The first time I met Katie I was livid. Seventh grade, my mom decided that we needed a guard dog after our house was burglarized. I knew this was a terrible idea. But nonetheless, I came home one day to find a two–year–old rescue pitbull, tail wagging and tongue out in the closest thing to a canine grin.
In the last six years, my prophecy has long been proven true. Katie was the worst guard dog. She rolled on her back when anyone visited our house, let my little sister dress her in tutus, and only ever attacked the vacuum cleaner. And much to my chagrin, Katie would follow me everywhere; always ready for a ride, hopping into my car and smiling back at me from the passenger seat.
We’d drive for hours with the radio blasting an assortment of A Tribe Called Quest, Phoebe Bridgers, and Simon & Garfunkel. She’d lean her head out the window, and, if the road was empty, I would too. Subject to my many rants, she was probably the only being to ever sit silently through a signature Norah monologue. She was my favorite passenger.
My little sister gushed over that dumb dog; her entire camera roll was littered with pictures of Katie, from close–ups of her nose to artistic portraits. I, on the other hand, never took many photos. I often joke it’s because I read Susan Sontag too literally, but really, I just never thought to take a picture of Katie in my passenger seat. She’s always been there. When I’m singing, crying, coming home from a long day. I was so used to her just being around, I never found a need to remember her.
In the age of social media, every moment with my friends was interrupted by a photo. I relished these moments with Katie as untainted. To take a picture was to pause the moment, stop driving, and say “Look, here Katie.” It would transport this moment outside of this car, and, selfishly, I wanted to save these moments with Katie just for me. I told myself, what use is a picture when every time I sit in my car the real thing is right beside me?
So, the only commemoration I have of those car rides is entirely unintentional. A product of a road trip to Denton, Texas only existing because I wanted to send my friend a picture to prove I had arrived. It’s an unremarkable photo hastily executed, with no deeper intention than to send a text. My car’s a mess and you can see my uncle approaching in the side view mirror to greet me. Katie smiles ear to ear.
But now, it’s all I have left of those holy car rides. That once trivial photo represents six years of love, a catalog of memory rather than mundanity. A photo means everything, once it becomes irreplicable.
Three weeks before I left for my sophomore year of college, I drove Katie to the vet. I carried her into the back seat since she had trouble jumping in. I turned my head around at every turn to make sure she was okay, unaccustomed to her behind me. Katie sat on my feet as the vet told me she only had two months left. On the car ride back, I opened all the windows and sang along to the car radio as Katie and I always have. I drove a few extra laps around the house before I pulled into the garage.
For three months, Katie held on from across the country and all I had were the pictures my family sent. It was a privilege of the digital age that she was only a click away. Those pictures were the trivial sort that I never cared for before, in my righteousness, but now I waited till the end of the day for those pictures as a reminder that she was still holding on.
Still, no matter how many photos my family sent, they weren't enough. After all, I know she was looking at the camera, not me. I knew those pictures were taken at least three times by my mom so that she looked less swollen. I know that the lesions and puke were out of frame, the fever unseen. I know those photos were incomplete, but still, I analyzed each pixel for the details no one will spare, zooming in as far as quality allows.
There was a cynical part of me that said these photos weren’t really Katie; they were a representation of Katie filtered by mom’s camera broken up into impersonal digital pieces to be sent across the country. These photos are immortal, while Katie was painfully not. But as fragmentary as they are, I tossed aside my righteousness and held those photos close: They were the closest I could be, and the closest I will ever be again, love all blurry and askew.
I won't turn to the passenger seat again and see Katie grinning at me. All I have is this one photo, as she smiles in perpetuity.