I feel unmoored. Only in the last few days did I turn the corner of having been home from Australia and New Zealand as long as I had been there. The first week we were back, we had to deal with our dog Max’s sudden illness, which caused him to act very differently and threw us into a state of emergency where, for instance, we felt that at least one of us had to be in the house at all times. And since we put him to sleep, the apartment still feels foreign.

My normal strategy for asserting control over my space is cleaning, and I did a lot of cleaning in the days after we lost Max. It only emphasized the absence, though. The spot where his bowl used to be cries out for the bowl — the lack is more visible than the bowl itself ever was. The same goes for the space where his dog bed used to be, for the couches with no drool spots or fur, for the pristine white duvet cover that shockingly stays that way for more than a couple hours.

The Girlfriend took a business trip for several days, and I thought that having the place to myself would help me feel more settled. I usually cherish time to myself, my own personal ritual of ordering Chinese food and watching original Star Trek in the evening (the only series The Girlfriend won’t watch), the unstructured time when I can putter around the house, play piano, dip into various books, etc. But I almost avoided being home, making social plans for every night she was gone. When I did stay home, I was almost fanatically on task, always working on something for my writing or course prep. I did order my Chinese food, and when the delivery guy rang the buzzer, nothing happened. The shoes by the door remained in their tidy little row, unmolested.

This weekend, The Girlfriend forgot he was gone. On Sunday afternoons, I will often play the piano while she reads. Max seemed to enjoy my piano practicing, probably because it was the only time when either of us would spend so much time sitting near his dog bed. (Getting up on the couch was difficult for him toward the end — in retrospect we didn’t realize how difficult, because he didn’t want to let it show.) After I’d been playing a few minutes, she went looking for him in the bedroom, then broke down in tears. I didn’t know what to say.

The start of classes brought no respite. My schedule is completely different from how it has been for the last five years — I now teach four days a week instead of three, and most days I’m heading home by 1:30 or 2:00. Shimer feels different, too. The pending move to North Central College, which is a near-miraculous event that has quite literally saved the college’s life, has disrupted the usual rhythm of planning and deliberation. It feels like everything is in limbo, like we can’t make any decisions right now because it’s not yet clear which decisions we will need to make. And to me at least, our physical premises feel somehow hollowed out by the knowledge that we will soon be moving. A malfunctioning printer, a burned-out lightbulb — it somehow doesn’t feel worth the bother to try to get it fixed.

Could the same be true of my apartment? We will need to move next year to facilitate my commute to the suburbs. I don’t think it can be the same thing, though. Shimer’s facilities at IIT always felt somehow provisional to me. I never really “settled in” at my office, for instance. Even if it’s not due to the knowledge that I will be moving out, though, my home doesn’t quite feel like home, just like Shimer doesn’t feel quite like Shimer.

Something similar has been going on online. It may sound trivial, but it’s been a big part of my life for a really long time. Last year I was driven from Twitter, which had weirdly started to feel like an online home to me, and Facebook still feels foreign. My Twitter participation got me out of the habit of regular blogging, and now it feels weird to return. I’ve always done posts like this, for instance, always mixed a confessional or personal element into my blogging — but it feels somehow out of place now. This place doesn’t feel like an online home anymore. I don’t feel as free or settled in. Sometimes when I post I feel like I’m doing it for the sake of keeping the thing alive.

The question that arises for me is whether I really need to feel settled, indeed whether I have ever actually been settled. For a few years, I suppose it felt like it — but in retrospect there were always things throwing me off, like The Girlfriend starting school, then spending a summer in San Francisco, then her brief move to Minneapolis, etc., etc. Life happens.

It feels different this time, though. It feels like too many things at once. It feels more like things are ending than that a new phase is starting, like I’m being asked to slowly wind down the life I’ve known and restart. And all I know how to do is put my head down and work and keep cleaning the already spooky-clean house.

7 thoughts on “Unmoored

  1. I actually just finished a long discussion with my first year students about grief, and specifically grief rituals. Like, for Victorians in mourning, it wasn’t uncommon for widows to wear black in public for more than a year to mark their altered social condition and state of mind. In the contemporary US, we’re given short bursts of time to privatize our grief at home, and remain away from the workplace. But this is typically only granted to us when a human who is very close to us dies. More American workplaces are starting to offer pet bereavement leave. But it’s still uncommon, and policies like this have their detractors. Point being: grief is difficult to contain. It puts little roots down in every aspect of our lives. And those roots disturb what was there before; they unmoor. It doesn’t ultimately matter whether we cue our mourning status with color coded clothing, or if we just seal ourselves off at home. It’s still a powerful force. I’m really sorry for your loss of Max. I always enjoyed listening in on your thoughts about a dog’s life.

  2. Thanks, Beatrice. I’m now picturing people reading the post and saying, “Obviously the dog is the main problem here!” It’s new for me, though — I haven’t really had to deal with the loss of someone who was part of my day-to-day life at that time.

  3. So sorry for your loss Adam, for all of the unsettledness that it has caused, and all of the other unsettledness that seems to be going on at the same time. One of our cats got very sick very quickly earlier this year just as my wife was going to Europe for two weeks. I had to make the decision to put him to sleep alone and then tell her about it over Skype when she woke up and I was just going to bed. Then I met her in London (the original plan) and we were sad there and then we had to come home to a house without him in it, jet-lagged and sad all over again. Rough stuff, and I wish you the best on getting through it.

  4. I’m very sorry to hear about Max, Adam. I enjoyed hearing about him because there were a lot of parallels with my own dog(s).

    My wife and I had to put our dog Otto down almost six months ago to the day and it sounds strange to say, but it was the saddest thing I’ve ever gone through. Having come out the other side of it, what I learned was the grief, like beatrice said, is a powerful force and it insists on being reckoned with. I could not finesse it by posting pics and nice words online and pretending that was me getting past it (like I tried to do). For me, I had to tell a few people who knew Otto and knew how much we loved him the story of what happened and listen to their stories of how he was a good dog and funny things he’d done. Those conversations had very long pauses of me trying not to cry and failing repeatedly. I wish you the best in finding your way through it.

    I hope that when you do, you find your feet are a little firmer in terms of all the other things that have seemed to go off kilter as well.

  5. I’m sorry to hear this and can empathize with the disorientation of losing a beloved animal friend. For what it’s worth, I still look forward to checking this blog one or more times a day. I don’t use Facebook so I can’t keep up there and completely understand why you decided to abandon Twitter, though I do miss reading your tweets. All to say: your entries are valued even when I don’t have the time to commit to a comment thread.

    On a related note, which you have also raised before: I wish there were a way to enter the “comment” dialogue in a slightly lighter way. I often feel compelled—and for good reasons–to reflect and “draft” before I comment. But this insistence (perhaps idiosyncratic) often results in my abandoning commenting altogether, eg when I run out of time or energy for the day, and by the next day I have usually missed the discussion “peak.” Twitter and Facebook seem to avoid this issue through character limits, a culture of casual tone, or the unfortunate habit of consistent “logging in”/”checking.” Maybe a common parlance or recognized form for “lighter” comments would help readers engage the threads in a friendly way, making it seem more “homely,” without said comments becoming distractions and diluting the heavier discussion. Do the blog bylaws stipulate procedure for amending the “Comment Policy?”

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