I put my dog to sleep yesterday.
If you haven't had the experience, well, it's terrible. It's long and drawn out, like a nightmare in slow motion. There’s a calm, clinical explanation of the procedure, followed by paperwork, then decisions you have to make when you can barely breathe, much less think. There’s being asked questions like, Do you want his ashes?
No, I have my father's ashes, I said. I don't want any more ashes.
I was holding my dog's lifeless body as the doctor went for the door. I'll give you a few minutes, she said, and I cried at her, Ohgodpleasedon'tleavemealonewithhim. I watched his slack face fall toward me as she gently lifted him from my arms.
The whole time, I thought about my dad. Trying not to let my limbs spontaneously fall apart, I squinted at the florescent lights, whispering, Please please just give me a sign please let me know you're here let me know I'm OK please please please.
I wish I could tell you I felt something.
I left the vet clutching my dog’s leash. They kept his collar; I wanted to go back and get it, but I couldn't make myself. As I walked to my car, a woman called out to me, waving a bunch of tissues in her hand. When she saw my face, she burst into tears and told me how sorry she was; she'd been there before. It's horrible, she said. She put the tissues in my hand and gave me a big hug. He was right there with you the whole time, and he's with you still. He will always be with you. You will see him again. He's crossed that rainbow bridge; he's in a better place.
I wish I could tell you I felt something.
I wish I could tell you I was surprised, or disappointed, that my dad didn't show up last night. Truthfully though, I don't feel my dad anywhere. I never have. I feel like other people are more sure of my dad's continued presence in my life than I am; I get told all the time that He's still with me, he's smiling down on me, he's proud of me... I know these phrases are meant to bring comfort, but the truth is that I long for the sort of certainty they evince, and I'm just not equipped for that kind of faith.
Ghost sightings run deep on my mom's side; I grew up listening to stories about how, during the war, my grandmother evacuated her house because she was warned by her long-dead grandfather; there was a bombing minutes later, and every window of the house was blown in. And she used to chat it up with her mother-in-law in the coat closet, relaying messages in Yiddish to my grandfather that she couldn’t possibly understand because she didn’t speak it.
Then there’s her mother, my great-grandmother, who was pulled from the curb just as a car sped by; that night, she was visited by her dead father, who warned her to be more careful, as he couldn’t be around all the time to take care of her. I'm not sure why this talent, or gift, or whatever, skipped my brothers and me. Maybe we're too skeptical, we weren't raised in a faith, we were never asked to believe anything for which there was no proof—maybe you really need to be hard-wired for that sort of stuff from an early age.
My dad lives on in other ways. And for the most part, it is enough. He’s there in the light-hearted jokes we can now make at his expense, in my terrible Korean accent, in the ways in which my brothers uncannily resemble him both in stature and demeanor. When I am pushing my body to its physical limits, when I can't stop fighting a painstakingly uphill battle, when I pass his terrible jokes on to my students, I know I am my father's daughter. When I create art, he would say that, too, is from him, but let's keep this between us—he couldn't draw for sh*t.
I don't know what's after all this.
I hope my little boy lost is somewhere nice. I hope there's a rainbow bridge that leads to lots of cheese.
In the end, maybe we don’t all need faith. Maybe love is enough religion, for me: I love my family, I love my inimitable sisterhood of friends, I love my job, I love tuna sandwiches served with a half sour pickle, I love the adrenaline rush I get in an airport terminal, I love a quiet day of napping and reading and painting and watching RuPaul's Drag Race. Maybe I can hang my little heart on all that love, and hope the rest works itself out.
I still wait for my dad to appear in a closet and tell me something awesome, or just normal, just him. I had a dream last night that Dad hugged me and told me he was sorry. Did he visit me? Or was it the Xanax and glass of chard I downed when I got home from the vet? I guess the point of faith is that you don't need proof, but since I don't have that gift, I'll just say that it was nice to see his face.
Mikayla Park is a teacher/nonprofit creative person residing in the slums of Beverly Hills. Find her, and her two charming rescue dogs, everywhere at @mikaylapark.