The voice of grief is quiet, cruel, and unrelenting.
"It's your fault," it whispers every time.
I made a mistake and less than a day later, Tim had died.
I did everything right and Willy Wonka died.
I did everything wrong, until that last fateful moment. I made a change, and began to do things right, and Maggie died.
I am a horrible person and I do not deserve to be loved.
"You are at the center of these tragedies," grief says. "Everyone who's ever loved you unconditionally has died. What does that say about you? You're dangerous. You don't deserve love. Everything you do ends in evil. It's your fault they died."
It does not matter that in all previous cases I know this is not true. With Maggie...I have to wonder if grief might not have the truth of it.
I wasn't prepared for her. I didn't plan for her. I happened upon her one day, and had planned to take time to consider carefully whether or not she would be a good fit. Before I could decide one way or the other, however, someone else stepped in and she was mine.
And I screwed it up. I screwed it all up.
I wasn't in a stable position. I didn't manage things well. I didn't train her or get her adequate exercise like I had Willy Wonka. She was full of energy all the time. She was demanding of my time, attention, and affections. She was constantly in my face, constantly kissing me or nipping my nose.
I wasn't prepared. I didn't do it right. I knew she needed exercise and structure and training. And I failed to give her these things. And because I failed to give her these things, she was clingy, needy, and suffered incredible separation anxiety. She was loving and sweet and kind. And at times, I'm ashamed to admit, I resented the amount of mental and emotional energy required to engage with her. And it was my fault, because if I had just provided her with any exercise and training and structure, she'd have been more calm.
Then, I reached the point of being ready to make the changes necessary for health. I began to exercise. I began to take Maggie (and Lili) on walks twice a day. But by this time, the harness and leash that I'd purchased when first I got her were nowhere to be found.
It didn't occur to me, living in the middle of nowhere, that it would be so necessary to have her leashed. She always stayed right by me when we were outside. On our walks, no matter how short or long, she never strayed far from my side.
Maggie wanted to go out 15 minutes earlier than we had been going. I wanted to wait, finish what I was doing, and then go. Then, I asked myself, "Am I really going to regret going early? I can always come back to what I'm doing. And if we leave this early, we can go further, get a bit more exercise in."
I saw the car coming about 1/4 of a mile away. It was clear they were traveling at 60mph or faster. Fifteen seconds. I was struck by indecision. Turn around? Keep going? Stop and wait for them to go by?
I moved to the very edge of the shoulder, standing in the beginnings of the ditch. Maggie and Lili were sniffing something in the road, and I called them over to me. They both stopped, looked up at me. Eleven seconds.
"Come on, girls," I called. "Out of the road!" Ten seconds.
They came over to me, and stopped at my feet. "Good girls," I cooed at them. Seven seconds.
I'm terrified to move; afraid that if I begin to walk in either direction, they'll head back onto the blacktop. The car is so close, and it isn't slowing down. It isn't moving over to the far side of the road as is customary in our area. I hold my breath and watch it approach. "Stay," I say to the girls. Five seconds.
Maggie begins to move. "No!" I yell at her. She looks up at me. I glance at the car, pale green, four door, midsized sedan. Three seconds.
Maggie looks up at me. Two seconds. And she darts into the road, Lili right behind her. "Maggie!" I yell. One second. And she turns to me. Lili continues to the far lane. Maggie begins to turn back, and it's over.
The car begins to slow after impact. It stops several yards beyond me.
I look at Maggie's body.
I look at the car, stopped. I continue to stare at it. Why are they just sitting there? Why haven't they gotten out? They just sit there, stopped, in the middle of the bridge.
I look back at Maggie, and do the only thing I can think to do, the only thing that comes to my otherwise completely empty brain.
I look back and forth, back and forth as I scream.
I continue screaming until my substantial lung capacity has been depleted.
I look at the car, and I am silent. I look at Maggie, and see Lili has approached her. I look at the car, and it pulls away. Half a block farther away, it slows. Then, it takes off again, gaining speed, and disappears over the hill west of town.
Looking at Maggie's body, all I can think is, "I have to carry her home and bury her."
I approach her. How to pick her up? I'm squeamish. Her body is still warm, but cooling quickly in the cold of October. I grab her body by the scruff of the neck, her entrails hanging from her body. There is no blood.
I carry her in one hand while I dig my phone out of my pocket with the other. I call R. It rings four times, and I'm routed to voicemail. I hang up and redial. After two rings, I'm routed to voicemail. I hang up and redial. After two rings, I'm routed to voicemail. I hang up and redial. R answers.
I tell her Maggie is dead. She prays for me. I continue my trudge home, Lili on my heels, Maggie's body in my hand.
Once home, I lay her body gingerly on the back porch. I take Lili inside. I grab a spade from the front porch and a shovel from the back as I return to the backyard. I dig a hole. 2 spades long, 1 spade wide, 2 spades deep. I use the shovel to remove the dirt I've loosened with the spade.
I return the shovel to the back porch as I retrieve Maggie's body. I lay her in the hole, curling her body around her intestines. Too late, I realize that the shovel would come in handy for moving the now loose dirt back into the hole.
I kneel at the edge of the hole and begin to scoop handfuls of dirt onto Maggie's body. "I'm sorry," I tell her. "I'm so sorry." Now, finally, I begin to cry. "I'm sorry," I sob, moving more dirt. "I'm so, so sorry!" I've run out of loose dirt, and begin to pick up the larger clods. "I'm sorry, Maggie! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm sorry I wasn't a better doggie mommy. I'm sorry I failed you!"
At last, I'm at the point of replacing the grassy clods of dirt. Three big ones. I place them on top. I stand and press them into place with my foot.
I tamp down my pain and grief. I walk into the house. "Where's Lili's harness," I ask my mother in a tight voice.
"I'm not sure," she answers. "Probably in the van." The van my father dropped at the shop earlier this evening. In the van, likely with Maggie's harness as well.
I look around, my eyes moving frantically over every surface. I see an old red harness from who knows which pet of bygone days. I grab it and make my way towards Lili. "I just buried Maggie," I tell my mother. "After I get this on Lili, I do not want it taken off of her."
Lili evades me. My mother hugs me. I text my closest friends. "I just buried my dog," I write to them.
B calls and we talk briefly. Others text love and reassurance. Because they don't know the truth that grief is whispering to me. I am a horrible human being and the worst doggie mommy who ever lived. I didn't deserve Maggie's love, and I don't deserve Lili or her love either. That's why she won't come near me.
I lie in bed, my body curled around the seed of grief that has been planted in my heart. I watch TV on my laptop, because I don't know what else to do.
My younger brother and my father come home. I can hear my mother's voice, but I cannot make out what she is saying. It doesn't matter. I know she is telling them.
My brother comes up. He sits on the bed with me. He puts his arm around me in an awkward hug. He rubs my back and cries with me for a few minutes.
Next, my father comes in. He repeats the process, though his hug is much shorter, and he kisses my hair. I begin to cry harder, wishing so many things were different.
Wishing I were a good person.
Wishing I were a better daughter.
Promising I will be a better good doggie mommy to Lili than I was to Maggie.
Wishing I deserved the love I've lost.
Wishing I didn't believe that quiet, cruel, unrelenting voice whispering, "It's all your fault."