A widow finds her way back to living with help from a new friend.
He crossed the border a huddled mass of a mutt, his worldly possessions in one bag: a blanket, dry food, a squeaky toy.
Coco, a rescue dog, came into my life three months ago, delivered by my son, Sol, who lives in Toronto; he’d adopted him there with me in mind. “He’ll be a good companion for you,” he said.
That’s how I became Coco’s person, joining the growing ranks of widows I know who’ve lost a husband and gained a dog. I wasn’t thrilled about it, not being a dog person, and I worried that I wasn’t up to the job. I was still drained from the death last year of my husband, David, from ALS after four wearying years of caregiving. But timely advice came from, of all people, my accountant, whose poodle Doodle was snoozing in his office during tax season. I told him I was wavering. “If you don’t have enough time for a dog,” he said, “you don’t have enough time.”
So I took Coco in. What did I have to lose? They say time heals all wounds, and there’s some truth to that, but time doesn’t seem to feel much urgency about it. I wasn’t prepared for how isolated I’d become, and had remained. Caring for a terminally ill loved one isn’t just sad and tiring, it’s all-consuming. No doubt many important cultural and world events transpired between 2010 and 2014, but even a news junkie like me gave up on tracking them. “We missed the whole Arab Spring!” my daughter lamented one day.
As friends and colleagues chitchatted about vacation plans or about the latest plot turn in a new TV drama, I felt as if I were living a TV drama, with a revolving cast of hospice aides and emergency workers and real-life brushes with death. It wasn’t that much fun to talk about.
And more than a year after the finale, I was still finding reentry hard — until Coco. Four dog walks a day make it difficult to feel alone or isolated. I rejoined the world, or rather joined a new world — of nutty and nosy dog people, of subscribers to The Barkmagazine, of neighbors I’d never even noticed before. Soon I was holding my own in the dog park, expounding on the best dog car seat to buy for an unobstructed view or which radio station to leave on for the dog when he has to be alone.
I finally know my neighbors by name — or at least by the dog’s name. Coco gets play-date invitations and even e-mail. (“Dogs I Sniffed Today” was in the subject line of a recent one from Eddie, a fellow terrier mix.)
Instead of feeling alone, I now have the opposite problem. I’m never alone. Coco follows me everywhere. He dances when I come home and walks on his hind legs, backward. He makes me laugh so hard it once triggered an asthma attack.
We have a game we play each morning when we start his walk.
“Are you ready?” I say.
“Are you set?”
He barks twice.
“GO!” I yell, and Coco takes off hard on his leash, yapping with all the fury of an Iditarod sled dog, with me as musher clutching the leash and straining to keep up.
The day I realized I might be turning a corner was when we did this in the pouring rain. Maybe running in the rain channeled the child in me, but as Coco sprinted, I felt the urge to sing, and not quietly. I howled out a dog anthem as we tore down the street.
I hope no one was watching. A thought occurred to me that all I needed was a beanie with a propeller on top to complete the picture of ridiculousness. Yet it felt suspiciously like happiness.
How ironic that it would take a dog to lead me back to the human race.