There was no ceremony. Debbie had gone into the house. She couldn’t bear to see. I fit Ruah into the grave looking north and placed my straw hat over his eyes. It was hot. The dirt was clotted. I broke the clots into a finer ground with a hoe. I carefully shoveled dirt around his face. The effect was as if Ruah were diving headfirst into another world as his head and then his body was submerged. I stacked rocks from the creek on top. Unexpectedly, I was constructing a habitat for black widow spiders that hid in the dark creases between the large rocks. This was different than when I buried my grandmother. I was in the room when she died, standing in the back behind my mother’s brother. I saw the heart monitor go flat. I remember no sounds, no emotions. I drove home. That night I decided I would dig the grave. I persuaded my mother. I dug the grave. I buried her. My dog Ruah’s death was more painful than my grandmother’s departure.
The pain around Ruah’s death seemed proportional. He was the same size as a man. On his hind legs, he stood over six feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. But now years later in Buffalo, a seven pound cat named Nadja has died. She was sixteen. We lived together for a brief time. She was so delicate and lovely. In my lap she was hardly there, a heavier part of the blanket spread across my thighs. But her death was large enough to swallow me whole. It didn’t feel like my thigh bone was cut out when she died. It felt like my lungs were beating against my rib cage trying to fly away after her. This is a familiar feeling for me. I want to reach across that space that divides us and hold her one more time not unlike the dead wanting to reach across that same space and touch me. I’m not disturbed by this. It isn’t even about clinging to memories. What Marc Auge so gently described as oblivion, the other side of remembering, with his lovely metaphor of the seashore, must’ve grown into a storm at some point in my life. I remember very little. Instead I feel like I’m easing myself into those waters. Borges tells a story about a man who remembers everything. Each detail pricks him. Memory is torture for him. There’s no room for anything else. I remember a world more like the floral wallpaper in my grandmother’s house. It’s fading and I can see another layer behind it. I remember the swirl in the wood grain of my ax handle and Nadja fetching her blue ball. These memories don’t feel like briars in my hand. In the summer, I would dive through the warm surface water to the muddy bottom of the Big Lake and lay in the cold until I had to come up for air. This is what remembering feels like.