Did you know that there’s an entire website devoted to cataloging movies and television shows in which the dog dies, so viewers can avoid the unbearable sorrow?
Well, spoiler alert: in this column, the dog dies. I’m sorry.
Enzo left this life a year ago, and I admit, what I’m not sorry about is holding back before getting another dog. I’ve slept in, traveled, stayed out overnight unplanned, and expended less worry and money after a long, stressful year of helping my best friend in his waning days.
I even leased a car to get him out of the city to run through the woods. Less commitment/more freedom is great, but when things are quiet, when I am quiet, I feel guilty. I miss him but not the big clouds of grief that darkened above us as he aged. I’m resisting dog-love again.
The Healing Power Of A Dog
The older I get, the more recent ‘a long time ago’ seems. I clock events fifteen years past as having happened five years ago and I’m shocked when confronted with the actual date. Having said that, I was recently in love with a man who, when we started up, was still a boy (no, not technically). I was older, I was a woman. Even so, my ideas about love and romance were entirely, embarrassingly girlish. It was only when I — in my fifties — hit Send on our save-the-dates that I understood: I loved him and he loved me, but it wasn’t the going-the-distance kind of love.
Because of his age, his distance was far away, like a mirage. Because of my age, the future was staring me down, as real as my morning mirror. I’d already had cancer, failed marriages, disappeared dollars, stinging disappointment, and Botox (which helped with the mirror). I was all right. If I’d learned anything, it was that no matter what — barring fate fucking with my kids — I would be all right. I made the brutal decision to stop being in love with him.
Which, naturally, was not possible. So I took a rebound man, also a boy, and that was puppy Enzo. He gave structure to those heartbreak days. In fact, he led me through them. The unconditional caregiving and care-getting, the mutual commitment to the relationship, the trust, that’s what I’d been missing from the other guy. I didn’t stop loving the boy-man, I just archived that love away with a different filename: No regrets.
With no other voice in my head, I was more productive than I’d ever been. I walked, I thought, I wrote. I was a better mother and friend. I was not lonely. Unexpectedly — or not, as I maybe knew deep down when I broke it off — I thrived. Good thing, too, because no matter how many challenges I met then (and meet now), despite the hard decisions I took (and take), no matter how much damned learning and growing I did and I do, life still comes at me fast.
Cancer returned, finances wobbled, friendships faltered. Romance receded into memory. Years passed but still Enzo expected the morning workout-walk, the midday pick-me-up promenade, the evening stroll. I wrote a novel, The Next, younger man/older woman, but the Prince Charming of the story is a magical big, brown poodle.
I wrote another novel, Carry the Dog, in which the photograph of a little girl carrying a big dog inspires a woman to face her future. (I was this-year-many-years-old, typing those two sentences, when I realized how deeply Enzo infiltrated both plots.)
The Healing Power of Love
This year of no dog, no man has been — I’m almost afraid to write the word, lest I jinx it — good. My health, my work, my friendships, my family — good. I’ve even traveled with no airline stress! And after years of needing it, my apartment is being renovated.
I had to vacate, but I am lucky to be staying at a friend’s place overlooking Central Park, with a wide view from her terrace, east to west. I can see Mount Sinai Hospital in the near distance, where I received the weekly cancer treatment I no longer need. There’s the Conservatory Garden, with the bronze sculpture of three dancing maidens perpetually circling in mid-skip at the site we chose to marry but never did. I’m steps from the world’s most perfect park where city dogs run free in the early mornings.
After all these months without a dog, I go out every morning to meet and greet dogs in hopes of being gifted with a wagging tail, a curious approach. I walk with a friend; I love my friend, but it’s Jesse, her handsome gentleman doodle, who gives me such pleasure.
A year ago, Enzo and I walked our last walk at 8 a.m. on a hot and humid Monday morning to the vet’s office. By eight-thirty, his life was over, mine irrevocably changed. Yes, the dog died. Yes, it hurts. Yes, my sorrow is profound. But so is love. It does not die. He’s alive in the books, he’s in this column, he’s in the memories of every human who loved him back. A neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while stopped me in the park the other day — “Where is your big dog?” — and all I could do was point to the fluffy, puffy clouds above.
I just opened a text with pictures of the mom and dad of a litter coming soon. It’s the dog days of summer, late August, and I will meet my new best friend just before Thanksgiving. I’m not sorry I waited.
Have you had a pet that stole your heart? Or helped you down life’s toughest road? Share with us in the comments below!
About Stephanie Gangi
Stephanie Gangi is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. Carry the Dog is her second novel. Her acclaimed debut, The Next, was published by St. Martin’s Press. Gangi’s shorter work has appeared in Arts & Letters, Catapult, Dame, LitHub, Hippocrates Poetry Anthology, McSweeney’s, New Ohio Review, Next Tribe, The Woolfer. She lives in New York City, where she is at work on The Good Provider, her third novel.
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