There’s this idea in literature that a writer makes a setting feel real by describing its boundaries. You place the reader in a room, for example, by describing the play of light and shadow against the wallpaper. I think similarly, when a person is gone, we might see them most clearly by recalling how they were in relationship with others. Since Hannah died, I keep thinking of her connection with her dog Gus. Somehow Gus is the prism that sends her light shining back at me.
I met Hannah at Cottonwood Gulch in 2013, and we quickly established the unlikely fact that we had both grown up in Cedar Rapids. So right away I thought, I know where this girl is from. Then I learned that we were from the same neighborhood, had gone to the same high school and sung in the same choirs — and then I thought, I *really* know where this girl is from. Having that shared background and context gave me a keen appreciation for all than Hannah accomplished in her life — for all her range of experiences and adventures. I knew where she came from and how far she had traveled.
We reconnected at the Gulch during the 90th reunion in 2016, shortly after she returned to New Mexico from Alaska, and that’s when I met Gus. Others may remember the story more accurately, but as I recall it, Gus was a neighborhood dog, fairly neglected by his legal owners, and Hannah befriended him gradually, started taking him on hikes… then on a rafting trip… and eventually it became evident that this was her dog now, and she was going to need to contact the owners and ask if she could take him for good. She flew him back to the Southwest with her. I still grin, imagining his snarfles wafting up from the luggage compartment.
Over the past few years in Albuquerque, I saw Hannah less often as we both developed new communities in town outside our lovely little cadre of mutual Gulch friendships. I was so impressed with how she threw herself into various scenes here, with how many ways she found to get meaningfully involved. One thing that kept us in touch, though, was our dogs. We regularly shared dog-care back and forth with Hannah, Aaron, and their various housemates, who were kind hosts to our dog Soba (in spite of her prowess as an escape artist), and we always enjoyed having Gus around in return.
It’s strange to admit that this is the story I focus on, because again, I might have it wrong, and regardless, I wasn’t even there. But somehow this is the story that returns Hannah to me, in all her grace, her courage, her compassion, her humanity. I see her so clearly, on the front porch of that stranger’s house in Alaska. Just an Iowa girl, a long way from home. I can see her step forward, take a deep breath, and reach for the doorbell.