It’s been over five years now since I said goodbye to my beloved Buddy. Though I think of him daily, I’d only been to visit his grave once since that day. I felt guilt, but never enough to make me drive back out there, and climb the hill again.
Last weekend we were invited by friends to meet them at the barn where their broodmares were foaling, to see their new filly (who I swear to you, if I’d had a carseat, I’d have horsenapped. She is beyond precious!). They had a delay in meeting up with us, which left us near the neighborhood I grew up in, and the barn where Buddy is laid in eternal turn-out. I decided it was a sign to revisit my past.
We started in my old neighborhood, I pointed out where old friends used to live, where horses of my past had once grazed, and the house I grew up in, which only somewhat looked like it used to. We stopped to try to visit one neighbor, but found nobody at home, and continued our tour down my own personal memory lane. I’d had a feeling that I was awfully close to where Buddy was, and what a terrible mother it made me if I didn’t stop, when I got another text saying they were still a ways out from our meeting location, I made the decision to add that barn to our route.
Driving the winding road to get there, the muscles in my arms remembered every turn, like I’d been driving it daily still. My heart fluttered a little when we approached the drive, and more so when we finally parked the car. The weather was overcast but mild, yet surprisingly, there wasn’t another person at the barn during the entire time we were there. Some horses were still turned out, I recognized one that we stopped and petted. I told the boys, it was a serious hike up the hill to Buddy, and they didn’t have to go if they didn’t want to, but I was starting my ascent.
They turned from the attention-seeking horses in the paddock and joined me, wind whipping my hair around my face, to climb. We laughed and joked on the way up, it took a while to make it to the top, and just beyond. We finally made it, eyes watering, lungs burning, and panting.
We’d never given Buddy a formal grave marker. I did pile a few big stones I’d found during my last visit, but that had been years ago too. I remembered the vague area where he was, and narrowed it to a sunken area, about the right shape and size. David put his arm around my shoulder, Michael was uncharacteristically solemn, as I fought back sobs and tried to speak to my boy like I always had
I introduced David and Michael, and told Buddy how I wished they’d all been able to meet, I think they’d have gotten along well, all being kind-hearted and ornery. I told him how I think of him every day, and how much I love him still. I think I mumbled some other motherly things, in between tears and hiccups, and finally, as I had every time I left him when he was still alive, I told him I loved him again, and he was my one and only.
It was hard, that visit rubbed some of the scab off the old wound, a wound that won’t ever truly heal. I was pleased I’d managed to hold it together fairly well, considering we were meeting with friends soon and would be going to dinner after, I certainly couldn’t afford a full-on come-undone. We made our way into the rest of the evening, laughing and having fun. The weight of our visit didn’t hit me until the following morning, where I cried in the shower until the water ran cold.
Buddy to date, has been the closest soul I’ve lost, and by far the most devastating in my life. I’ve grown to stop wondering if I’ll ever “get over it,” and simply accepted that the loss is just a part of me now, like amputees who learn to live in the absence of a limb. It’s bizarre at first, the “ghost” sensations, feeling like they’re still there, but knowing they aren’t. You eventually stop feeling the urge to go to the barn, you train your mind to divert when it slips and recalls the images of the last day you had together. As Tom Hanks says in “Sleepless in Seattle,” the sun still rises and sets every day, you still breathe in and out. Enough time passes you can develop a new normal for yourself, but you never truly recover. You finally reach the point where you turn a corner, but don’t realize it until miles down the road. I guess that’s where I am now.
One of my greatest fears, was the belief that I’d never find my soul’s true match in a human, the way I’d found it in Buddy. Once he was gone, I’d fade into the fog, alone. I guess giving him back to God was the way I was supposed to make room for the new loves headed into my life, a beagle named Sami, and my boys, David and his son, Michael. As hard as it was to say goodbye to him, and my life with him, I did it, and survived.
When we buried Buddy that day, a piece of me went down with the ship, like any good captain. Likewise, a piece of him remained with me, that I’ll carry to my own grave.
This is one of the last, if not the last photo taken of us together, at an event for kids. Buddy wasn’t feeling like himself that day, so we had to wrap up earlier than planned, which in hindsight was probably a clue as to where our path was headed, but despite his not being 100%, he still did his best to be a friend to the kids who attended. He might have tested me sometimes, but I was always proud of my boy.