Grief as A Pop Song

Stanley was more like a Newfoundland than a Labrador in that he disliked people being in the water. Herding me back to shore when I waded in Lake Erie. Fetching the stick a few times, spitting it out in the water (out of our reach), and spending the rest of the time sniffing the sand for places to pee. Stanley hated water so much, he even watched over the baby’s tiny plastic whale-shaped tub, frantically nudging us to lift her if she cried.

Stanley also hated dancing to the point where I jokingly called him “The Dad from Footloose.” His face would set in stern disapproval. He would bump into your legs and try to box you into a corner where you couldn’t move about. He would bring toys and blankets to try to distract you. He especially hated it if you had the baby while dancing – he never liked her lifted, twirled, or subjected to any sudden movements. There were many a Whitney Houston “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” pandemic work-from-home dance breaks that were shut down because he wasn’t having it.

He didn’t really like singing, either. Before the tumors spread, and he could sleep comfortably on his back, I would frequently cradle him in my arms like a baby. I’d sing pop songs from turn-of-the-millennium boy bands that were popular in my youth. He tolerated it because he liked the attention. He also tolerated the hours of lullabies that stopped his newborn sister from crying.

Stan probably hated hide-and-seek the most. It was short-lived whenever we played, as he quickly became upset. Perhaps he really thought I was lost and in trouble. He would play along for a few seeks, and then frantically headbutt “Stop it!”

The way to get him to locate me the fastest (and to know the hide-and-seek game was afoot) was to belt out the melodic Tarzan vocalization in the aptly named 1985 song “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora (link below, so you can appreciate the absurdity). It was not a hypothesis that I tested, but something that happened once by chance that stuck.

This impossibly upbeat earworm is still in my musical repertoire. Whenever it comes up on playlists, or spills out of my mouth during late-night pop-folk-traditional-country-hymnal lullaby mashups, I have a few sparkling seconds after the leading:


where I recall the love and solidarity Stan and I had. The hours of us against the world. The Tarzan Boy call worked to summon him from anywhere in the house. It worked if we were separated by long distances in the forests and swamps of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The emotion of anticipating hearing him clack up the stairs or burst through the brush does not leave.

I truly believe he would get back to me if we were allowed the honor of playing hide-and-seek one last time.