Saturday a new dog will come into our life—Sophie, the Boston terrier. She's six or seven (or maybe five, fingers crossed) and missing her front teeth. She's had a melanoma removed from her back leg and mammary cancer from her breasts that may or may not return. She was a breeder in a puppy mill and is just now learning to be a dog (ie, play, walks, relaxation).
Regardless of what Sophie still needs to learn, she will have a lot to teach me. Dogs are so much better than people, and I say that as someone with a good deal of lovely human friends. Dogs are patient (except when it comes to food or car rides), take their baths with as much dignity as they can muster, are never angry with you or pick a fight because of some existential emptiness in their hearts that they think can be filled with drama. They don't care what you look like or smell like or whether you make a hundred grand or twenty. They just want to bury their butt into the side of your thigh and fall asleep with you in arm's reach.
Dogs can cultivate bad habits, for sure. However, through patience and training and positive affirmation, they usually stop peeing in the corner or chewing their leg or barking at leaves. I can't say the same for myself. All my life, I've been a controlling codependent, wanting to take care of people, falling in love with the most broken of souls. Of course, broken people never want to be fixed. No matter how much I love or sacrifice for them, no matter how much I rationally explain to them the destructive ways of their behavior, it doesn't matter. Unlike dogs, people will simply do what they're going to do. Unfortunately, they're smart enough to take off that plastic funnel around their head and go right for their own jugular.
I always felt like a failure when I couldn't save someone. Sometimes, with those people in my life now who are slowly sliding down a hole, no longer within arm's reach to pull back up, I still do. But my years of adopting old, broken Bostons have helped. They want to be good little citizens. They're selfless and will remodel themselves to please you. And I get to mitigate my Sisyphean behavior, turning it into something positive. I can save my little Boston children. At least, for a little while.
And they've helped me become a better citizen as well. In fact, I daresay my first Boston got me out of a very long term, pretty unhealthy relationship. I know I can judge a person by his or her interaction with my Boston terrier. Whatever tragedy lurks in the corners of everyday life will be tempered somewhat by the fact I can hug my little fur baby as tight as I can until the pain becomes manageable. I've gotten through breakups, deaths, rejection, you name it, by burying my nose in the familiar scent of oatmeal shampoo and Fritos.
The greatest tragedy of I've ever had to endure is when my Bostons died. Who is there to comfort you then?
And so comes Sophie. I'm not nearly over Shirley. Shamefully, I still cry almost every day (although not as much in public anymore). My heart still feels like a smoldering grayed charcoal lump after a barbecue. But I know once I see my little google-eyed monster waddling off the plane (yes, she is a little overweight, and yes, she will be flying via private charter with two other Boston terriers to Manassas, Virginia, on Saturday), that I will feel a little more like myself again—old girl dog Boston mommy is back in the saddle.
Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King, winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize, the short story collections From Here and Close Encounters, and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww, a co-host of The 510 Readings and the biannual Lit Show, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine called a "Best of Baltimore" in 2010. She lives in Baltimore, MD. She tweets at https://twitter.com/MichalskiJen.