To Be Happy
When sadness turns her into a stranger, one decision may draw her back.
(page 2 of 3)
It takes your old bulldog a while to warm up to the idea of this unexpected companion who springs around him and nips his face in play and tries to eat all of the food the instant the bowl hits the kitchen floor. This new one is undeterred. He is pure love. He burrows under your fleece blanket when you watch movies and is ecstatic just to be sleeping next to your leg. He wakes up with a start every morning because he is simply so overjoyed to be awake. He frolics in your embarrassing, overgrown backyard as though it is his own personal heaven.
After a few days, the bulldog deigns to share his beanbag bed and takes a sprawling nap with the little one. Everything changes. They pull apart stuffed toys with carefully formulated planning. They fetch with abandon. They bark at nothing. Amazingly, they bond.
You wonder how you ever lived without him. You know you should do something, make an effort to find out where he belongs. You put it off. Your copier is out of ink, so you can’t print out signs.
You tell yourself you’ll get to it, but you don’t. You take him to a vet that’s much farther away from the usual place you go. You pray that he doesn’t have heartworms, and your prayers are answered. You pay for all his shots just in case he isn’t current on them. You get him the heart meds and the flea meds, and you get them for six months.
You knew you were missing so much, but you are surprised to realize it might be this easily fixed.
There comes a time when you must make a decision. It almost is not a decision at all. It is a decision you must make both with purpose and your own version of logic and reason; you think the thing to do is just to live with all sides of whichever horrible, wonderful thing that you decide. The main thing to consider is if the unbearable joy you discover it’s possible for you to feel is somehow worth the piercing slivers of guilt.
You try not to think too much. You hide him as well as you can. No more walks unless it’s late night. If it is absolutely necessary, he travels undercover in a plain beige carrier, door to door. You’re tempted to post a few of the cutest puppy pictures on your neglected Facebook account. You resist. You can’t risk it. It might allow the decision to fall into someone else’s hands. And you know now that nothing is worse than having a choice made for you. Those forfeited choices are the ones you most regret.
No one really cares except one person. It turns out that she just won’t leave you alone. You purposefully have not placed any pleading ads. You haven’t sent any emails alerting the neighbors. You haven’t told the vets in the area a thing. You never posted those fliers.
Still, she has heard a rumor. It’s true that everyone knows everyone else in this city, which is really just a big town in most ways. She thinks she has tracked down her dog. She does not yet realize that he may not be hers any longer.
It takes weeks for her phone calls to subside, but they do. There are tears involved on the other end of the line. The calls turn wistful after a month. You delete the messages upon the first telling syllable so that you don’t have to hear any of it. She gathered up the courage to ring your doorbell once; you knew immediately that it was her. She waited an interminable amount of time tucking her hair behind her ears and glancing around your porch before she trudged away to her car parked out front.
Bit by bit, she’s giving up.
So you curl up with the new one while the old one rests contentedly at your feet. This new one has that abiding, all-consuming love for you, like young dogs do. Always underfoot, he remains obsessed with your every move. He studies everything you do. He waits in his kennel while you are away and barrels out in a tumble of legs and yips and licks and joy once you release him.
They have no idea. They just exist in the moment. You learn from it. It’s a good way to be. You pet him and rub his ears and he sighs. He flips over on his back in a sign of full trust. He is truly content. It’s lovely.
How can it be lonely, too?
You think of the voice on the phone.
There is only one thing to do, one decision to make. It opens up before you like the only path there is. The possibility that you can change shimmers before you and beckons you to try. It looks a lot like hope. And for once, at whatever cost, you find yourself feeling what you never dreamed you’d be again.