On our Hawaii vacation, my favorite time of day was morning when I woke up before the rest of the island, sat outside with my journal and coffee, and watched the sky brighten as the ocean crashed below and the birds awoke and called to each other. It was the day greeting the day, and I was there to witness it.
Here in Petaluma, I’ve enjoyed a different version of this ritual that brings back some of that magic. The first thing I do when I wake up is draw the curtains back and let in the light. My view is the neighbor’s roofline, the gray sky, and the trees in the background with the occasional crow. But some mornings I’ll see two doves flirting on my fence, or notice the bright blossoms on our rose bush. Mostly, though, I enjoy the natural light of the morning, brightening our once dark living room.
For years, we’ve left the curtains closed in our home. At one time, the curtains were plantation shutters with a broken pull that made it hard to keep open without some sort of Boy Scout knot jury-rigging. So mostly, we kept the windows covered, the room dark unless lit by lamps.
Our dog Jasper, unused to the view outside, would bark like a maniac whenever we did let the daylight in. He found offense with the smoke from our neighbor’s chimney, the morning steam that rose off the roofline, and the crows on the fence. Anything that scared him sent him into attack mode, his spit spraying on the window as he screamed at anything that moved outside. So when we switched to curtains, our attempt at making it easier to let the daylight in, they remained closed for our dog’s sanity, and for ours.
My morning routine back then was in a dark room, the only light coming from the lamp on my desk. I kept it low, and I felt irritated if anyone turned on the kitchen light or opened the drapes. Jasper lay quiet at my feet, sleeping while I wrote. It was my idea of a perfect morning, and he remained undisturbed as long as the curtains remained shut.
But during the day, the curtains still had to be closed. The living room was a dark, uninviting place. We neglected it because we didn’t enjoy the room. Jasper’s regular bouts of sickness were etched in the carpet as dark stains. The room held too many couches. Clutter covered my writing desk. The house felt chaotic, dark, at war with itself.
When I lost my child to still birth 17 years ago, I settled into a world of darkness. I left the curtains shut, lying on a couch surrounded by chaos. My once clean home became overrun by toys. The kids entertained themselves while I disappeared into the furniture, became the furniture. The house was a cave where death and sadness permeated the air, infecting all of us into a deep depression. A year later, and the kids and I moved into my parents’ home. The house was bathed in light compared to the darkness of our previous home, and I basked in the glow, coming alive once again with the streaming sunshine.
When we put the dog down at the end of last July, the darkness in our home remained, deepened. We’d been recovering from significant changes, aside from the dog. But once the dog was gone, the darkness was heavier, the guilt and grief weighing us down over the horrendous decision we had to make. We’d killed our dog, the same dog who rested at my feet and nuzzled his head against my legs, who offered “I love you” growls in the back of his throat while staring at me with coffee eyes, who playfully ran circles around the room in bursts of energy, and who gently took blueberries from my fingers as if picking up a newborn kitten.
He was also the dog who rushed the door anytime someone knocked, bit almost everyone who entered our home, and tore the flesh from my daughter’s arm in a surprise attack that wasn’t really a surprise, but a final straw.
In the moments he reacted in violence, he wasn’t Jasper, but some other dog. His coffee eyes turned obsidian, his teeth gnashing without warning. Afterwards, when he came back to us, he was remorseful, knowing he’d done something wrong and unsure how to fix it. We didn’t know how to fix it, either. We’d learned how to move around him with caution, avoided touching him unless he expected it, and kept the curtains shut tight to help him remain calm. When he bit Shawn’s elderly parents, the kids’ friends, my father, and a visiting child, we ceased visitors. If we kept everyone out, Jasper would remain calm. But when he attacked my daughter, we knew the end was long overdue. We’d altered our lives drastically for an animal that couldn’t be fixed, and as long as he was alive, anyone around him was in danger.
The house remained dark after his passing. In the first few weeks, everything felt emptier. My legs missed his warm head pressed against them. My hand missed the soft fur at the crown of his head. Our floors collected food I hadn’t known the dog had been cleaning for us. His sounds were ghosts in my ears—the tapping of his claws on the hardwood; the exhale of air as his nose pressed at the gap under our door, making his presence known; the whine in his yawn.
But time is a healer. Just over ten months since his death, we’ve started letting the sunshine back in. The room, once cluttered, has been cleaned to an enjoyable state. We even cleaned the stains in the carpet, the last proof that we’d ever had a dog. And at my son’s high school graduation party, we had family over without fearing they’d be attacked.
And every morning, I pull those curtains back and invite in the day, settling into the quiet morning as the day greets the day. The world no longer feels dark, but full of color. The grief that had overwhelmed all of us has been changing into something new—still there, but smaller, manageable. Last year’s heavy darkness is this year’s vibrant possibilities. We’re pulling weeds outside, filling blank walls with art and shelves, opening up once-cramped spaces, and letting the daylight back in.
The darkness is over. Let there be light.