By Margaret McNellis
We were first matched during the waning end of July. It was two years since my heart was last broken by Bear, my former companion, since I last said goodbye, and that was after a relationship going all the way back to my youth, my college days, the beginning of a new era marked by war and recession, followed by the sort of growth that sees a person stand up and tell the world who they are.
It was a new century, full of new promise, until that promise was stripped away by time and the machinations of politicians and terrorists and political terrorists and terrorist politicians, but we always had each other, my heart of gold waiting for me at home regardless of whether I went away to school, went to work for the day, or left for months or years at a time to live in apartments that dotted the shoreline like beach umbrellas, colorful but flimsy when the changing winds picked up, when one of life’s nor’easters came in fast and ferocious.
He saw me through my worst. He was there when I questioned whether or not I should drop out of college. Given the choice to work and pay rent or return to class, I chose the latter, but without the doo-wop intonations of Frenchie’s misogynistic guardian angel in a diner. I chose a major I enjoyed but one that would not bring me fortunes, as is so typical of the arts, and I’d say it’s unfortunate but that I enjoy the arts enough to bolster a perpetually bruised bank account.
He saw me through finding a job. Leaving that job and finding another. Leaving that job and finding another, the tell-tale journey of a creator, one driven by imagination, trapped in a cubicle world, marked by watching the dips and drops and dives of the DOW Jones at the start and end of every day. We were like hopeful elves who no longer had shoes to cobble because shoes are made by machines now.
He saw me through the death of my father, the hollowing and hallowing realization that one half of myself is gone, gone from this life, gone to another life, or gone to some selfless oblivion. He saw me through that cancer, that growth in my father’s lungs, that growth that moldered in his body for weeks, for months, maybe for longer though probably not since it moved so fast. Fast like a tropical storm must have seemed decades ago before radar and storm tracks and presidents chucking paper towels at the newly homeless and hungry.
He even saw me through his own sickness and the decision to end it. The decision to send him to a different plane, a different life, to the rainbow bridge where he would somehow meet up with all our previous dogs who had aged out before him, because dogs go to the rainbow bridge now, not an up-country farm, not doggy heaven, not oblivion. Bear had a heart of gold until the syringe stopped it, until that breathless moment when I buried my face in his fur, against his barrel chest, now quiet, and wept for my father’s sickness, for his sickness, for my father’s death, for his death.
They weren’t the same, but they both hurt, and Bear died on my father’s birthday, eight months and twenty-seven days after my father died. He followed my father into the next existence, the next great existence, the way husbands and wives follow one another when their love is that strong. Though he was our whole family’s dog, my dad was his human.
Two years later, this past July, in the humidity and heat that never seemed to end, I decided it was time to sit beside my own dog again. My dog, my responsibility, a dog for whom I would be the main human, the one he clung to, the one he loved, because I would adopt him and show him patience and kindness, and spoil him with a reasonable abundance of toys and treats and train him to do cute tricks.
Not a few days after I started my search, I was matched. People wait longer to be matched to human dates who will try to get in their pants too soon, who will cheat on them maybe, who will drink too much, smoke too much, have a drug habit, lose a job and mooch, lie about being in more than one relationship, steal their money, steal their friends, steal their hearts.
I was matched to a corgi-mix, a mix just like Bear but slightly different. Grayson is his given name, or as I call him, Lord Grayson, the Marquis of Wigglebutt (he wiggles his whole butt instead of wagging a tail). Wagging a tail is for dogs who don’t love you as much, for dogs who aren’t as excited to see you, for dogs who aren’t as grateful for a home with a bed, with food, with water, with treats, with a yard, with toys that belong to them and them alone, with someone to love them and train them and hold them and scratch their tummies. At least this is what Grayson thinks, I think.
But Grayson is breaking my heart, even though, like Bear, I think his is made of gold. He breaks my heart every time he fails to read another dog’s signals that it doesn’t want to play for the umpteenth time and he gets a nip or bite on his tail, his ear, even his face. It breaks my heart every time he lunges and barks at a friend or family member simply for walking into the house, walking near the house, daring to exist. It breaks my heart every time he loses himself because a car drives by, especially a white pickup truck, and I firmly believe there are more white pickups garaged on my street than any other street. It breaks my heart when he wriggles free of our yard, because isn’t it green enough? Big enough? Full of enough chipmunks? It’s safe, and he’s safe there, but that’s not enough for the Marquis.
Now we’re at a crossroads. It breaks my heart when he chews our shoes, when he pees on our chairs and floors, when he tugs on his leash so hard that his leash, which is padded, scrapes my skin like a carpet burn or a fall on asphalt. It breaks my heart that I can’t hold him when he freaks out because his bark already perforated my eardrum. It breaks my heart that not every adoption story is a happy one. Without progress, I’ll have to say goodbye to him, too.
It breaks my heart that he only wants to fill mine, and I only want to heal his, but we’re separated by this gulf of the unknown, of his fears, of his past, this gulf that endlessly feeds the hurricane brewing beyond our horizon. The damage of such a storm is devastating enough to imagine. To live through it would drive me inland, away from the windy, watery coastline.
Margaret McNellis earned her MA in English and Creative Writing from SNHU in 2015 Her short fiction has appeared in several publications, including Dual Coast Magazine, The Copperfield Review, and The Penman Review. She is a graduate of the Mountainview MFA.