Michael Mordarski: Accepting loss

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 - 7:36am

There is a story I often tell people which I believe captures the absolutely cliché nature of my “all-American childhood” — and also demonstrates why I grew up a little more mature than other kids.

It’s a story about my dead dog.

Way back in time when my imagination flourished and my sense of society was confined to the people in my Catholic school, my parents decided that a puppy would make an excellent addition to the white picket fence, big backyard and two-screaming-kids family they had created.

And after a trip to the local humane society, they brought home what they called a puppy, but it was obvious that this “puppy” was something others did not want. With a grotesque underbite and over-muscled body — this pug, Pomeranian and Chihuahua mix sat unwanted in the pound for weeks before my parents adopted him on the spot. My overjoyed younger sister and I named him Cosmo, after a goofy character in the Nickelodeon show “The Fairly OddParents.”

And Cosmo was odd — he proceeded to terrorize our neighborhood by jumping fences, eating bees, fighting German Shepherds, eating more bees, literally attacking mailmen and eating so many bees.

Yet he also fulfilled all the other cliché obligations that only these brilliantly stupid and loyal animals can do. He ran alongside us down grassy trails in the summer and chased us in our sleds down Michigan hills in the winter. He slept at the foot of our beds every night. And he barked and jumped in joy when we came back home, whether we were gone for three minutes or three days.

And as a ten-year-old boy growing up in the suburban Midwest, my life was complete with my small, moronic companion who would run alongside my bike as I rode around my neighborhood. All I needed was a paper route and the theme music from “The Andy Griffith Show.” There exists a dynamic between a kid and a dog that I can only hope everyone has the opportunity to experience. The fierce, undying loyalty of a canine mixed with the innocent and loving qualities of childhood creates something that is impossible to replicate. I spent every day with that dog and loved nearly every second.

So, when he died suddenly after only two years, my fragile, pathetic 11-year-old psyche was permanently damaged.

It was cold and windy day in early February — my parents picked my sister and I up from school and drove us home to the shallow grave my father dug in our backyard. Cradling our pet for the last time, my dad placed him inside as the wind whipped the unearthed dirt and snow around us.

And as my family walked back inside the house, I sat there on the cold packed earth with my father’s oversized coat draped over my shoulders, trying to apply the whole “God’s plan” or “everything happens for a reason”attitude to the situation in front of my innocent life. Sitting alone outside for some ambiguous amount of time, I began my journey into the depths of cynicism and negativity.

And, of course, the experience of being robbed of the joy that a dog brings to you did make me appreciate the fragility of life and the necessity to cherish every experience. But at 11, it also underlined the idea that the randomness of life makes no sense at times. From that point on, I began to become even more astounded and confused at our expectations of life — the way in which we believe our lives and our futures are supposed to adhere to some specific plan of comfort and happiness.

At 11 years old, I had everything in my childhood: a fairytale of some middle-class white boy with bikes, trees, video games, grade school football, Catholic schools, Christmases with fireplaces and decorated trees hidden by stacks of presents — life was adhering to this script of comfort.

And the unexplainable tragic death of my dog was my first deviation from my fairy tale life, the first time I questioned why exactly we expect everything to work out and adhere to something comfortable and righteous. His death brought out my first real attempts at questioning my faith, my life and the status quo. There is no clear explanation for why such tragic things happen — people comfort themselves finding a purpose for such tragedies, and in this instance, I thought I found nothing.

Yet, and hypocritically I might add, his death did bring me to reason that life will not adhere to some plan or always work out. And from 11 years old to present day, I have to accept and apply that within my life.

Michael Mordarski can be reached at mmordars@umich.edu