by Hannah Gentry
By May 2020, the world had begun to adapt to the many changes brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. As a college student, I had to adjust to my classes going fully online for the rest of the semester. Zoom calls became the new normal. Instead of sitting around a table making eye contact with fellow classmates, we were accidentally cutting each other off and muting our mics so the professors wouldn’t hear our relatives yelling at the TV. Before we could escape to the library or go to a local coffee shop, but now we were forced to study at home where a million distractions live. From cats walking on keyboards to parents barging in without knocking, focusing during class became a thing of the past. With finals being online, not only did we have to study the material, but we had to navigate a new way of taking exams. It was during the middle of finals week—when my stress and anxiety was at an all-time high—that my mom came into my room carrying several empty cardboard boxes. As she dropped them onto my bedroom floor, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “we’re moving.”
Long story short, the house we had lived in for nearly fifteen years was becoming more expensive than it was worth. The bank gave us two options: either we refinance the house, or we sell it. My parents chose the latter. Not even a full minute after taking my last honors exam, I picked up a box and tossed my old dolls into them. Before our house was even up on the market, we packed away things we didn’t use, tossed junk (like a broken vacuum and decade-old candy) into the trash, and opted to donate the rest (old clothes, a Hot Wheels set, etc). I wasn’t confident that many people would be looking to buy a house during a global pandemic, but to my surprise, only days after we listed it, we had our first showing.
I lived with my parents, two dogs (a Collie and a Chihuahua) and a cat. For house showings, we had to get all of the animals into my car, which turned into a huge ordeal every time. The car rides were miserable. While my dad was at work, my mom and I were alone to handle the pets. My car is a small, red Hyundai Accent meant to seat only four people. It wasn’t designed to carry two people, a large dog with anxiety, an unhappy cat, and a hyper Chihuahua all at once. We were lucky if it took us only a few minutes to get Chelsea (Collie) up into the back seat. Chloe (Chihuahua) and Ashe (cat) were small enough to be taken in against their will, but Chelsea put up a fight every time. We would then drive off with the animals and wait in a Starbucks parking lot for the agent to contact us. Unlike normal dogs who enjoy car rides, my dogs have major anxiety and associate cars with going to the vet. My dogs would hyperventilate out of nervousness (which included excessive drooling) and my cat, Ashe, threw a verbal tantrum from his carrier. Sometimes we had to do this two or three times a day. It became an exhausting routine.
One of the major difficulties with complete strangers perusing our home during a global pandemic is that after every showing we had to go on a disinfectant spree. We’d wipe down all high-touch surfaces (doorknobs, handles, etc.) and spray Lysol on anything we could. Doing this multiple times a day tended to leave the house smelling like a hospital. This became our new daily routine. The more we packed, the more real moving became. When we started to get offers, I realized it was really happening. We were leaving behind the house I had always known.
I didn’t want to forget my home. I began to study the walls of my room and commit them to memory. I paid attention to how the light peering through my windows created sun patches on the carpet. I studied the large crack running down the wall to the corner of my door which my dad turned into a Doctor Who reference. I’d pause to take in the sight of the loft where I had spent my childhood days building Lego castles and playing make-believe. I was even nostalgic for the staircase. I recalled how I used to make a sled out of the lid to my toybox and convince my brother to push me down the stairs. Moments like that—which were so simple yet taken for granted—flooded my mind. I realized I wouldn’t see the same familiar environment anymore. The walls in my bedroom that used to be pink but were now painted grey, the laundry room where we’d play hide and seek, everything, was no longer going to be mine. It was like a shift from childhood innocence to adult awareness. It felt bittersweet to have to leave behind my home, but so long as I had my family, I was okay with it. However, I was not prepared to lose someone very dear to me.
Amidst all of the moving chaos, my Chihuahua, Chloe, began acting strange. She had already been in and out of the vet’s office the past couple of months for minor health reasons. She was getting old, so I didn’t think much of her strange behavior at the time. People tend to stereotype Chihuahuas as mean dogs, but Chloe was always sweet and gentle. She loved laying around on the couch, begging for human food, and she was very protective of us. Yet, as the boxes kept piling up, so did her health issues. She became spontaneously aggressive. I’d go to gently pet her, and she would yelp loudly as though she was in pain. We assumed she was just being moody because of hip pain, but her attitude didn’t get any better. It was getting harder to take her with us in the car during house showings because she’d growl at us (something she never did before). Then, she had trouble sleeping at nights. I’d get up to get a glass at water late in the evening and I’d find her roaming around, staring off at nothingness.
Towards the end of May, Chloe was becoming a shadow of her former self. She became confused on where to go in the house, she threatened to bite Chelsea and Ashe several times, and she stopped being able to recognize my mom (who was her favorite person). We were losing her, and fast. I knew she had some form of dementia, but I tried to deny it and pretend the issue wasn’t there. I wanted to pretend everything was fine because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I denied reality until one day when we were alone together. I sat on the couch next to her. I reached to scratch behind her ears like I always did. Suddenly, she turned around, growled loudly, and bit my hand.
I was stunned and sat there. I looked into her eyes and she stared back at me, lowering her ears. I felt tears fall down my face. “Hey, it’s me, it’s me,” I repeated. Chloe studied me, confused. I wasn’t crying because I was in any physical pain or because she bit my hand. I was distraught because in that moment I knew that she was no longer my dog.
My parents called the vet and set up a time to put Chloe down. We had one more weekend with her. In those final moments we did everything to make her comfortable. When I’d find her wandering around in circles, I’d bring her back to bed. We bought her favorite dog treats. Chelsea and Ashe watched her every move with concern. We stopped hosting house showings for the next few days. We did everything possible to prepare for it, but it wasn’t enough. The night before the appointment, I couldn’t sleep. I woke up early in the morning to spend more time with her before the end. My mother was in tears, and thankfully my dad took the morning off of work to help her. When the time came to take Chloe to the vet, I decided to stay behind to comfort the other animals.
Saying goodbye that morning was difficult. I embraced Chloe and she didn’t growl or resist. If anything, she seemed strangely at peace. My mom carried her out of the house swaddled in my old baby blanket. Chloe looked happy for the first time in days. I wanted to remember her like that, like the good and kind dog she always was, not the lost unhinged soul she became.
Grief is illogical. There is no right way to cope and sadness does not follow a specific pattern. Sometimes it comes in waves when you’re least expecting it, but other times you’re so emotionally numb that it’s almost like it isn’t there. It would be easier if there were specifics on how long you were going to feel sad and how to handle it all, like some magic blueprint. I didn’t have that, but I had my family and plenty of work to do around the house. I buried myself in the moving process. I stayed preoccupied, taking up random tasks—like double-taping the boxes and wrapping towels around glass objects—just to keep my mind busy. Grief only got to me in the silence, in those moments when there’s no one around and nothing left as a distraction. But life moves on, it always does, and I couldn’t afford to focus solely on my emotions. I had to be strong; for my mom, for my pets who had lost a friend, and for myself.
In June we found a house to lease and moved in straight away. Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to breathe until I opened the door to my new bedroom. It only had one window instead of two and it was smaller. The new closet had two doors but was too small to walk into. The walls were a light grayish-white color and I now had brown shaggy carpet. At least the fan had all three light-bulbs, something my old room didn’t have.
The group of movers we hired were surprisingly fast and efficient. By late afternoon, all of our boxes were in their proper rooms and the unpacking process began. Even though we had cut down on so much stuff it still looked like we were hoarders. Once we were finally done unpacking, there honestly wasn’t much else to do.
Moving into a new neighborhood in the wake of COVID-19 presented some difficulties. We couldn’t introduce ourselves to the neighbors and greet them up close. Instead, we would wave and say hello from our yard, and they remained in theirs. Though there were supposedly lots of delicious restaurants and cool places around, I couldn’t visit any of them. There was no period of exploring the neighborhood or getting accustomed to the local area. I didn’t get to walk the large, winding neighborhood trail or visit the lake. I mostly just stayed inside doing nothing. Being isolated is one thing, but being in a new area and in a house that doesn’t even feel like home adds another dimension to the feeling of loneliness.
By the end of it all, I was just so exhausted, both mentally and physically. Being cooped up inside all day didn’t help with my mood, but even if I wanted to leave there was nowhere to go. For some reason it’s hard for me to sleep in a new environment, so for the first couple of weeks I got little sleep. That paired with everything else left me feeling depressed and lonely. The worst part of it all was expecting to see Chloe on the couch, thinking we forgot to feed her some mornings before realizing, and calling out for “the dogs.” It felt like we had left her soul behind in the old house. Now that there was nothing left to distract me from my feelings, I had to accept our new reality. For days I kept to myself, often browsing through old videos of Chloe and coming to terms with her passing. Letting myself feel and taking the time to heal finally gave me a sense of closure.
Having to pack up my entire life and move during a pandemic was not fun, especially when there was already so much stress and fear present in the world. Losing my dog in the middle of the moving process was hard. However, what I learned from the entire experience is that life goes on. We are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. Although it feels like the Coronavirus will never end and America is politically divided, I still have faith that things will improve. We might never “go back to normal,” but we can create a new normal. 2021 is only the beginning of progress. As much as we’d like to leave our problems in 2020, the issues in the world are still present and we have to face them head on. It’ll take time before real improvement is seen, and we will have to let ourselves process and heal from this whole experience, but on the other side is a better tomorrow.