It's been nearly one year since my small white Havanese dog, Luis, left the world, released back into the natural order of stars and atoms and energy. I sleep with his photo and a little cedar box of his ashes next to my bed. And at least once a week, before oblivion settles over me, I look at his photo and remember what it was like to be unconditionally loved and to unconditionally love back.
My ex, who probably was always a little jealous of my adoration of this creature, gave me a gift the other day, a book of stories by famous writers called Dog Is My Co-Pilot, subtitled "Great Writers on the World's Oldest Friendship" from the editors of The Bark, a newsletter about dogs. I opened it tentatively because I was fearful of the words inside breaking me open again to the agony of the loss of a companion who could only speak to me through his eyes, his touch and his childlike sounds. Maybe that's exactly why we got on so well. No words ever got in our way.
Having experienced many other recent losses in my life including two miscarriages, a father taken bit by bit by Alzheimer's, the splintering of my birth family into factions, a supportive friend of 15 years whose body and life was destroyed by Lou Gehrig's disease and the premature death of my brother-in-law by leukemia, I wondered if being a voyeur into other people's relationships with canines was a good idea for someone who was trying her best to move on. But I opened the cover despite my fears and jumped into the doggy dish.
Erica Jong, the first writer I encountered, states that a dog is a woman's best friend. "Like men, dogs think with their noses. Unlike men, dogs are fiercely loyal," Jong says. Yes, probably true most of the time, although I'd like to believe there are men out there who could be fiercely loyal to their women. I'd like to believe it, although more often than not, what proves true is that when men are the least bit insecure or feeling neglected or unloved or not satisfied sexually, they will sleep with other women and lie about it. We all know this happens, and we know women do the same thing, though probably less often. We are all of us, men and women, only human. We're not dogs. We haven't yet evolved emotionally to that place.
This is exactly what makes dogs so remarkable. Why they've been our companions for so many centuries and why women are now seeing how great and powerful their relationship with canines can be, unlike anything they will ever experience. Anyone out there who has a dog companion knows exactly what I mean.
I'm going to be brave here and tell you exactly what I fear about my dating life now that I'm over 50. I'm terrified there's no one out there for me. No one who can put up with my nuttiness, my anxieties, my insecurities, my moodiness. No one who will see the inside of me and still love me fiercely. No one who will ever again love me like Luis did. There, it's out there. And now that I've said it, I feel better. This is the kind of thing I would tell Luis. He always listened and reassured me that it was just not the case. After all, he certainly loved me in all my horrifying neediness and with all my "stuff," right?
Now that I think about it, I've already experienced what some people never experience in any relationship of any kind. When Luis died, I understood, for example, that I could cope with devastating loss. He taught me (and Jong reminds me) that when you love a creature, dog or human, you can "pick up its shit and not mind... that nothing is disgusting in love -- neither smells nor spills." Most importantly, I saw that I really could hang in there, be fully present, right up until the last devastating moment. I learned I won't run from the room screaming, but will hold my beloved in my arms and watch the last shudder of his fragile body while tears flood everything in the universe. This is love, isn't it?
After finishing the book, I decided I would discover and commit to another dog companion in a few months. And yes, I'll also keep dating. If a human shows up who's fiercely loyal and finds nothing about me disgusting, neither smells nor spills and I, too, find nothing disgusting about him and can pick up his shit and not mind... well. I'll be in a Sting song... running through fields of barley. Running with Mr. Dog and Mr. Human.
Don't get me wrong. No new dog and no human will ever replace Luis. But according to Jong, "love of a new dog expands the heart." I can hear mine, creaky old thing that it is, stretching every day. And Mr. Whoever You May or May Not Be? You need to know I may never love another like I loved this creature, but such knowledge will be, according to Ms Erica Jong, and I paraphrase a bit "as sacred to you as God is to prayers."
Thanks dear, sweet wonderful dog of my heart. This is my love song to you, out there running in fields of gold. Ruff ruff.
Joanna's Blog, "The Dating Life Over Fifty," can be found at www.joanna-folino.com. There are lots more stories of joy and humor to be savored.