I am a hopeless romantic. Or maybe I am a hopeful romantic. I started writing poems when I was 10 years old. I picked up my mother’s collection of Shakespeare around that same time and even though I didn’t quite understand all of it, I understood that pretty much every sonnet was about love. I was a nerd in love with writing and in love with the idea of love. And I didn’t know a damn thing about either one of those things.
I wanted to be a poet, a writer. In fourth grade, my entire class wrote letters to John D. Fitzgerald, the author of “The Great Brain” series. In my letter to him I said, I wanted a chihuahua because my mother and my brother and I lived in a small apartment and we could not have big pets. But I really, really wanted a dog. And I wanted to be a writer. But maybe I should be a doctor because I liked doctors and they were kind and helped us. And of all the people in my fourth grade class, Mr. Fitzgerald wrote back to me. He said that I was a good writer. He told me that he hoped one day I would have my chihuahua. And he also told me, be a doctor. Or a lawyer. Because it is very hard to make a living as a writer. You must find a job that that will feed your art, he wrote to me. I have never forgotten that.
I followed Mr. Fitzgerald’s advice. I became a lawyer. I got married and I acquired a husband and a couple big dogs. And we had two sons. When my marriage was crumbling, my youngest son Max asked for another dog. He wanted a little dog, a dog he could hold on his lap. Not the big ones that we typically had.
He learned PowerPoint in fifth grade. For one of his final projects for an open house, he did a PowerPoint presentation titled “Why Max Should Have A Bichon Frise.” It was pretty damn good. A few months later, he and his dad adopted Tommy. Not much longer after that, his dad and I got divorced. His dad moved out and the dogs stayed with me. Max was 13 years old.
When Max started his senior year in high school last year, Tommy started having elder dog issues. Tommy was incontinent. He couldn’t see or hear very well. My evening routine included putting a diaper on him and tucking him into his doggie bed. Morning meant getting him up and out into the backyard. And then, a couple months ago, he wouldn’t come back in on his own. He was tired and would lie down on a patch of warm dirt in the back yard. I’d bring him in and hug him and he’d chortle and go back to sleep. When Max would come home, he’d wake up and totter after him. Max would take him for short walks, but only Max could take him. Tommy was moving more and more slowly.
Finally, after veterinarian visits and tests and difficult discussions, it was time for Tommy to be at peace and out of pain. I told Max. He was heartbroken. He spent Tommy’s last 24 hours with him, hugging him, taking him to the park, feeding him milkshakes, reading to him, playing him music.
At the veterinarian’s office, my son held his little dog for the last time. He told Tommy stories about all the good times they had together. He said to Tommy, these are all the spots you liked to be tickled, do you remember?
I realized that my child, my now young adult, lost so much this year. He lost a “normal” senior year. He lost prom. He lost a “normal” graduation. He lost saying goodbye to his teachers and his friends and his high school. He lost a last high school summer with vacations and trips. And he lost his little dog. But here’s the thing. My son, my badass, beautiful, boy – showed me that this year, he also learned a lot about love and letting go.
You know what, it turns out that Mr. Fitzgerald was right about fourth grade me. I did get a little dog. I do have a job that feeds my art. I’ve got amazing sons and family and friends. I’m also still a hopeless – or hopeful – romantic. Because thanks to the love of a brave, sweet, little dog, and my boy who held him to the very end, I believe love is possible – and necessary – for all of us. Thank you, little Tommy. I am grateful to have earned the love of a dog.