This blog was written in the middle of April, a few days before reaching Indianapolis.
“Jordan… it’s your mother… Jordan. I don’t know how to tell you, so I’m just going to tell you. It’s Sayzles… She’s… Gone. Sayzles is gone.”
The 1,000 miles that stood between home and where I stood now stretched farther than I could’ve ever imagined, nearing breaking point. And the miles that stood between me and Miami instantly dissolved. My knees lost their strength and I laid sprawled out on a stranger’s deck, crying as the evening doves joined in. Sayzles is… was… my 3-year-old dog who I had left at home before leaving on my walk. She wasn’t necessarily the kind of dog you’d picture a guy who grew up with labradors and golden retrievers, as having. Weighing in at a whopping 4 and a half pounds, Sayzles was the epitome of a lap dog. I don’t really remember why I choose to get a Papillon… I just remember seeing one on TV and knowing that’s what I wanted.
Sayzles was the strangest dog I have ever owned in my 23 years. She had bright, slightly buggy, eyes that seemed to be able to take in quite a lot as she stared up at you. I often found myself thinking that she secretly understood a lot more than what we gave her credit for. That she was more in-tune to our lives and our emotions than we would have sometimes liked to think. She seemed to not need an owner, like most dogs do, but more of a companion to keep her company. And that’s what we were to each other: companions. Friends. And while I’ll consider all the dogs I own or have owned as friends, Sayzles was different. She was truly, a friend and it hurt like nothing I have ever felt before to hear that she had died. A different and unusual hurt. I was told that she was playing with a larger, more playful dog and in a freak accident the larger dog had tripped and landed on Sayzles’ neck, killing her instantly. “She died playing…” they told me. But that didn’t really help.
The next morning I woke up and would have given anything to not have to walk 28 miles. But then I thought about just sitting in a stranger’s house or in a lonely motel room for the day, my only other options, and suddenly walking seemed more appealing. I struck out as the sun inched up from the horizon, the part of the morning where the sky was still a magnificent midnight blue with streaks of purple and red. For the next 10 hours I walked as fast as I could, ignoring the blisters that screamed up at me from my feet and the queasy feeling that warned me of dehydration. My mind was eerily blank for those hours and I was glad for that. As the sun began to touch the opposite horizon the reality of how tired I was began to sink in and I felt as my strides became less strong and much shorter. To my left was an expansive windmill farm and to my right a grass field with a small, old-fashioned farm-house stuck in the middle. I stopped and watched a blade on the nearest windmill slice through the air, falling towards the ground before whipping back upward to repeat itself. From not too far away I heard a yap of a small dog and my heart leapt up into my throat, choking me.
I spun around and saw a small terrier sprinting across the old highway, barking wildly, its nub for a tail wagging vigorously. My heart settled back into place as the small dog ran up and began to sniff my shoes. Its owners, a couple who looked about my age, were striding across their yard towards us, waving. I bent down and picked up the terrier who wriggled excitedly in my arms. He turned in my arms and began sniffing my face, at the place where my tears had fallen the night before. Giving each cheek a little lick, he than began sniffing my hair until he came to my ears, where he instantly began to lick enthusiastically. Sayzles used to do the same thing. My heart returned to my throat, and while still holding the dog, I fell to my knees and began to cry. The owners, who were now only a few feet away, approached with caution. The woman bent down next to us and looked into my eyes, putting a hand on my shoulder. Unable to stop, I handed over her dog and explained, or tried to, why I was crying. Her eyes filled with tears as I finished and the man, her husband, surveyed my face as I apologized.
After standing clumped together for a few quiet moments, the husband offered to have me stay the night and then drive me into Indianapolis in the morning and pay for my plane ticket home. I stood in their driveway, letting the offer sink into my mind. Would I want to finish the walk if I went home now? After seeing my friends… my family… would I have enough determination to leave them a second time to fly back out to continue my walk? “Or…” the wife spoke, her voice wavering a little, “We can always… Bury her…” My eyes snapped up to hers and a flame of anger licked my insides.
“Bury her?” I said. Her smile faltered and a few tears seemed to be hanging onto her eyes by just a thread. She nodded. “Bury what?” I snapped.
“Whatever you’d like…Nothing, if you want.” she responded.
“But why?” I sighed. The day was pushing down on me and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t take another step.
“For the reason we always bury the ones we love… So we can say goodbye.” I looked up and her eyes were locked on my own. She was looking at me hopefully as one of her tears escaped and rolled down her cheek.
* * *
Twenty minutes later we were trudging through a grass field a quarter of a mile out from their home. In just a month this grass would be too long and wild to walk through, but for now we made our way towards two lone trees that stood in its middle. I had eyed a small garden spade as we left their yard and had taken it with me. Now, under the trees, I dug a small hole no deeper or wider than a foot. I tossed the spade aside and opened up my pack. After searching for a moment I came to a small white envelope that held a handful of photos. Before I had left, my girlfriend had given me an individual photo of each of our dogs. Sayzles’ photo was the last one and I pulled it out from the envelope. Her eyes seemed to break through the glossy finish of the photo and look into mine. While out on this walk I have learned that we don’t really need photos for the people or places we truly care about. Pictures can never completely capture how we feel about them and the best way to remember them are with the memories we store in our hearts. I placed the photo into the hole, replaced the dirt and set a rock I found nearby on top.
“Would you like to say something?” the husband asked, as he and his wife stood a few feet behind me. I looked down at the pitiful little grave that I had just dug which only held a stupid little photo. What could I say? Whatever I ended up saying would only come out sounding pathetic and unoriginal. That’s another thing I have learned on my walk. You have to accept the fact that no matter how you say it, or paint it, or sing it, your love for another person can never be expressed in its true form. It will always come out watered down and generic. You can try to explain it, but only you will ever truly understand the intensity and depth of it all. It’s just how love works.
I sat thinking about the question some more, thinking of how I should explain my dog to these complete strangers. After a minute, I opened up my mouth and the words spilled out before I knew I was saying them, “She really liked it when people would make a squeaky noise.” They both smiled and raised their eyebrows. “You know, like the sound you make for a comical kiss. Pucker your lips like a fish and inhale.” They laughed and nodded. I turned back to the little grave and sighed, my eyes burning. That was all I could think of? I thought, ashamed at my lack of ability to say something meaningful. Something beautiful. But Sayzles had loved it. She would stare at your lips as you released a squeak and her tail would go wild. She would sit and stare at your mouth, waiting for you to do it again. Sometimes she would press her nose against your lips impatiently, needing to get her fix of squeaking. Then from behind me I heard the exact sound I was thinking of as the husband made the kissing noise. I gave a watery laugh. His wife squeaked as well and gave a giggle, then a sniffle. I pursed my lips, but they lost their strength as I inhaled and could only produce a sob. Breaking down again, I began to cry as the last rays of sun began to slip beneath the grass. A moment later I felt the husband’s hand squeeze my shoulder and then heard them walking through the grass, back towards their home. For a few minutes I sat there staring at the freshly dug dirt, but nothing inside me changed or felt better. I sat in a nameless field, at an unknown place, alone.
I snatched up the spade and turned to go back to the house. As the last ray of sunlight disappeared and a great glow from the stars above spread across the grass I heard an unmistakable bark from behind me. From between a ray of moonlight and a wisp of silver grass bounded my dog, tail held high like a great white flag. I clasped a hand over my mouth as I let out another sob and for the third time my heart leapt up out of my chest. She ran in a large arc, weaving between the clumps of grass and rocks. She then came to my feet, did a little spin and sat down in front of them, staring up at me. Her eyes were unblinking and in them I saw the reflection of the stars and the moon. I saw them expand into galaxies, past the boundaries of space and time and into the eternity that is love. I felt her gaze penetrate my own eyes, bypass my mind and settle deep into an empty hole in my heart. She blinked, gave her tail a wag and then got up and trotted back towards the two trees. A soft breeze washed over the field and made the grass sway back and forth. She slipped into a patch of moonlight and was gone. Above, the stars glowed brighter and I felt the universe expand ever so slightly. Or maybe it was just my heart… Maybe they are one and the same. I stood in a nameless field, at an unknown place, by myself… By myself, but not alone.