4.20.2009

Saying Goodbye to the Best Dog in the World for the Second Time


“The apartment managers are leaving,” my dad says. “If you want to take their job, you can move to San Francisco.”

“Yes,” we said. “We’ll do it.” We didn’t ask another question. A decade of appeals finally paid off. Don’t let anyone tell you dreams aren’t realized by humbled and repeated begging and pleading.

We’ve been trying to leave Portland for so long that our friends ignore us when we tell them our latest plans for escape. Nothing comes through, not the job in Hawaii nor the one in D.C. Eight months of the year we wake up angry that we’re still here. That’s how many months it rains if you hadn’t noticed. Some people who live here don’t notice but they usually came from somewhere like Phoenix or Las Vegas. Their weather sensitivity faculties must have malfunctioned by living in a place like that. They seem so happy to live here in the gray, wet, moldy, allergy-producing, ex-rainforest.

We made the best of it here. We raised our kids, had jobs and friends, and got a dog. You’re supposed to get a dog when you’re settled, just like you are supposed to have kids once you’ve done your world traveling. There’s only so much root-pulling you can do to another living thing. But how were we to know we’d be moving four times in the last four years?

At least dogs don’t have to change schools. Unfortunately, they have to change owners if we want this job. My dad’s apartment doesn’t allow dogs. After more whining and begging, I came to the grown-up conclusion that it was either the job or the dog. After even more whining and begging, this time to God, I came to the conclusion we had to find a home for the dog. We couldn’t say no to the opportunity to live near family and out of the rain. God wasn’t bending on this one, so I saved my prayers and tried hard not to get mad at my dad or at God. That didn’t seem like a good course of action in the long run either way.

My cousin and her little family came through town during this time so we met them for breakfast. Ariana greeted me with a little stuffed bulldog she’d saved from her Happy Meal. “This is for you,” she said. “See, it looks exactly like Lulu, with a patch over her eye and everything.”

Who isn’t touched by a gift from a six year-old, particularly when it’s a gift like this? I never gave away Happy Meal toys, or any toys, particularly to a relative, as a kid. It’s difficult to share things you love when you can’t control yourself any better than a six year-old.

I had to share my kids when their dad and I divorced. Charlie and I didn’t have a house big enough for them to stay in, and every night they were away was like living without the use of your legs, paralyzed without a wheelchair. I can whip up a good panic attack just thinking about that time. Sharing still sucks.

Lulu was probably bored to death sitting in our little condo in her crate, waiting for us to return home. When we were home, we’d walk her but she couldn’t walk too far. Mostly she sat around watching us sitting around. Without kids or a yard, the only excitement in her life was the nights when she got to catch the popcorn pieces I tossed toward her while watching Groomer Has It.

My cousin’s daughter insisted we go back to our condo after breakfast so she could say hi to Lulu. Lulu’s our bulldog. She loves little kids and she loves Ariana. Several years ago, when Ariana was just a toddler, the rest of us were all on the couches watching the Super Bowl. Ariana and Lulu were both lying on their tummies, their legs spread out the same way, nose to nose, having a great time keeping each other entertained under the table.

If my cousin couldn’t adopt Lulu, I wasn’t moving to San Francisco. I told God that and everything. I didn’t tell my cousin that, though. No pressure.

My cousin and Ariana were delighted to adopt Lulu. I wasn’t sure how Ariana’s older brothers would feel about adopting Lulu as they’ve been around her when she was a puppy with digestive problems. She was an adorable puppy but even adorable puppies are hard to be around when they’re barfing all the time. She’d get excited after eating and she’d barf. I won’t elaborate on what puppies do after they barf, as I don’t want to admit the best dog in the world did something disgusting. The boys, though, said they were excited to have a dog again and I’m sure they’ll be good about not getting Lulu too excited, particularly after she’s eaten. I’m sure they still remember the consequences, too.

Today we stopped by for a visit, the first visit since she moved to my cousin’s home. Lulu has been to my cousin’s before her big move, so I knew she’d be happy there. She liked running around all the space, looking at the lake in their backyard, watching all the birds fly by and pretending to be serious while barking at them, like she’s some working hunting dog. Even the neighbors stopped by to see her when she visited, just to say hi. She had her own fan club even before she was adopted. All this made it easier to tell myself she’s better off. I’d even be better off at my cousin’s house, with the lake and the birds and the space, so Lulu’s certainly better off. Who wants to stay inside, sitting around while watching someone sit around?

When I first saw Lulu, she wouldn’t stop licking my hand. She grabbed my wrist with her mouth and kept licking me, she was so excited. It’s been six weeks since I saw her and I’d hoped she’d be so happy here she wouldn’t remember me. I try not to cry when I see her pictures, which is all the time at my condo, but I wanted her to be so happy with my cousin that she forgot all about me. She’s excited to see everyone, I told myself as she kept licking me. I used to be afraid she’d be stolen, she loves everyone so much. All you’d have to do is pet her and she’d follow you anywhere.

While we were eating lunch with my cousin’s family, Lulu sat right under my chair. She sat next to me when we were in the kitchen cleaning up, and while we watched Bolt with Ariana. We couldn’t hear the TV in our little condo when she’d snore, she had so much reverberation going. Here, in my cousin’s bigger, better house, it wasn’t disruptive at all. You could watch TV without the sound at 50 and you could hear everything over the snoring. The boys were doing things, my cousin was doing things, we were watching TV and Lulu was snoring. She filled out the ambient noise of a happy family’s house.

It’s time to go. I have to hide in the bathroom and talk myself out of the crying I’m trying not to do. Is there anything that sucks more than having to do grown-up things you don’t want to do AND not be able to have a big hissy fit in the process? When you’re six and you can’t have your way, having a temper tantrum seems to make all the difference. You can deal with anything after a good pounding scream. When you’re an adult you have to do yoga or count to ten. It’s hard enough to be an adult without having someone overpower you and help you stop. God’s busy with Iraq and more important things, so I don’t want to waste His time over something so insignificant, but I do. Otherwise I’d be in the bathroom all night. Inside I’m still six, I’m afraid.

I come out, act my age, and see Lulu standing by the door like she has to go out. I open the door and she runs right to my car. She thinks she’s going home. If I hadn’t been in the bathroom for an extended period preparing for this, I’d be full of tears right now. Or having a fit of some kind.

“Ariana,” I say. “Is it time to feed Lulu?”

Ariana has the job of picking up Lulu’s poop and feeding her. That’s more responsibility than I could handle at 12. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little but she seems more responsible than me even five years ago. It’s clear she loves Lulu if she’s picking up her poop. That’s a lot of love.

Ariana calls Lulu for dinner and that’s when Charlie and I run out to the car and take off. As we’re waving to my cousin and the boys, I see Lulu’s head peek through their legs at the door. She looks up, watches us leave, then turns around to finish her food.

I could have an epic hissy fit right about now if I were six.