We had come full circle in the space of two years.
There we were, on the couch. I was giving a hug filled with love. It was gratefully accepted.
And before you get too excited, my dog was the grateful recipient.
I don’t know how I feel about that latter part.
I surprised my boys with Bailey on December 23, 2012.
Of course, this had nothing to do with the fact that my divorce was finalized just days before.
I’m faaaaaar too emotionally healthy to get a dog to fill an emotional void I would rather not fill with guilt.
She says, winking.
Seriously, though, I love dogs. And Bailey was meant to come to us.
Her journey is a bit of a miracle, in my mind.
She started life in Tennessee, a small pup left in a box at a kids’ camp.
She was brought home, hopefully, by a girl attending the camp. Her parents acquiesced, but I’m not sure how willingly, to the dog.
Bailey then lived in a high-rise apartment, alone for most of the day—you know the drill. Not enough exercise, not enough socialization, etc.
And somewhere along the way, somebody or a few somebodies did a number on her. Somebodies I still, many days, wish I could do a number on because it takes a special kind of cowardice to mistreat a dog.
By the time she got to us at eight months old, courtesy of a friend who tipped us off to a family trying to get rid of a black Lab mix, she was one big furry ball of anxiety.
Bailey was staying with a friend of the family who was trying to give her away. This family was going to give her to a shelter and the friend stepped in to save her.
When she was dropped off that first night, she was a wreck. She’d been left again. Yet again.
She ran from window to window, jumped at the door, whining and crying. From the front of the house to the back, on the couch and back down. She literally could not stay still. She was terrified, to say the least.
After about 15 minutes of this, when I realized she couldn’t calm herself and was not a dog that easily exhausted, I took matters into my own hands. I sat next to her on the couch and hugged her.
She was flabbergasted. I’m sure that’s what she would have said if she could talk, being a dog of high vocabulary.
She was not sure if she liked this hugging thing, but I gently, firmly held her there. And spoke soothingly.
After a few minutes, she started to calm down. As I hugged her, I thought about what I’d done. Here I was, trying to sort out a financial and emotional mess, with two boys depending on me—and I had just taken on a furry girl who now also would depend on me.
I was scared at what might lie ahead, relieved at what was behind us and praying like my hair was on fire that I could be enough for all of us to lean on in the days to come.
It was a rough first night and we had quite a few after that.
Her mistreatment and general lack of socialization meant she never slept soundly. She had nightmares. One tiny sound from two rooms away and her half-closed eyes popped open. She was always on high alert. She never licked us, asked for anything, cowered if I yelled upstairs for the kids to come down. Everything from a waving flag to a puff of air could set her off.
Did I mention I was a bit of an anxious kid?
I got it. I knew what she was feeling. It’s a horrible feeling when it becomes chronic.
I continued to let her know who was in charge. We continued to pour on the love. She got a dog bed, which stymied her. Canned salmon. Treats. Baths.
A home that did not go away. People who did the same.
Last night, I sat watching TV on the couch. And she sat next to me. Moved by love, I gave her a hug. All of a sudden, I realized that she was perfectly still. That she had put her paw on my arm as if trying to hug me back. She sniffed my face, gave me a lick and settled down for a nap with a contented sigh.
We were, almost to the day, two years into our relationship.
The similarity to our first-night scene was uncanny. Christmas tree up, TV on, alone in the house waiting for kids to return. But the difference in her was nothing short of amazing.
My friends sometimes tease me at my indulgence when it comes to Bailey.
It turns out that I continue to be leaned upon. And I’ve been up to the pressure, the weight. I still get terrified in moments or days. Other times, I feel I have it. I still pray like my hair is on fire.
But Ms. Bailey? She is a blessing. The joy when I come home, the full body wag, is amazing. The snores while she naps, trusting completely that I’ve got her back, well those make me smile. The nightmares are so rare now. She “runs” in her dreams (I know because her paws move in that motion) but it’s not as if she is scared. She is excited. I like to think she is dreaming of running with my boys.
She doesn’t care when I look tired or wear my jogging pants far too often. She just loves me. Us. Enough to carry my boys’ smelly socks in her mouth after they leave for school, just so she can have their scent near her.
She continues to show me what love can do. Even when you are a ball of anxiety.
We’ve come full circle but we are changed, she and I.
How could we not be with all that love and fiery prayer?
I thought she needed to learn the lesson. Turns out I needed to learn it too.
Love changes things.
And if someone you trusted is fool enough to let you go or mistreat you, life may just lead you to a happiness you didn’t even know existed.
And a love beyond your wildest dreams.
Now that’s a Christmas present worth keeping.