of my brain that mostly goes unnoticed until I come across a box from the move and then it flares.

Yes, I went through a crazed period in the beginning when I tore through our storage unit, the shed and each room in the house. Moving is discombobulating enough and I became obsessed.  These were not just lost things, they were our identities and beloved pets. The losses made me feel even more ungrounded.

Time passed and we settled into our home. I built the stability that I craved. I used the time to downsize and I delighted in getting rid of the psychological weight of too much stuff.  I gave away furniture, clothes, anything that was no longer useful or had no meaning for us. I’m not sentimental about things – never have been – but the documents and the dogs really bothered me.

I was not letting go.

When one of the kids needed an immunization record or a copy of their birth certificate, it would ignite a frustration that had me wasting hours going through boxes I had already searched.  Surely, this time I would uncover the whereabouts of my files and save myself the hassle of all the paperwork to re-create what I had lost.  It irked me that it was probably my fault. I managed to shepherd each and every one of those little plastic corn on the cob holders through the move but not our identities and the dogs.

Two years have passed and I have filled out copious amounts of paperwork to redocument our lives.  I even enjoyed talking to the woman who works at city hall in the little town in Maine where I was born.  When I received the copy of my birth certificate it was different than the one I had before.  On the microfiche replacement I could see my parents’ signatures from fifty years ago.  It made me smile.

Oh, and the dogs.

Matthew is even less nostalgic than me except for when it comes to our pets.  He found our dogs’ ashes in the back of our pantry in our old house. I had twin two year olds, a four year old and a ten year old at the time, and it seemed like a good place to me. From then on he kept our former pets in his home office on a shelf. This past weekend he asked if I ever found the dogs.

No, but I am looking.

Yesterday I began reorganizing Matthew’s downtown office.  I was standing in the front room to plan out the project. The back corner of the office serves as storage. There was a column of boxes labelled with the words office supplies in big black letters. The box on the top of the stack was open and I could see paper, tape, a three-hole punch and some computer cords. I closed it and placed the box on the dolly. Before I stacked the next box I dragged my car key down the middle to cut the tape and opened it to see if there were supplies we needed at home.

I was face to face with my files, exactly as they were placed in the box two years ago. It hit me broadside and I couldn’t catch a breath. I felt my face getting hot and tears surging from the back of my eyes.

The dogs! They had to be there somewhere too. There was only one remaining box that was sealed and I used my key again to get to the contents and there they were – Maude, Toby and Oscar.

It sounds silly but I sat down on the floor holding my documents and staring at the dogs and sobbed.  It was like the move was finally over.  It’s been a hard two years with a lot of adjustments and the discovery shook me with the time that has passed.

At almost fifty, I’m accepting that we are always leaving, moment to moment. The older I get, change and loss are becoming more visible.

So it feels like a miracle when I get something back.

Meditation on Ruin  by Jay Hopler

It’s not the lost lover that brings us to ruin, or the barroom brawl,

          or the con game gone bad, or the beating

Taken in the alleyway. But the lost car keys,

The broken shoelace,

The overcharge at the gas pump

Which we broach without comment — these are the things that

          eat away at life, these constant vibrations

In the web of the unremarkable.

The death of a father — the death of the mother —

The sudden loss shocks the living flesh alive! But the broken

          pair of glasses,

The tear in the trousers,

These begin an ache behind the eyes.

And it’s this ache to which we will ourselves

Oblivious. We are oblivious. Then, one morning—there’s a

crack in the water glass —we wake to find ourselves undone.

“Meditation on Ruin” by Jay Hopler from Green Squall. © Yale University Press, 2006.