I love my dog. A lot. Too much, probably; last May I ambitiously submitted a “Modern Love” essay to The New York Times that detailed our mutual devotion. I have yet to hear back, and now I hope I never do.
I imagine I’ve run out of salt water. I’ve been crying at work, crying at home, crying in the car. Tears leak into all, like a faucet I cannot fix. It’s getting embarrassing. Even in school, faced with the most benign of prompts, I cry.
Prompt: Write about a long drive.
I am planning a drive to Pleasantview for Saturday. It will be anything but pleasant, though I picked the town for location, not for dramatic effect; it is evenly placed between my town and Steve’s. I’ve never met Steve, nor his wife, but they will both be there, at the Pleasantview Wendy’s, at 10:30.
They want to meet my dog. I’m not sure why. He bit our lab three times and my grandma once. He has a weight problem, an allergy problem, a guarding problem, and his nails grow too fast.
The behaviorist promises he is fixable:
No, he won’t bite kids if you train him around kids.
No, he won’t attack dogs if you bring him to the dog park.
Yes, training will work.
Does this work for normal people, or just dog trainers?
Which children should I volunteer? Hers?
I ruminate. Wherever I go he is there, reminding me of his devotion. I am torn between the teeth I’ve seen and the dog beside me now. He looks up trustingly, with his blue and brown eyes, his small tail twitching with joy, and I can’t help but love him back. He is a friend. He’s seen me through the worst of times and the best of times. I wanted there to be more times.
Others will judge me, but I don’t trust me.
I feel guilty. I am guilty.
I see us on Saturday; he will curl up in the front seat beside me. He will put his nose on the console, let me scratch behind his ears at the stoplights. He will pant, his pink tongue a bright spot against his white chest, his speckled gray back. He trusts me and I am leaving him. Another thing I’ve loved and left.
I try to break it down, keep it simple. It’s just a drive. A meeting. A Wendy’s.
But then we will get to Wendy’s and simplicity will stop. He will wiggle his nub and hop out of the car. He will sniff the at the grass. We will peel our eyes for the unfamiliar car that holds a man named Steve and his wife. Together we will decide.
I wonder if they’re kind. I wonder if I’ll change my mind. I wonder if I’ll drive away with an empty seat beside me, no traces left but shedded hair, and cry.
You can imagine how Saturday went.
The couple was sweet; just this morning they assured me Bean has become “a big part of our little family.”
My heart is warm, but broken.
And now, in the absence of one dysfunctional dog, there is nothing left to distract me from the more obvious truth: I am lonely. Really lonely. I realize that within my circle of friends, most live in another state. Most are married. Most have children. I can count on one hand the number of friends I have left who are single (in the sense that they are not married) though I struggle to think of anyone, siblings aside, who do not, at the very least, have a boyfriend.
I am alone on this island. The grass here is charred, marked by plans that blossomed and withered under the scorching gaze of divorce. I wander around the desert, tumble weeks mocking, and find I’ve accidentally become a career woman.
Single wasn’t always a euphemism for lonely. For a while it was fun. There was a newfound sense of adventure, flexibility. The freedom to make my own choices. And, of course, there was always Bean. We were a neat little team of two. When asked about my home life, “It’s just me and my dog,” was enough.
Until he was biting, then biting more, and I got lost. There were solutions but they were complicated ones; they demanded investment, prioritization, and held no guarantee of success. The liability would remain, squarely placed on my single-person shoulders. There was one else to carry the responsibility with, no one to distribute the weight.
Desolate in decision making, I decided to give my dog to a couple who promised they would love him and had the skills to help him. They were a team. They didn’t mind the vigilance or restriction or anxiety that comes with a sweet dog who hides a mean streak; they were ready to pick up where I couldn’t stand guard any longer.
In therapy we work on saying what I don’t have by adding a “yet.” I don’t have a date yet a boyfriend yet love yet a family yet. But what if there is no yet? What if the hope is misplaced? What if this is all there is?
How do I make it enough?
The answer comes this morning with feedback on my newest project:
“I’d like to see more of the narrator becoming her own separate person – separate from the husband and father. Most of what we read here is her seeing herself in relation to the men in her life – not her seeing herself individually.”
Who was I?
Who am I?
Apart from my ex, my mother, my father, my siblings, my work, my hobbies?
Apart from my imaginary boyfriend, unrealized husband, fantasy children?
Apart from my dog?
Is this aloneness a welcome mat? An invitation?