“Are you allowed to eat someone’s ashes?” I stared somberly at my son, belly up in the grass gnawing on a stick of yellow chalk like a rawhide bone. My husband, Jason, took the chalk away from Sid and motioned for me to sit down beside them. It was Easter, and less than a week earlier, my heart had been broken into a million pieces. My dog, Mr. Teets, the love of my life, was now just a tin of granulated sand sitting silently in Sid’s stroller, making zero efforts to get in the holiday spirit and resurrect.
I knew he no longer needed to accompany us on walks. That was probably the only thing I liked about his new form. But I didn’t yet know how to exist without him. I didn’t know how to breathe without him, and yet somehow I was doing it. Functioning. Standing. Living through it.
For fifteen years, my entire adult life, Teets had spent nearly every waking moment planted in my lap. He was my mascot, the other half of my Twitter handle, the co-signer on my first apartment. I could predict his moods and which patch of ivy outside my house he was going to choose to poop in. I could pick him out of a poodle lineup blindfolded and hanging upside down. From his crowded mouth of broken teeth to his sun-damaged penis, I knew every inch of him. He was a part of me, and now, like a cancerous beauty mark, he’d been cut out. I was almost mad at my body for not collapsing right there. I was furious that I was going to digest the pain, that I was going to get used to his absence, that it was going to pass through me and eventually leave, just like he had.
> He was a part of me, and now, like a cancerous beauty mark, he’d been cut out.
Families smiled as they walked past us on the boardwalk, but all I could see were their dogs. German shepherds, Pekingese, Greyhounds. “Did you know Teets?” I’d ask each canine telepathically. “Do you know where he is?” “Are you him reincarnated?” “Blink twice if you want me to steal you from your owner.” No luck.
Yet Teets believed in me. He loved me the way I wish my parents had and trusted me in a way that I didn’t even trust myself. In retrospect, I’m not always sure he had the best instincts. Especially when he would wedge himself into a ball under my brake pedal while I was speeding down the 405, making it impossible to stop. Which was fine, I guess, because I was never really going anywhere anyway. But his faith changed me. When he looked at me, he saw me as better than I was. Stronger, healthier, more capable. With time, I grew into the woman Teets believed me to be. But up until a month ago, I had never been *her* without *him*. When we met, I was a 21-year-old unemployed, anorexic, aspiring actress who quit her job at the Coffee Bean because she was afraid of pumpkin scones. My days were spent driving aimlessly, waiting for my flip phone to ring with news that I’d landed a *Dawson’s Creek* audition. I was arrogant and ambitious yet misguided and clueless, with no idea how to apply any of the shit I’d learned as a theater major toward real life, or even a *Dawson’s Creek* audition.
They always say that when your animal is ready to go, he will tell you. Well, Teets never told me. His body was emaciated to the point where I could count his vertebrae, and he still didn’t fucking tell me. I just woke up one morning and knew it was what I had to do.
> They always say that when your animal is ready to go, he will tell you. Well, Teets never told me.
I don’t remember how I got myself into my vet’s office or who said what to initiate the process. But I remember Teets’s eyes focused on me like they always were. Ever confident that I could handle what was coming. All I know is that we were together.
I’d never mourned anybody besides a couple of great-grandparents and an ex-boyfriend who promised he’d kill himself if we ever parted. I knew Teets’s death would hurt me, and I wanted it to. Feeling pain was confirmation that I’d loved him as hard as I thought I did. What I wasn’t prepared for was that it would get easier. I’d care again about brushing my hair and ingesting 56 grams of carbs before bed. I’d be distracted by life and absentmindedly take a small step forward. But I didn’t want to move forward. I wanted the world to stop. I wanted a Princess Diana–style memorial outside my apartment that would be eternally refreshed by tourists and diehard dog lovers, a procession of women and children sobbing in the streets and chanting his name. I wanted obituaries written and biographers working frantically to find his next of kin. I wanted plaques made, cathedrals built, banners pulled across the sky. I wanted something to hold on to, because the aching was ephemeral.For days I couldn’t talk about anything besides him. I sobbed in the arms of Uber drivers and Seamless deliverymen. I kept my eyes peeled for symbolic objects in department stores. Things he might want me to have to remember him by. “Does Teets want me to buy this Jennifer Meyer necklace I can’t afford but I’ve wanted my whole life?” “Is Teets trying to tell me to buy a Gucci suit for his memorial service? He’d be mortified if I scattered him wearing Donna Karan.” I ate pancakes for dinner. I drank wine with my coffee. I walked around the block in my bathrobe and wore my grief like a badge of honor.
In the beginning my email was flooded with people who’d known him. My Instagram was flooded with people who hadn’t, strangers who understood how exceptional he was, how lucky I was, and how unworthy. But eventually, even Teets’s biggest fan in Uruguay went back to posting pictures of Meredith resuscitating McDreamy. It was happening, life was continuing on like a moving sidewalk I couldn’t control.
> It was happening, life was continuing on like a moving sidewalk I couldn’t control.
I stared at his tin of ashes that, a month earlier, I’d had to fight the urge not to tuck into bed next to me. I ran my fingers over an imprint of his paws and tried to weep the way I did when the vet first presented them. Somehow, though, it was different. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it didn’t hurt as much because in digesting the pain, I’d also ingested him. He was no longer next to me, but I was almost certain his soul was wedged inside me, preventing me from pumping the breaks even if I wanted to.
A close friend (a pet psychic) assured me that some day another animal would enter my life and that I would fall in love in a similar way. I want to believe that. But what I want to believe more is that it will be Teets. Ready to groggily come out of hibernation and join me again on Earth. So until that day comes, I’ll be strong, I’ll be brave, I’ll be the woman he helped me become, but I’ll never stop searching.
“Did you know Teets?” “Do you know where he is?” “Are you him reincarnated?” “Blink twice if you want me to steal you from your owner …”
*Jenny Mollen is the author* of The New York Times *bestsellers* (1) *and* (2)*.*