Content Warning: This article mentions euthanizing pets.
Everyone thinks they have a terrible move-in story. Moving in while it’s pouring rain? It rains, like, once a week in Middletown; you may as well get used to it. Have to get situated without help because of COVID-19 restrictions? At least you were allowed back on campus. Your parents happen to find your weed stash while moving you in? Rough, but I can assure you that mine is worse.
My whole family had driven up to help me settle into Wesleyan—mom, dad, brother, and my dog. Before move-in-day, we spent a few days at my uncle’s farm in Northampton Massachusetts, savoring the last few days we had together. I couldn’t sleep the night before move-in day, anxious about what awaited me. And, as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sleep. My 13-year-old goldendoodle, Shanti, had been shaking all night and keeping my parents up.
Once the rest of us were awake, we decided we would try and find a vet near Wesleyan to see what was wrong. We got into the car and drove an hour south to Middletown. We dropped off Shanti, my brother, and my dad at a local animal hospital, and my mom and I went to get my dorm key.
It wasn’t long before we got the update: Shanti had experienced congestive heart failure and had to be euthanized by the end of the day. My mom and I rushed back to the hospital and we all sat with her as they put her down. After saying our goodbyes, we all drove to campus and tried to power through and cherish the rest of my first day as a student on campus. As my mom so eloquently said in a Facebook post that juxtaposed pictures of me moving in and those of me sobbing next to my dying dog: “What was supposed to be an exciting and wonderful event turned into a surrealistic, heart-wrenching experience.”
College move-in days are the beginning of a new chapter, a chance at a fresh start, and a glimpse into the future. But that day, I could not see myself moving forward. All I could think about was Shanti and how I wished I was with my family so we could mourn together. It felt silly to be crying so much over a dog, but my reaction was also the expression of how much loss I had truly experienced. Pets provide an uncomplicated, unconditional love, and, unlike many human relationships, there are no strings attached.
It took time, but I was able to finally move on. Once things started picking up at school and I started actually doing things, my mind drifted to Shanti less and less. After months of deliberation, we decided we were ready to welcome a new dog to the family. We adopted another goldendoodle, who carries the spirit of Shanti both in her looks and her name (Viva! La Vida, as in “living the life”).
In my past three and a half years at Wesleyan, I was never able to find that hospital, and quite frankly, I didn’t know if I was ready to revisit those memories again. But this past weekend I found myself driving right past it, so I decided to face my fears and drive in.
Sitting in the parking lot, I was transported back to the last time I was there. I started to recall other memories from the first few days of freshman year. I thought about that first hall meeting on move-in day, fighting back tears because it had barely been two hours since I had said goodbye to the dog I had grown up with. I thought about the week of orientation and how I had been excited about all the friends I had made (many of whom I don’t talk to anymore). I thought about the first week of class, and how overwhelmed I was. So many memories that I had repressed were now resurfacing.
Most importantly—cliché as it may sound—I thought about how far I’d come since then. At the time, I was convinced that I would never recover, and yet here I am. Despite the unfortunate beginning, I was able to push through and make a life for myself at Wesleyan. I joined various communities and became a leader in many of them. I met amazing people, both friends and professors, who have changed my life for the better. I discovered a passion for storytelling, which will continue as I pursue journalism post-grad.
Who’s to say whether it was coincidence or fate that a reflective moment like this presented itself so close to graduation; but the closure this incident brought me was incomparable. And not only that, it also gave me the confidence boost I needed for what awaits me after Wesleyan. After all, if I can survive the shittiest of move-in days, I can do anything.
Hannah Docter-Loeb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.