Circle of life

  • Aperture: f/8
  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter: 1/30 sec
  • Camera: NIKON D1H

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

I first photographed Aidan when he was 10 days old, then again for his baptism, then again at five months. He is now 10 months old and is becoming more and more the amazing little person I knew he would be, taking his first steps, babbling his baby language, insatiably curious about the inner workings of everything.

I don’t have children. I will never hear the pitter patter of little feet running through my house, never hear the sound of a child’s laughter echoing throughout the rooms. And yet, I have known these things, in my own way.

And tonight I am learning the bittersweet lesson of letting go.

I understand that there is no comparison between an animal and a human child. But for me, there was never really a distinction. I always knew that there would not be children, always knew that whatever love I had to give would be lavished upon my furry charges.

Boogie was the first, a tiny fluff of fur so small that he easily fit in the palm of my hand. I was enchanted from the moment I laid eyes on him, so smitten that I carried him to my classes in my coat pocket because I couldn’t bear to leave his side. Whenever I went to Mobile, he went with me. If I had an out of town assignment, I found a hotel room that allowed pets. Wherever I was, he was never far away.

How many dark nights did I cry into his fur, wetting the fine hair with my tears? How many times did I reach for him blindly, desperately, clinging for some shred of love, reassurance in the uncertainty of yet another 3 a.m. nightmare? How many afternoons did I stumble to my bed in a depressive haze, wrap my body around his, and absorb his very breath as the suffocating fog rolled in?

And now, another three a.m. is fast approaching. There will be no nightmares tonight. I haven’t slept and doubt I will. Tonight’s horror is the kind you never forget, the kind you struggle to wake from, only to realize that you are already awake and this is no dream — this is your life.

I am losing the closest thing to a child that I have ever known. I hold him in my arms and whisper all the words I have always whispered to him, tell him he is a good boy and that I will always be with him. I stroke his head and choke back the tears, struggle to keep my voice low and soothing so that he might take some comfort in my presence. I brush my fingertips across his eyes, trying to make him close them — not so much for him as for me. His distant gaze is disconcerting. It hurts me to stare into these blank eyes that I don’t recognize. The heavy breathing that is the hallmark of heart disease has passed now, replaced by a shallow shadow of movement that might be considered respiration if you care to cling to hope.

I’ll take whatever I can get.

After months of praying for God to spare his life, I find myself praying the unthinkable.

Please let this end. Please let me be with him when the time comes. Please don’t let him suffer any longer. Please let him know I am here. Please just let him know I am here.

The Xanax lies close at hand, but I don’t allow myself the comfort of its haze. No, I should feel this. I should suffer for every minute he suffers and then some. How many nights did I stay up idly surfing the Internet when I could have spent time with him? How many times did I come home and head straight for my computer, never stopping to say hello to the only creature in the world who ever truly loved me?

Yes. I should feel this. Because for every 3 a.m. that I have needed him — for every night that I was broken, hurt, alone — he was there. I owe him that much.

I have nothing else to give.

Update: Boogie passed away at close to 6 a.m. this morning. Nicholas and I were holding him in our arms.

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