It’s been two months since we had our first ice-cream cones of the season. It was March eighth, we could see snow still on the mountains in the distance, and the wind was blowing madly, but we ate them outside–like true New Englanders–after which the kids chased chickens and barn-cats through the cow pasture. No jackets. No hats. No gloves. Spring was coming.
(It’s hard to believe that just a week before that we celebrated our first official snow day–tramping around the woods in snowshoes, happily closed off from the rest of the world, content on our own island. One day we were sipping hot tea next to the wood stove, the next day we were eating ice-cream with friends.)
As I sat on the edge of a tractor-tire sandbox, soaking myself in the sun’s rays, listening the the sound of laughter all around me, I was overcome by the feeling that only happens on an early spring day, fresh on the heels of a twenty-four-hour snowstorm and a few sunny, but biting, winter days: I felt the surge of possibility. There was an opening inside me–a space–from which I heard the whisper you can do anything…
It was this whisper that made the events of the past few days even more haunting. But let me back up some more…
Two weeks before the day of the ice-cream was the official start of February vacation–another time when there is space, where things feel a little more possible. After thinking about it for years, and plotting it for months, Matt took the day off work and the entire family drove to New Hampshire to pick-up our newest family member.
Meet Jethro, the world’s most handsome, gentle, lovable dog, whose “eyes look sad even when he’s happy.” (Says Emerson, who added a likeness of him to a family drawing the moment we returned home.)
The day before the ice-cream, Ophelia and I drove to New Hampshire again–this time to bring him back.
There were many reasons that made it seem like the right decision at the time – the financial commitment, our cat’s refusal to come up from the basement, our lack of a vacuum cleaner, his naughtiness when we left him alone for a few minutes, (coupled by the fact that very few areas of the house remain “off-limits” to a dog of this size and intelligence when he is getting into mischief), the fact that once we loaded all the warm bodies into the car for a vacation we didn’t have any room for luggage. The list went on and on…
But the main reason–really–was me. The “me” who spent the first thirty years of her life roaming free with little or no commitments, the “me” who has designated the last seven years of her life to taking care of people, the “me” who has relinquished all personal space to weave three extra people (and an attention seeking cat) into her life, the “me” who is loving this newer phase of her life so much that she thought a dog would just add more happiness… That me.
And of course it was me that the dog latched onto. When I walked down the hall, he walked down the hall. When I was in our tiny kitchen trying to do dishes, he lay in our tiny kitchen–in front of the dishwasher. When I went to the bathroom, he sat next to me. When I took a shower–which always begins with the door closed–it would only take a few minutes before there was a little girl in the room telling me something “very important,” and a wet dog-nose poking through the curtain. When we drove someplace he always ended up climbing over the kids in the back and sitting–somehow..this dog is big!–on the center console in the front seat. Most distressing, however, was that when I went down to the basement (the home of our computer and television, and also–for this two week period–our cat) to work on my blog or watch a movie–the only time I have to myself–the dog would stand at the top of the stairs barking, whining, and jumping up on the gate.
Yes, I realize these are all normal dog behaviors–especially for a rescue dog that is adjusting to life in a new home–but when viewed alongside all the other reasons to not have a dog (in a couple of years I’ll be working full-time and I think it’s really mean to leave a dog alone all day, what will we do with him when we go away?, how will I find time in my busy life to get him the exercise he needs?…) it was the personal space issue that pushed me over the edge. In all the plotting and planning, I failed to envision a living being latching on to me quite so desperately. Worse, in all the plotting and planning I envisioned being able to give much more of myself then I am actually able.
Of course it was this issue–this lack of ability, on my part, to make room for another living creature in my life–that bothered me most as I sat eating my ice-cream cone the next day. As I watched everyone around me laughing and playing, celebrating our reconnection to the earth and to each other, anticipating the melting away of ice and snow and the coming of the growing season, I felt hollow inside. On that day–so expansive and liberating–I sat not with regret, but shame. Shame at my inability to let myself grow, open new parts of my heart, make new spaces. As I watched the first crocuses opening around me, I sat knowing I had willingly closed the door on a part of life.
There is an old wives’ tale–or a ridiculous piece of relationship advice in the spirit of consolation–that the amount of time to “get-over” someone after a relationship has ended equals the length of the relationship itself. We had two weeks with Jethro, during which time we got our fill of his wonderful qualities (loyalty, intelligence, fun…) and his not-so-wonderful qualities (neediness, destructiveness, a little too interested in the cat…) We celebrated our only snow-storm of the year with him(October notwithstanding) and by the end of that time he had really begun to settle down and weave himself into our life and hearts.
But by that time I had already made a decision (and changed my mind, and made a decision, and changed my mind…). I had called the rescue. He was going back.
Because the rescue was shelterless and there were no available foster homes at the time of my call, we kept Jethro for four more days, during which our short burst of wintry weather held, with crisp, cold sunny days. I feel lucky we were able to spend that extra time with him, (Emerson even took a day off school) letting him run through snowy fields along the river and romp around the yard, although it was gut-wrenching to see him adjusting to life in our family when I knew he was going to leave. I had to keep reminding myself that things seemed so much easier only because there was an end in sight. Although I felt feelings of regret, fear of what would happen to him, guilt for doing this to a living being, I also felt sure that the decision I had made was the right one.
The day Ophelia and I drove Jethro back to New Hampshire the air was warming up. The sun was shining, and the snow was beginning to melt. We arrived at our rendezvous point a half-hour early so that we could spend some time alone with Jethro outside, saying goodbye. On the ride home Ophelia fell asleep and I found myself looking for Jethro in the rear-view mirror. I also found myself sobbing.
Two and a half weeks. That’s the magic number according to the old wives, isn’t it? It’s been two months and I’m still not sure that I’m “over him” yet. It certainly got easier than it was those first weeks, missing him thumping down beside me at night and the routines we had adapted together. For about a week I went outside first thing in the morning even though I didn’t have too, and listened to the birds singing…watched the sun rise. I thought there would be an immediate sense of freedom, but instead I spent the next few weeks feeling like something was missing.
Ultimately, though, the old wives were right. It may not be an exact science, but those feelings have lessened, and life moves along. Jethro was adopted less than two weeks after we dropped him off, and although I don’t know where he is now, I like to think he is with a family who is appreciating him more than we could have at this time in our lives. And as for me, I am realizing that even though I was unable to make room for a dog in my life right now, there is another space that has come instead. A space in which to come face to face with the not-so-wonderful qualities that lie within me. A space in which to recognize these facets, learn from them, and stretch myself…if only a little.