Here Lies Fido

Two hundred 11-year-olds flooded into the outdated lobby of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Excited chatter echoed off the marble floors and into the ears of the unfortunate visitors who chose to pay the suggested donation to look at the art that day. For many of us in the sixth grade, this visit was our first interaction with art that wasn’t a “High School Musical” poster ripped out of a TigerBeat magazine. We began to walk up the stairs and through the halls of European and Asian art, but these weren’t what we came to see; we were here to see “Pompeii: Tales from an Eruption.”

In 79 A.D, complete destruction came to the ancient town of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted and cloaked the town in lava and left mountains of ash in its wake. It wasn’t until the 18th century that archeologists discovered that under all those layers of decay, the city was still intact. After centuries of uncovering relics, remains, and sometimes full rooms from the site, their findings went on a tour around the world, and it somehow made its way to our simple Southern town.

 Photo from National Geographic

Photo from National Geographic

Of course at the time, I didn’t know anything about this. Other than being told that the correct pronunciation was “Pom-pay” and not “Pomp-y” (a resounding realization to our young minds), we did not really know what we were about to see. We had only briefly learned about the story of Pompeii in class when we were studying Greco Roman mythologies. That week we learned about Romulus and Remus, Hercules, Persephone, and so many more with other names I couldn’t pronounce. These stories had everything: action, romance (which I would later learn was a combination of lust and liibdo), and impressive women bringing equal parts beauty and chaos to the world. But they were tales from a time long ago that had no immediate bearing on my 21st century existence as a sheltered sixth grader.

"The story really wasn’t a myth. All those people really died, and here I was at their funeral."

We walked by pottery, mosaics, statues, and jewelry. I had never been around such old things before, and it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that these belonged to real people in a real town all those centuries ago. In my head, the story of Pompeii was just another myth, but as I traveled through these rooms, it became clear it was once a reality.

As I continued to journey through this labyrinth of objects, I found myself standing in front of giant lumpy plaster shapes. Had I entered into the contemporary room by mistake? “Untitled Forms in Space I, II, and III” seemed to be a mystery to me, but by the time I got to “IV,” they began to take shape. Loose outlines of figures came into view, and I realized they were human. Some were people lying down, some were children, and there was even a pair of lovers locked in an eternal embrace. Curious, I walked over to the wall label. It read, “Casts of the dead.” Dead? Things slowly began to click into place. The story really wasn’t a myth. All those people really died, and here I was at their funeral.

Weaving in and out of the menagerie of ghosts, I come across one not like the others. It was shorter, wider, and had two extra legs; it was a dog. I had grown up with dogs my whole life, and for an awkward girl on the cusp of puberty, they served as a great comfort and pillow to cry on. What if this dog did the same for a girl just like me in Pompeii? Seeing Fido like this was my breaking point. I could no longer fight the growing lump in my throat and allowed the tears that had been pooling to run over.

 Photo from Museum of Artifacts

Photo from Museum of Artifacts

At age 11, I had only dealt with death once before: my grandfather. The one thing I remembered from his funeral was watching my grandmother cry as the creaky organ played at the beginning of the service. By the next day, I was back in class laughing with my friends, and that haunting music had been forgotten. Standing here a few years later face-to-face with these plasters was different. Death seemed more real—more final. The droning music from my grandfather’s funeral creeped back up and echoed in my head as I made my way through the rest of the graveyard. The Fates had cut the people of Pompeii’s strings with scissors forged from volcanic fire. When will they decide to cut mine?

Two hundred 11-year-olds made their way back down to the same lobby, past the same unassuming visitors, to the line of the same yellow school busses that awaited us, but I wasn’t the same. Two hundred 11-year-olds made their way safely back to the school that day, but one arrived a little more shaken than the rest.

That afternoon I went home, hugged my dogs, and asked God to send Fido a boat so that he could cross the River Styx and find peace on the other side.