Yesterday, one of my good friends told me the story of how their little dog came to join their family. I was sitting on a stool at her kitchen island. It was loaded with burgers, hotdogs, pickles, watermelon, and mac and cheese. My daughter’s and I were there to celebrate the Fourth of July with them. Which meant we were there to eat. Which has become quite confusing, this eating. This same friend and I just joined a weight-loss program and while eating cans of beans or pounds of chicken and beef is no problem, a 100-calorie sliver of dark chocolate is the points equivalent of an entire meal. This makes zero sense.
I studied the burgers in front of me, which one, which one…giving them as much consideration as I would a new car purchase while Herschel Walker, the family’s dog, wandered around the kitchen, working hard for someone, anyone to give him food.
Herschel is a curly, cocoa-brown miniature poodle who is quite full of personality and anxiety. He’s a prancy little thing and had no shame doing tricks for a piece of hot dog. If you want to see intent and desire in its most pure form, observe a dog in the throes of inbound food. They will mashup their entire repertoire of tricks, combining sitting, laying, and rolling over into a single, ridiculous motion.
Now that Herschel’s come around and will let me pet him (it’s the anxiety, y’all), I needed to know his story. “How old is Herschel?” I ask.
They can’t recall for sure. “Maybe eight, probably nine,” my friend, Denise said.
“Is he a full-bred poodle?” I wanted to know.
“He is but when we picked him up, the breeder offered an unsolicited $100 discount, so there’s a little don’t ask, don’t tell on that front,” she said, smiling.
“When did you get him?” I asked.
A big sigh. “It’s a sad story. Do you really want to know?” she asks.
“Of course,” I replied.
“Well before Herschel, we had a small dog, a toy poodle, named Kelsey. She was so tiny, I could carry her in my purse,” she said. (This information surprises and amuses me, my friend doesn’t seem like the dog-in-the-purse type.)
She went on, explaining how on this one particular evening, her husband left to pick up Chinese carryout. As the door shut and she heard him pull away, she realized she hadn’t yelled after him as she had a thousand times before to watch for the dog. “I figured I didn’t need to,” she said. Steve, her husband, had joined us in the kitchen and looked aghast when he realized the story he had walked into.
“Oh my god, don’t tell that story. Why are you telling that?” he asked his wife. I felt awful for him. For them both, because yes, it ended how I didn’t want it to end; how no one, including the dog, wanted it to end. The little dog had run out the door and ran after the car. Steve had looked behind him, but the dog was the size of an actual tea cup and he just didn’t see her when he backed out of the drive.
I hate hate hate stories like this. Not about dogs dying, well, of course about dogs dying, but I hate it when I hear possible proof that the unwanted monkey on my back of near-neurotic worry is there because it needs to be.
If I cancel my insurance policy of saying ‘I love you most,’ at least once to my daughters before we part ways – whether it’s going to school (thanks guns); to the store park gym anywhere, now that the oldest can drive; climbing in the backseat of another parent’s car; or the front seat with their father – if, like my friend, who, the very first time she didn’t say, ‘watch for the dog,’ and that was the time the dog ceased to exist? Well, doesn’t that indicate I should continue this behavior?
Don’t patronize me. I realize this OCD-like behavior doesn’t guarantee me anything. It doesn’t shield me from loss, insulate them or me in some fate-defying bubble. I’m not stupid and I know it’s not rational but I can’t stop. I am terrified.
When my friend told the story of how Herschel Walker joined their family, I had to cross my legs to squelch the urge to hop up on their kitchen island, knock the plates of food to the floor, raise my 100-calorie spiked seltzer high, and proclaim, “SEE? I KNEW IT! I knew it.”
When each time my girls’ leave my sight, I wonder, ‘Is this the last time?’ Will this time be the last time?’ That’s a goddamned load I am tired of carrying but am too scared to put down.
And sometimes, when you let yourself breathe a little, try to relax, the universe offers signs that are too rich to be ignored. I remember when I was half of a young married couple and had dropped my then husband off at the airport for his first lengthy, international work trip. We said goodbye, and I drove away, crying, with our not-yet one-year old in the back. I was overcome with worry, just simmering in it as I pulled away from the curb and onto the highway. And as I began to pull myself together, there it was in front of me. A huge truck, the kind that lowers caskets into the earth. It was close enough that I could see remnants of a recent job. I was convinced this meant my husband wasn’t coming home.
But he did.
As my oldest daughter approaches her senior year of highschool and the thought of coming downstairs in the morning and her not being there renders me boneless, it’s time. I’ve got to learn to stop. And when I do, I don’t expect to stop worrying about their safety. I’m a parent, that’s not going to happen. But maybe I can figure out how to stop this loop of lasts. It’s a route I’m sick of taking.
Perhaps if I lost this dead weight of worry, I’d weigh a little less.