Monday was Memorial Day – and will certainly be a day of sad memory for my family. While the country celebrated its Veterans with parades, barbeques and hot dogs, my family was spending the weekend at our new farm…so new there is only a garden and a camper. Our project that weekend was to build a playset for the kids. Mission accomplished.
As it turned out, our second project for that weekend was to bury our dog, Tucker. We brought him to our new property for the first, and the last time. He loved the open space and wandered freely, exploring the tall grass and enjoying the cool soil of the freshly tilled garden. In his 13 1/2 years, he has gone from frolicy puppy who chewed my dining room table, to a gentle giant who loved our four children who came after him. Being part German Shepherd and part Great Dane, he towered over toddlers, frequently knocked over my plants, and scared every meter-reader silly. Late Monday morning, we knew he wasn’t feeling well. Shortly after lunch, he found a shady spot near the camper and there he stayed.
Now, a few days later, we have a Tucker garden; I don’t think I will ever call it his grave, the word is too full of death, while ‘garden’ carries colorful hints of life.
Tucker was the first dog my husband and I brought home together. While he was just an animal, there was no ‘just a dog’ about him. His eyes expressed love better than most people can. His tail was fluent in sign language: quick, short wags for joy, slow wags to let me know that he loved the way I rubbed his head, and a lowered tail when he realized that eating the dining room table was probably a bad idea. So much expression came through Tucker’s face and body language, that I named a character in my book after him.
It’s taken me this long to be able to write about losing my sweet dog. There is a fine line between living a life and writing about it. Much like parents who watch their children through the lens of a camera, I saw Tucker’s last day through my pen. I knew the emotions I was feeling would help me capture a future scene, but I was sickened by that thought. I felt like I was pimping the emotion – selling something so precious to me that I would lay out my bare emotions for others to see. While we all feel sadness, I didn’t want to abuse the beauty of saying farewell to a family companion so to heighten the reading experience.
I realize now that I can’t sell my emotions – not in writing. When I write, I embrace the heart and mind of a fictional character. Any emotion this character experiences will be a result of a situation I create and that character will be bound by the human experience, but it won’t be my experience. That fine line between me and any character I write remains. My life will be reflected in my stories like a fuzzy mirror, casting slices of reality through the haze of fiction.
I don’t know if the way I see the world is a gift or a burden. Being a writer, I see adjectives and verbs the way others might see a happy child or a dazzling fire. And as a writer, I take seriously my gift to capture experience in words. Photographers can capture a moment, imprinting an image forever on the minds of viewers. Writers capture images of the heart. A fine line indeed.