My memories of Martin are choppy and fragmented like collaged photos plastered arbitrarily on wilted, sun-stained paper, clinging precariously by cracked and yellowed glue. Or snippets of a movie reel taped together in mismatched order. But strong are the feelings that remain. Commitment. Attachment. Acceptance. Loyalty. Safety.
He was my first best friend, protector and confidant.
Our time was spent on clover sprinkled lawns or those same vast spaces hushed by the depth of winter. He always greeted me with saintly smiles whether I was perfect in my endeavors or if I grossly failed human expectations of me. Martin didn’t withhold affection as a means to manipulate, nor did he shame, coerce or bully. He simply was, in the true definition, a friend, unconditionally.
Early in my tender life, Martin would teach me about attachment and the trauma of losing a precious thing. And by precious I don’t mean some material trinket or mechanism that helps us live our technological life, but that thing that sits so deeply in our soul that when we lose it, we know we’ve lost a piece of ourselves.
It wasn’t death, but still the trauma and loss haunted me. Adult decisions were made. Moving. Expenses. Space restrictions. Martin would not accompany us to our new life. Instead he was sent to pasture, the consort of another such lovely beast. I’m sure he, like all animals who adapt easily to their human-dictated fates, embraced this new life and may have forgot the little girl who loved him more than all others. In the void that was left, feelings of voicelessness, insignificance, and betrayal, took human form, clung to and cradled me, creeping into my thoughts like and infectious disease, and built a shack of treachery and deceit around my heart…time to grow up…hide the pain…he’s only a dog…sadness is weakness…stop being a baby…harden your heart…
It was then I lost control of my world and I lost the truth of my heart. But one can not find a thing unless it is first lost.
Many years would pass but the oily lie of my existence began to surface and seep through porous, fragile membrane into consciousness. My real heart–the loving and caring heart, the heart that appreciates and respects non-human life, the heart that realized it didn’t have to hide its pain behind cruelty and bravado, the heart that remembered it had been adversely influenced by others–stirred and stretched its atrophied muscles, found the walls of its prison shanty, and began extricating itself, board by rotten, splintered board. And under that festering garbage pile lay the footer of who I really was before the world told me who to be, concrete and cinder block strong.
Was I born with intrinsic love of animals–a tiny strand of fiber woven deep in the strands my DNA–or was it learned through the interactions with my unlikely first best friend? I can’t begin to unravel that mystery. All I know is Martin helped me build the foundation of who I am today. Not only did he give me years of companionship and joy, but the gift of a stretch-marked heart wrapped in the scars of love and grief.