Gaia & Me

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Two weeks have passed. My best friend suggested me to try to put my sorrow into words. I am still not sure this is a good idea---I opened this word document and the white page was staring at me with this blank and ominous look. CLOSE ME. GO BACK TO YOUR COUCH. Some time ago I wrote Elisabeth and Miya and said I couldn’t handle a new piece for my column. I lost a family member on November 10th, my beloved yellow Labrador Gaia. After 11 years and 4 months together in this world, she is no longer with me. I have been feeling too empty to do anything but work. I still can’t think of much more. I go to the supermarket---that’s a big thing!---I go out for walks over the weekend, and every morning I drive to Milan to edit new pages of some book and discuss publishing options with my boss. I do my best at the office---I smile, break jokes, try to concentrate. And when I cross the exit doors in the evening, tears start to stream down my face. I am going home, yes, but my home is empty now. No hugs. No kisses on that big black nose. The immensity of this loss literally broke my heart. Elisabeth sent me two pieces written by Leigh Anna Thompson on The Equals Record some time ago. I could barely read Leigh Anna’s articles, so I did not finish the story of her loss of Max and Samus. It was too painful, too real and moving. But the few words I was able to read helped me to realize a very important thing---I AM NOT ALONE. There are many other people who consider animals our best companions and cry the most burning tears when our babies leave us.

Because Gaia was my happy baby. I still remember the first drive home in the car with her. I wanted to hold her in my arms, but my two-month-old yellow lab was already too playful to stay still. She spent her first night sleeping close to my bed. She was not alone, she had a new family, who was ready to give her all the love in this world.

I fell in love with her sooner than she fell in love with me. It’s not easy to share my feelings in a language that is not my native one, but my love was pure, wholehearted. She was the first very innocent being in my life. No words were needed, only positive things were shared. Long walks, relaxation, playing, hugs, vacations, afternoons on the couch, dinners with her staring at me and craving for food. And now all the gestures and habits, those little things that have made me happy for so long, are gone.

I was on vacation with my husband (Halloween weekend) in the south of Italy when my mom texted me. I HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO TELL YOU, CAN I CALL? I understood right away. Yes, mothers of dogs have the sixth sense, too. Mamma told me Gaia had a severe internal bleeding, and there was an 80% chance she wasn’t going to survive the night. Dany and I ran back to the hotel, picked our luggage. My wonderful husband drove all night, 9 hours straight, while I couldn’t stop crying. I felt panic. Pure and simple panic. Time was running, and there was an entire country to cross from South to North. 600 miles. I arrived at the animal clinic Sunday morning at 7 AM. I knew my Gaia was inside there, and I wanted to see her. The vet suggested me to give her a few more hours and see if she would recover. The emotion of seeing me could be dangerous. I was confused. Just a few hours before they said she was dying, and now she seemed to feel better? I was happy and worried sick at the same time. So I waited, my heart full of mixed feelings. Could she survive? Could she come back home, perhaps? And she did. My Gaia was so strong to recover in the space of a few hours. Someone heard my prayers. OK, she was weak, had to take medicines, and have a CAT scan. But in the meantime, she could come home with me and rest. On Monday, the CAT scan broke my dreams once again---the liver was in a terminal condition. Tumor? Leukemia? Still a few days and the results of the tests would come. But at the same time, given her state, few days seemed to be all we had left.

I am a copy editor. The good thing about my job is that I can work from home, too, if I need. And how could I even think of going to the office when my Gaia apparently had such a short time left? So I sat close to her in the living room for the following days, wondering for how long the situation would last, and hoping the answer was forever. It was a long week of tears and hope, days when I couldn’t eat or sleep. Gaia did not seem to feel pain, she was weak, and very sweet. She was all hugs and kisses. She must have thought I was going nuts, breaking into tears every now and then.

On Saturday morning, November 10th, it was Gaia who told me that she couldn’t resist anymore. I knew it. I just felt that Friday night was the last night. So in the morning I looked into her eyes, and she was asking me to let her go. I knew what I had to do. I had discussed it with my family and we did not want her to suffer, so we called the vet. I don’t want to share her last hours. They were the worst of my life. I wanted to hold her little and innocent soul---if I couldn’t keep her body with us, her soul had to remain with me forever. I could not stand or talk. I wanted to live forever in those hours. I prayed to God. And then I prayed the Sun, and the Moon, asking them to stop. Why not? Please, please, please, I need more time. And I squeezed my eyes as if this could make my prayers sound more pure. I had recently read Mitch Albom’s “The Time Keeper”. So I asked to become Father Time, to have an hourglass in my hands and be able to stop the time. But it didn’t work.

So now I am alone. Gaia lives in my heart. She is still in the house somehow---my mother still worries to keep the food out of her reach. She tells me she expects to see Gaia sleeping on her couch, or stealing an apple in the kitchen. But no, she is gone.

11 years and 4 months. In this time I graduated, I got my masters degree, I went to America and taught Italian for 3 years (oh, 3 years flying back to Italy every chance I got to make up for the time we were losing), I got married, and I started a new career in publishing. Eleven years of big changes, with my best friend/sister/daughter/companion Gaia always in our big family house, filling it with her presence. Always here close to us. Man, all those moments I gave for granted. Is it possible to have no regrets at all? I don’t think so, but I’m sure my girl was happy. She was a human, in a family of humans. And she was the most cheerful and spontaneous and loyal in the big house.

Many friends, dogs’ parents like me, told me she must be in some other place now, happy and not feeling any pain. I believe this is true, and feel her presence in the backyard when I open the windows in the morning. I believe right now she is here in my living room, in that corner where she used to sit. She is looking at me with those big sweet hazelnut eyes. She smiles. This gives me solace, for a while. And then I suddenly break, I cry like a baby because I miss her so badly. I physically miss her, I miss the fact that every day she was teaching me something new and precious.

And I find myself wondering if my sorrow will ever take another shape, the shape of the Sun, or the Moon maybe? The Sun will shine, warming me with her memory every day. And the Moon will shine, too, watching over me while I sleep and dream---I dream of her with me in the old days, and I dream of the new days that will come, in some other place, space and time.

I love you, Gaia.

Thank you all for reading this.