This morning I am greeted by Doug, the two-year-old dachsund/terrier mix we adopted from a pet shelter the evening before. I have never described myself as a “dog person”, but I am now officially – for the first time ever – a dog owner. Pets were neither a part of my childhood – unless you count guppies…or that one year we had a weenie pup named Quincy who liked to eat cottonballs – nor my grown-up life, with the egg-ception of our hens (may they rest in peace). Besides here-and-there dogsitting for friends, we’ve never had a canine, feline, equine, bovine or any-other-ine living in our home. So it was with reservation and trembling that I adopted a dog. The tech at the boarding center said it would take Doug a few days to warm up to us but Doug turned into a “Jana person” within two hours of bringing him home. On me like GLUE. I admit it’s endearing to have a living thing love you so quickly but, um, I have a moderate amount of dog anxiety that extends waaaaay back to my toddler years. In other words, having a creature who wants to play-bite my hands, perch on the sofa directly behind my head, bounce around my legs like a circus poodle on a pogo stick, and whimper at the bathroom door while I’m showering is going to take some getting used to.
After eggs, toast and a supplement cocktail, I slice up apple for the 4yo, she climbs in our higgledy-piggledy stroller that’s wheels are literally about to come off, and we go on our two-mile hike around the nearby college campus. When we arrive home, the yard guys are leaving and our grass is once again trim. Doug finds one of the kids’ stuffed animals and turns it into a chew toy, sitting with his front paws on it, owning it. He licks the 4yo’s face and makes her giggle. They both sit nearby as I don mascara for a 10:45 appointment. The 4yo asks, “After you get your eyelashes on, will we go?”
We put Doug in the backyard with a bowl of water and make our way to the home of a friend. She has agreed to watch Larkin while I drive to the largest house of worship in Abilene and meet with a woman recommended by my doctor. He’s described her as a “savant” in all things spiritual and wants me to discuss with her both the spiritual and physical implications of fear. So, for an hour – the only hour we’re going to have apparently, as her ministerial roles are soon changing – she tells me about her own battle with fear and how she broke free from its grip. She lays hands on my head and my back and prays out loud for me, snapping her fingers to symbolize the breaking of alignment with the spirit of fear and self-condemnation. I wish she could pray for me like that every morning.
After I pick up the 4yo, she says “Mommy, look” and I glance in the rearview mirror to see her trying to snap her fingers and it makes me think of the anti-fear prayer. I buy a few groceries, a pre-made salad for lunch and ingredients for dinner. Hurrying back to our neighborhood to pick up the 8yo at 1pm – early release day for public schools – we head home. The girls make a beeline to the backyard, looking for Doug. But there’s no Doug to be found. He’s gone. I walk around the house, yelling his name and clapping my hands. Other dogs down the alley bark back at me, but no Doug. The berating of self begins immediately. I inspect the fence. Maybe he wriggled around the chickenwire rolled across the bottom of it. But if he did, I can’t figure out where. The gate is closed but not latched; maybe one of the yard guys forgot to push it tight and Doug nosed his way out. The girls and I walk across the street to ask our neighbor to be on the lookout. She doesn’t seem worried – says she’ll gladly drive around and search for him – but I feel I might burst into tears.
Back at our house, phrases like “failure as mom” and “you can’t even keep a domestic animal in your yard for 24 hours” start nagging at me. The self-condemnation and frustration swell so big I start angrily silent-mouthing curse words, and then I am full-on wailing. I cry so hard I think I scare the girls. They slip off to their room, and I text Brandon the dog-gone news. I feel like I alone am entirely responsible for this loss: I didn’t doublecheck the chickenwire, I didn’t make sure the gate was latched, I was away from the house too long. It’s all on me. My fault. Yet another way I’ve failed at life. There’s a teeny-tiny, naive mutt on his way to being roadkill and it happened under my watch. Brandon calls. I am weeping so hard I can barely hear him when he implores me to “please try and calm down”. Amidst all THAT, my ob/gyn’s nurse leaves a voicemail in a too-perky, gum-cracking tone explaining that because I have “extremely dense breasts”, they want a followup to my recent mammogram, a precautionary MRI done with women whose fibrocystic boobies (TMI?) make mammograms hard to read. Because if I’m already in a tizz about the dog running off, why not just ratchet up the anxiety a whole other level while we’re at it? I’m not thrilled about having to go lay in the MRI tube at 7:30 in the morning and having to wait on the results. A friend texts: “Does that mean you have firm breasts? I get why you have to get them checked but most moms of three would be super jealous of that!” She also reassures me that I am not a loser at pet care.
The compounded sleep deprivation from nights previous along with the massive crying fit exhaust me. While I sit on the front porch and force myself to eat lunch, the girls play with a neighbor friend and I text a pic of the puppy to friends who live in the neighborhood. The 11yo arrives home, canvases a few streets looking for Doug, and eventually joins me on the porch. I’m feeling the need to be outside for as long as possible. Delicate emotional states require sunshine and warm breezes. Helps take the edge off.
I sit on the porch for at least an hour. As the day heats up, I exchange my jeans for shorts. But still I roast. Sweat rolls down my legs and between my…extremely dense breasts. We all end up back inside and the rest of the afternoon consists of much moping and commenting about how Doug is gone, possibly forever, and how we need to buy another dog immediately. Everyone is disappointed. At some point, Brandon texts: “This afternoon officially blows.” He also reminds me to breathe. A quote on Pinterest reminds me to breathe. Breathe.
Chicken curry soup on this 90-degree day makes complete sense and that’s what I stir up for dinner. The 4yo loves it but the other two don’t and thus are provided with the opportunity to assemble their own meals. The 11yo heads to church with a friend. The hubs and I drive to the volleyball court at Sonic to hang with the high school students we mentor. I’m so weary with sorrow I don’t even consider playing ball; I sit sidecourt and talk to others who’ve been benched due to various injuries. The girls and I order ocean waters and a cherry slush. By the time we leave, the sun has set and the air has cooled. Spending another hour outside has again worked its magic and calmed me.
Back home, there are baths – lots of sand to rinse off – and the 11yo is feeling emotional about runaway dogs. The hubs says, “It’s nobody’s fault that Doug ran away. Doug made a decision. We don’t know what kind of life he’s had these last two years or what’s driving his choice to run off.” I feel like laughing when he says “Doug made a decision.” It sounds ridiculous. But it also makes me feel less guilty. We say a prayer and hug each other and the kids shuttle off to bed.
One of our high school friends – let’s call him Ferris Bueller – texts and asks where we met tonight; he would have come if he’d known. He is on our side of town – his second day with his drivers’ license – so, since he missed our Sonic gathering, I ask if he wants to drop by and say hi. While we’re waiting on him to show, I shower off the sand and the sad. I wonder why I had such a visceral reaction to the dog escaping our yard, why I completely berated myself as both parent and pet-owner. And I am overwhelmed by a thought: maybe my instantaneous and exceptionally emotional reaction to Doug’s disappearance happened because…it’s been an all too common occurrence in my life these past few years. Several people I deemed dear friends – people I thought would be friends for life – ran away. Maybe Doug’s escape triggered something in me, pushed itself into that healing-but-still-tender wound of being abandoned by those I trusted. Even with plenty of food and water, a safe place to sleep, and an affectionate family, Doug ran off. With my friends, I did what I could to provide a safe place for them as well, one of authenticity and affirmation. But still…they ran off. Who knows what kind of life Doug had years previous? Who knows what sort of life those used-to-be-friends are hiding in their hearts from decades previous? Just like Doug, they made a decision. And they chose to run. Not because I’m a lame dogowner or friend. They just wanted something different. They wanted more of something I couldn’t provide. More adventure or attention or thrill. More room to run. And that lust for more drives some away from places of love and safety. Probably the case for all of us, on some level. But boiling it down: it wasn’t me. I didn’t fail at the friendship. That puppy – just like those friends – simply wanted something else. Something besides warmth, safety and a bowl of water. These thoughts spark within me a brief flash of anger. We exchange love and affection…and then you RUN AWAY? But after such a long day, it is too much for my dog-tired mind to ponder for long.
Bueller hears about our markedly emotional afternoon but we don’t discuss it in detail. The teen talks about matters of importance to 16-year-olds, showing us a video of how he almost did a faceplant at the gym. After half-an-hour, we shoo him home; it’s a school night. We turn on the Tonight Show and watch Fallon and comic David Alan Grier mimic Trump and Ben Carson, and their silliness draws a chuckle from my dismayed spirit.
I am tapping out the beginning of this post in the bedroom when Brandon walks in, pulls the laptop away, closes it and sets it aside. “You’re falling asleep,” he says. I am.