This year has been one for the record books, at least my own life record books, full of unanticipated stresses, betrayal, drama, anxiety, and many opportunities to shake my attachments to outcomes and life plans. The month of September, which included negotiating the beginnings of the sale of my house in Alaska, a trial by telephone from Brussels to Alaska, illness, a temporary exodus of my life partner to the United States while I moved through the final four days of my second yoga teacher training, was one of the more stressful spans of weeks of my existence. It seems that for the first time since beginning this blog, I actually did not post a single piece for the month of September. I created this blog in the July 2010, and I have never missed a month until this year.
Something I have wished for during the past year has been a less exciting existence, particularly in the realm of finances. My husband and I have crossed our fingers for the trial to go well, for my house to sell, and for him to receive funding for his doctoral studies in Brussels. So far, we continue to keep those fingers crossed.
Another desire I have held in my heart since the passing of my beloved wolf dog and since my parents “borrowed” our beloved Naih husky while we searched for a place to rent where we could have a dog and then expressed a desire to keep her around “for a while longer,” has been to bring to a canine companion into my life once more.
The bar is quite high, however, for a canine companion, which puts a lot of pressure on any being who might walk through the doors of our quiet home in a forested corner of Brussels.
My mental (and yes, I do mean this for the many entrendres it carries) wish list for a canine companion has included the following tenets:
Will be wolfie
Will be my shadow
Will be most bonded to me
Will get along with my cats (at least with the cat who thinks he is a dog)
Will be a gentle giant
And so on and so forth…
With this list, I found it difficult to ever settle on a possible dog to rescue and bring into our home. How could the dog ever meet my ridiculous standards? I was certainly not setting up any dog for success. There was also so much unknown. When we first met Okami at the husky rescue we adopted him from, he was not at all interested in any member of our family.
I vividly recall exchanging a glance with my husband, replete with shoulder shrug: Well, I guess we will just bring him home and see…
Within 24 hours, he had become my shadow, but it was still a challenging transition in all of our lives for us to adjust to this new member of the family and for him to adjust to life with our three cats and us.
The first night we brought Okami home, we thought we would just put him on the run outside since that had been the preference of our previous husky, Blue. We went to bed but were soon roused by the most haunting, mournful howling I had ever heard.
Ok. Okami was not going to be an outside-at-night kind of dog. First lesson learned.
Next lesson. Okami was terrified of small, enclosed spaces. He would never set foot in the bathroom, and the wire crate we had set up for him was definitely out of the question. What to do if/when we had to leave the house?
We tried to always either bring him with us or make sure someone was at home. At the time, my husband’s daughter was still living at home (the summer before she headed to college in the Pacific Northwest), so we were on a kind of round the clock Okami caretaking committee.
The times we did leave the house, he would try to break his way through the window screen to get out and knock things over in the house in the panic-ridden process. With time, he began to adjust, and after years of remembering the ease with which we settled into our life together, it was not until bringing home a new rescue dog that I was reminded of the initial stresses and anxieties of that transition time.
Enter the being I have been referring to as BWD (big, white dog).
We have a perfect life, Marieke, my husband told me on several occasions this past year when I would bemoan the absence of a dog in our life in Belgium. It is peaceful, and you have the love of two cats.
Cats are not the same as dogs, I would retort.
Can’t you be happy with what we have? Isn’t it good enough?
I guess, I would respond, but my heart remained steadfast on the idea of a goofy, gentle, shadow canine. Like so many things in my life (ukulele, mandolin, dog, red shoes, etc.), once I get my mind or heart set on something, it turns into a strange obsession until I either let it go, or more often, until I bring it home. It doesn’t matter how unreasonable or ridiculous the idea, I can’t seem to shake the desire. It takes root and grows at an alarming rate.
The other night, as I desperately texted with my husband about the stress of the reality of having all of my canine wish list granted, he responded, When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers (which he later told me came from an Oscar Wilde play, An Ideal Husband).
I am not one to admit defeat all that readily. By nature, I am quite competitive, and I really like being right. I rarely give my husband the satisfaction of being right, but he was definitely spot on with this one, and I let him know this without shame.
I was clearly crazy to bring such chaos into our perfectly peaceful life.
So, on the first chaotic evening with my this new, furry being, I tried to remind myself, You asked for this. There’s a reason this is happening. I was at the point of tears, listening to the strange yowling howling sounds coming from downstairs, where I had attempted to put the dog in his kennel for the night since he couldn’t figure out how to go up the stairs, and my terrified cats were hiding upstairs.
I eventually decided that maybe I needed to ease him into spending time in the kennel and went to sleep on the couch downstairs with him. He eventually settled down and slept on the dog bed I had placed beside the couch. Periodically through the night, I awoke to see his big head right in front of mine. He gave me kisses and went back to sleep on his bed. In the morning, I fond him sleeping on the other half of the couch, his head nestled next to mine on the pillow, the bottom half of his body extending off of the couch and onto the wide stair beside it.
The next day I informed my husband of my concern that I had ruined our perfect, peaceful life.
I still feel really freaked out about bringing a dog home, I admitted.
It will be fine, he assured me. Patience.
I hope so. I am worried, and I miss the cats and the second floor.
Just give him time. He needs a safe place to land, just like Jack. (Jack is a young boy in one of our favorite books series by Deborah Harkness, who is taken in a couple after a life with stability in the streets of Elizabethan England).
Ohhhhhh, I responded. I love you!
I love YOU!
Maybe he chose me, and it was not really me at all making the choices. So I am not to blame. I plead insanity, I responded.
Ha…no, you are.
I am L
But it is FINE. Really. Or, it will be.
I’m worried about money, too. And our freedom to explore.
All in good time.
The dog will open up different doors to explore.
True. I have talked to more people in Boitsfort since he arrived and more of our neighbors than in the past six months. So I am learning more French!
We engaged in many of these kinds of texting conversations. They mostly involved me freaking out over this huge transition and questioning my sanity and whether life could ever be peaceful again.
I don’t know what I was thinking!? I texted my husband.
I really think it is going to be just fine. You should write a blog or note to your future self, telling how you are feeling right now and how the initial experience with BWD is going.
So my future self will never adopt another dog?
No, so your future self will remember how nervous you were and how good things are “now” (in the future). Showing you that things WILL work out just fine.
Oh my gosh, I STILL love you.
Well, that is good.
You get the idea. So, future Self of mine, remember this:
Remember this crazy time.
Remember the peace of life with two relatively subdued cats and the overwhelming stress of bringing a new being into the mix.
Remember how nervous you were about whether or not everything would work out.
Remember wondering if the dog and cats would ever carve out an amicable or at least tolerant existence.
Remember the stress of the unknown.
And, most importantly, remember to keep breathing!
Everything is already alright.