Exemplar: Loss

Losing someone or something close to you is often very hard to accept. Many of us have felt devastated when a friend moves away or when we lose a valued possession. There’s a song that Garth Brooks sings, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and the theme expresses the importance of loving the ones we love while we have the chance. For me, one of the worst things about my loss was not so much the loss itself but the guilt that came with it when I realized that I had missed my chance.

As I was growing up, we always had several pets: dogs, cats, a guinea pig, fish, and a few canaries. My personal pet is Shadow, a mutt who’s been with me since I was a toddler. But among the series of dogs, there was one named Fang. As in literature, her name revealed a lot about her character. Fang snarled at strangers coming into the house, showed her teeth to little kids who passed in front of the yard, snapped at my dog Shadow, and tortured the cats (who frequently remained in a tree all night long rather than come down and have to pass by Fang’s territory). Fang was generally unpleasant to others, but underneath her facade she could be rather sweet. I remember how she liked to have her tummy rubbed whenever anyone would take the time. Not many of us would. After all, we each had our own pets, and they were much easier to deal with and certainly made us less angry most of the time.

I was in seventh grade when my family moved, and we made several major clean-outs. We moved to our new house—with a much smaller yard in a less rural area—in spurts, taking breakable things by ourselves and setting aside large piles of stuff to sell at a garage sale. My parents were ruthless in their emptying of drawers and closets. I never dreamed, though, that they would go so far as to consider Fang a disposable commodity.

I was nervous about the move because it meant a new school and finding new friends. I guess most people get nervous about changes, but I was thinking only of myself and my own fears. The Friday before our final move, I got home from school and noticed that something seemed strange, a little quieter than usual, and it wasn’t simply that the house was nearly empty. I felt really alone and isolated.

“Change is part of life, Steven,” my mother said. “You can try to stay the same, but the world keeps on changing. So it’s best to accept the changes and take them easily. We all move in and out of people’s lives and hope that our moves lead to better things. It’s not that you have to cut your ties with your old friends and old life. We’re not going all that far away, and you know that your family will always be here for you.”

Just then two of the cats ran by the window. Fang was not chasing them. “Where’s Fang?” I asked, although I already suspected the answer. It was confirmed when my mother started to explain that she’d given Fang to my cousin.

My rational side understands and sometimes forgives my parents for their decision, but I grieved, and still grieve, over my own loss of opportunity. No one in my family loved or even liked Fang, and they considered her a disposable item. I wasn’t any less guilty than they were because I hadn’t really loved Fang either. I had paid far less attention to her than to Shadow. I rubbed her tummy sometimes, but I never did it enough. I admit that I hadn’t really cared for her as much as Shadow and that she annoyed me when she snapped and growled. But her absence tore at my heart. My guilt about not caring for her was heavier than the boxes, furniture, and appliances we moved the next day.

The movers liked country music, and I kept hearing Garth Brooks telling me to learn my lesson about loving and caring for those in my life. I hope I have.