by Maria Kalman
Adapted from her forthcoming book titled: "Beloved Dog."
Originally published in the NY Times, October 18, 2015
ARE we born with fears?
Are we born happy or sad?
Are we born needing to be loved unconditionally and comforted throughout our lives?
Yes to all of the above.
But who will comfort us without asking for anything in return? A mother, maybe. But a dog, for sure.
Before I understood the love of dogs, I was terrified of them, big and small.
It was common knowledge that if you weren’t wary, a dog would rip your face off.
Life went on just fine without a dog.
And then something catastrophic happened. Tibor, my husband, was terminally ill. We had two young children. The mood was grim. And someone had the idea of getting a dog. A dog would comfort the children. A dog would be a mood elevator.
Well, we make leaps in this world. Things change. For the worse. And then for the better.
We surprised the children. He scrambled into their room. He was an Irish Wheaten. A scruffy pink cartoon of a dog. We thought about naming him Einstein but then chose Pete. A wise choice given the state of his intellect. He was the mood elevator that we hoped he would be for the entire family. Laughter!
And then, within days or hours or minutes, he became my solace and comfort. My constant companion, confidant, muse, therapist, teacher. My sweet love.
But he also acted just like a dog.
Dozens of shoes chewed. My lovely Leica camera chewed. Books, chairs, dolls, underpants. All chewed to shreds.
Did I care? Not one bit. Not one iota of one bit.
How could I have known? He burst into my life, amused me endlessly with his antics, modeled for drawings without complaining. Stayed by my side all day and all night.
It is true he was not fond of the sweaters that my mother knitted for him, with the Bauhaus P so beautiful on his back. Perhaps in those days he contemplated running away. I do not know; I do know he didn’t like the endless fittings, and when he saw me taking out the sweater, he would dash across the room and hide.
But he stayed.
Pete outlived Tibor. He came with me when I went to visit Tibor’s grave. Sat under the tree. Watched me weep, saying not a word.
And then, in a few years, it was Pete’s turn to die. And I held him and said goodbye.
I have not been able to replace Pete. Because he holds my heart. Or because I am selfish and don’t want to think about walking a dog. Or I travel so much. Or I want my shoes unchewed. Or because the children are now grown and live in their own homes. Or because I am afraid of a broken heart.
Our loved ones leave us. And we are shocked to discover that the world goes on. And there is even fun and merriment.
I still have Pete’s sweaters.
Waiting for another dog who might like a sweater with a beautiful letter P.
Pickles? Pookie? Maybe just Pete. We shall see.