Monday, September 6, 2010

Being a grownup. And puppies.

In light of great recent conversations with The Modern Gal...
And the fact that I didn't win last year's Real Simple Life Lessons essay contest...
Which means I can now publish this little not-winning essay entry of mine...
And because with every passing day I'm increasingly convinced that maybe, just maybe, my life is one that's meant to be filled with fur babies instead of not real ones...
Which is totally fine and dandy, despite what society says... (For a great post on that, click here)
And because there hasn't been a post about the Mutt Princess in a while ...

I give you last year's essay for Real Simple on the topic of when I knew I was finally a grownup. Feel free to add your own "eureka" moment below. (With apologies to my mom, who made me promise I'd never write about her on the blog.)

My parents preferred a purebred. My heart was set on a mutt.

It was a few weeks after my 24th birthday and I was still unpacking boxes from my recent move to Indianapolis _ a new and thoroughly Midwestern place where I could hear the roar of the engines at Speedway if the wind blew just right. This was corn country, far from my East Coast roots and the lush mountains of Tennessee where I’d spent the past three years soaking up southern culture (and some moonshine) as a newspaper reporter.

I’d moved to Tennessee right after college, loading my little Civic with whatever it would hold and renting a furnished apartment in a falling-down Victorian house from an elderly man who recited Bible verses and made me promise not to let men stay the night. I didn’t intend to stay longer than six months. But I fell in love with the place and the people, and somewhere along the way it became home.

When the offer came for a bigger and better job hundreds of miles north, I knew turning it down wasn’t an option. But after three years, uprooting my life seemed almost unimaginable.

In Indianapolis I had a house to call my own. Two whole bedrooms _ and a fenced-in yard _ that I could decorate however I wanted. But new places can be impenetrable when you’re young and unattached and unconnected to the community. My office was small and my coworkers were older. I didn’t have any friends there or know where to find new ones.

I was alone, and bored, and 100 percent homesick for the life I’d left behind. So, I did what any girl would do. I decided to get a dog.

At the office, I alt-tabbed my way through I wanted a small female dog _ not small enough to ride daintily in a purse, but small enough to comfortably sit shotgun in my aging car.

My parents always had purebreds. First, it was an English foxhound who, according to family lore, anchored herself firmly underneath my crib and let out a headache-inducing howl the second I began to whimper. (Bonus: no baby monitor for me.) Later, it was a small, scruffy border terrier whose breed was selected through a multiple choice questionnaire devised by my mathematician mother. I wasn’t convinced one way or another what breed of dog was right for me. But I knew there were dogs that needed a home. And I was ready to open mine to one who did.

She was honey yellow, with a curly tail and mismatched ears, and her name at the time was Sasha. She was a puppy, but housebroken. She could fetch. And, when I first saw her at the pound, she snuggled on my lap like it was the softest pillow ever.

It was love at first sight. My heart melted. I named her Macy Mae, loaded her into my car and headed home to begin life as a team.

Twenty-four hours later, I knew something was wrong. My new sidekick wasn’t eating and couldn’t keep food down. By the next morning, she wobbled when she walked. I held her in my arms when the vet told me the bad news. She had parvo, a usually fatal intestinal virus. By that point she was too sick to even stand.

If Macy could survive _ a big if _ getting her healthy would be expensive and cost far more money that I had, especially after such a big move. They told me to consider putting her down.
I knew a dog was a responsibility _ financial and otherwise. But I wasn’t prepared to pay $2,000 for a furry little critter who stumbled into my life two days before. I was sobbing by this point, as I held her and looked into her big, brown eyes. I did the math, said a prayer, and gave them my credit card.

I was her only chance. And in a way, she’d turn out to be mine.

The fight that followed with my family was one I’m not sure I’ll never forget.

“You should have gotten a purebred,” my well-meaning mother said on the telephone a time zone away. “This wouldn’t have happened if you’d gone to a breeder.”

That was when I hung up the phone. I probably blamed the dropped call on a bad connection. But I was angry. Furious. How could she think that? I loved this dog. She was my responsibility.
More than that, she was MINE. And I wouldn’t let her go without a fight.

It’s strange how some moments _ milliseconds, really _ completely change who you are.

Somewhere that day my reality shifted from being a girl alone in a strange place, who still asked her parents for permission, to being an independent woman who was firmly in control. Through my tears, I realized I was the one in charge of my life. I didn’t need an OK from my mother or my father. Or their validation. I just needed me.

Some people say they don’t feel grownup until they buy a house, get a 401(k), grieve the loss of a parent, or hold their newborns for the first time. For me, my first twinge of adulthood came that first time I realized that I was responsible for a something that depended totally on me, even if that something was a funny –looking pound puppy who most likely wouldn’t survive the night.

One week later, I brought her home. Wrapped in a blanket and shivering, Macy’s ribs traced an outline through her fur. She still wasn’t healthy, but she’d eventually recover. My credit card balance never did.

Four years (and three rounds of yet-to-be-successful obedience training later), Macy and I are still a team. She may be genetically incapable of learning to stay, but she’s still managed to teach me a lot. She’s licked away tears cried over breakups and shown me that there’s such a thing as unconditional love. She’s taught me pet people are, for the most part, kind and generous; that dog parks are great ways to make friends in a new city; and any bar that lets you drink a pint with a furry friend in tow is going to be, unquestionably, fabulous. She’s taught me that the world feels like a better place after a game of fetch; that there’s beauty, even at 5:30 a.m., walking through snow drifts with a dog by your side. There’s bigger things too, about how you can surprise yourself with strength you never knew you had; that learning to be comfortable with who you is never easy and never quick, and that being a grownup means putting others first.

She's a constant reminder that someone’s pedigree isn’t what matters; it’s who they are today that counts.

As an adult, profound moments come when you least expect them. Mine just happened to come with a cold wet nose, a curlicue tail, and lopsided ears.


greydolphin said...

You should have won.

What a BEAUTIFUL essay. I remember bringing my leia home that night...just the two of us. She TOTALLY depended on me. Terrifying, but completely what I wanted. To be her mommy. I called my mom, and asked her if she thought I'd be a good mommy. I was scared, and I don't like challenges, but this one was one I would risk a lot sweet little beagle girl.
5 years later, I love her even more.

I understand completely, and Macy Mae is one lucky hit-the-jackpot kinda pup.

EmB said...

Aw. Fantastico. Dogs rock. Macy especially.

Littlebook said...

Mutts are the best! Thank you for this wonderful story.

Margie said...

Pound puppies around the globe are barking with glee for your inspirational essay. Mutts have great longevity of life, mine as a kid lived for 15+ years, just a loving (yet sometimes disobedient) farm dog named Dixon. You took a risk and now you have a great friend by your side.

Noodles said...

Thanks, y'all! But for a great essay, you should read the one written by the winner.

The Modern Gal said...

What a great essay. I remember her being sick, but I guess we weren't close enough at the time for me to know what all you went through with this. I ended up with Lucydog for much the same reason, and the love has paid off tenfold.

KateKwiltz said...

Great essay! Maybe it's because I've been in the same oh-my-god-that's-going-to-cost-HOW-much? position at the emergency vet, but I think you should have won.

Angie Estes said...

Just now catching up on my blog reading and read this. You're a wonderful writer, girlfriend. :)