Updated: Jul 24, 2022
“You only grow by coming to the end of something and by beginning something else.” ― John Irving
"Today was the third day of my new job, and that’s not the biggest thing that’s happened to me in the last three months by a long shot.”
I wrote that almost a month ago, the beginning of a post that was to renew my commitment to my writing. “I’m going to do it this time. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to finish this book before the end of the year. I’m going to blog regularly. This time it’s for real!”
Yes, even I'm tired of hearing me say that.
To be fair, we’d just gotten through some busy and challenging months. Joe started plans for a new business venture and was just getting things going when I got news that I knew was coming: I was laid off from my job of almost 8 years. Then a snowball of major purchases had to be made as I was interviewing and eventually accepting a new job. Tires for the Jeep. A week-long stay in Florida to care for our grandsons as our precious granddaughter was born. My parents’ 50th anniversary. A plane ticket to meet, for the first time in person, my new coworkers.
I’d written a little about starting this new job for that blog. It's an opportunity to help build a brand new education unit with a non-profit trade organization. I added a little reflection about my time with my former employer: Lessons learned, gratitude for the people I met and continue to keep in touch with, thoughts on the plight of the American worker. (Oh yes, I have thoughts!)
It had been a productive spring/summer so far. I outlined and rough drafted an entirely new story, a fantasy sci-fi that I was in love with at the outline stage, was in serious like at the rough draft stage, and now I’m considering breaking up with it.
I considered getting back together with my sci-fi The Usual Suspects/Atomic Blonde mashup.
Then there’s always Book 2 of the Vagabonder series, just waiting for the rewrite based on the rewrite of Book 1.
Or maybe I should rewrite Vagabonder.
The summer rolled on, busy, hot, and stressful. Then came the cruelest cut of all.
We had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Poe. He was the greatest dog I’ve ever known. He was a better human than most people. Poe loved everyone. He greeted everyone with enthusiasm, invited everyone to play, and showered everyone with love and lots of puppy kisses. Now, two weeks later, I still get choked up when I think about how he isn’t here.
Poe was our best friend. I’ve never met another being who was more loving, more giving, more patient, more kind. Knowing Poe, I think, is the closest I’ve ever gotten to actually knowing god, or what I imagine a god should be. Pure love. Pure joy. Pure happiness. Poe didn’t care where you were from or what you looked like. Poe didn’t want to control how you lived your life. Poe just wanted to be friends, to share some ice cream or beer, and to throw the ball a few times.
What would Poe do? I can’t think of a better role model for how to live one’s life, and I know that Poe spent zero time being sad about things. So what happened next, I think, was simply Poe-intervention.
I don’t have any illusions about whether the universe cares personally about me. It’s nice to think “when one door closes, another opens,” or “that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger” or any other such cliché that people say when they don’t know how else to explain why terrible, awful things happen. There’s nothing out there looking out for me or putting things in my path to challenge me. “Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it,” according to Kermit the Frog (as Bob Cratchit in The Muppet Christmas Carol). It is those meetings that make the difference in our lives, whether we realize at the time or not.
I met my friend and fellow writer Angel Rodgers when we were graduate students. We reconnected after 20 years through the power of social media, and I met her lovely wife Dani. Then, I connected with their friends Tammy and Stacy over drinks at Big Whiskeys in Little Rock. We friended each other. Found common interests. Forged human connections grounded in empathy and friendship and caring.
As people do these days, I shared a post about Poe on social media. If I could decree that social media is to be used only to share human moments, and that our only responses could be empathetic and loving, I would do so. Knowing that other people understood the pain of losing a furry child didn’t erase the heartache, but it did ease it somewhat. Among the loving responses I received was this from Tammy, who I have to point out barely knows me: “If your heart recovers enough, contact me. My daughter-in-law has 7 wk old healthy vetted bundles of love. Standard Aussie babies. One has lots of white on his face.”
I hesitated. My heart will never recover, that I knew. Joe and Poe were inseparable, and his grief was palpable. I didn’t want him to think I was trying to replace Poe – that’s not possible – but I also knew, somehow, that Poe would insist on our getting another dog. We’d been with him to the very end, telling him over and over how much we loved him.
What would Poe say?
You gave me a great life, human. Other dogs need good lives too.
“I’m just telling you this so you know, but we don’t have to do anything,” I said to Joe a couple of evenings after we said goodbye to Poe. A carved wooden box containing Poe’s ashes sat on the coffee table between us, contributing to a numb, grey silence. We’d been watching some really terrible sci-fi show, just to have something to distract us from our grief. “Do you want to go look at some puppies?”
“Anything is better than this,” Joe mumbled. “Let’s go.”
We drove 30 minutes to Enola, over state highways that wound through hollows and farmland, passing charming homesteads with white houses and red barns, and dilapidated properties with cluttered front yards scattered with decaying furniture and rusting appliances. It was a warm, humid summer evening, so typically Arkansas. The sun was just beginning its descent and cast a soft glow over lush green pastures and bright crepe myrtles. We found the dirt road we were told was “very rough” and climbed it in my Jeep, bumping and dipping and jerking across ruts and washed out crevices to finally arrive at a small farmhouse. The daughter-in-law, Allison, greeted us with a smile and ushered us inside where five Aussie puppies squeaked and played in a child’s playpen. Five fuzzy bundles of energy, each cuter than the last, and obviously loved by Allison’s sweet and generous family.
I picked up the runt, a harlequin-faced girl who proceeded to lick my entire face. Joe picked up the red merle, a boy with striking green eyes and a pink nose, who nuzzled against him. Another boy, a blue merle with one green eye and one blue eye, begged for attention, so I put the girl down and picked him up. Full of energy this one was. And smiling? He flopped in my arms, inviting a belly scratch.
These are not Poe. Will never be Poe. But still…I felt a little lighter. I looked over at Joe, who was cuddling one of the pups, and I saw him smiling for the first time in days. A bittersweet smile that both recognized what we had lost and looked to what the future might hold. We’d learned how to be dog parents from the best.
Give them a chance, Poe would say. They look like they’d enjoy a Starbucks pup cup or two.
How we ended up with three Australian shepherd puppies won’t be a mystery to anyone who really knows Joe or me. The runt was a given. I’m a sucker for the underdog. Meet Andromeda, or Andi for short.
The red merle stole our heart with his green eyes and pink nose. He is cautious, and more than a little stubborn. Not quite sure yet whether we’re worthy of obedience. Some very Poe-like traits. Meet The Dude.
The blue merle wasn’t in my plans. I was getting two dogs, but Joe was not having it. Never leave a man behind, he always says. I’m so glad, because this big guy is a fluffy ball of fun and love (and a bit of a mama’s boy). Meet Amos, named for our favorite character from The Expanse.
It has been an eventful summer. We said goodbye to an old job and our best friend. We said hello to a new granddaughter, a new business venture, a new job, and new family members.
More changes and challenges lay ahead as we let go of old habits and routines and form new ones. Meetings and partings. Endings and beginnings. That is the way of it.
What would Poe do?
Take a nap. Enjoy a dip in the pond to refresh. And get back to the hard work of loving life.
Thanks, Poe, for teaching us how to be better humans. We'll make sure these guys have a life less ordinary.