Doggone…

I was fresh off the plane, having landed only a dozen hours prior. At my husband’s coworker’s place (his wife picked me up from the airport since my husband was working) I’d showered, changed clothes, and put my hair in a ponytail. I looked different in the light of their bathroom mirror, different than in the mirror at my mom’s house, or in the airport bathroom, or even the lavatory on the fourteen hour flight over. It must have been the tired tax of the intercontinental travel, I thought. I can’t exactly explain my nervousness, waiting for him to pick me up. I was waiting, knowing that everything about my life was changed now. I was so happy to see him, and then more nerves settled in as we drove to our townhome. 181 Via Stafetta, Parco Scipione.

We pulled up to the gate and waited as it opened. We drove past floral vines in bloom and a few fruit-bearing trees to our driveway. My husband got out. Unlatched our gate. Parked our car… and there he was. On the porch, timid and curious, stood the biggest dog I’d ever seen – his name was Bruno… and he was, apparently, mine. He stood on his skinny, awkward, puppy legs as I emerged from the car… and he peed all over the porch. He was clearly as unsure of me as I was of him.

That night, my husband at work, Bruno stood in the corner of our bedroom as I tried to sleep. He stared me down, having stubbornly denied my invitation to come get in the bed with me. (Even though I grew up with Dobermans, it had been a long time since I’d been around a dog his size. It was a little intimidating, but I offered the bed anyway.) I drifted off for a moment and when I woke he was halfway between the corner, where he’d stood in fervent opposition to my welcoming, and the bed, where I laid. Still staring but, at least, closer. I dozed again… and when I woke up, there he was – next to me in the bed. The rest is history.

That stubborn, 120 lbs at his best, bear of a dog was part of the first big change in my life. Throughout it, he made me into the best pal and dog mama and tapped into a great sense of loyalty that I never knew I possessed. He traveled with us (along with his “sister,” Dixie) from that porch where he nervously peed at first sight of me in Lago Patria, Italy to Newport News, VA. We ventured from there to Jacksonville, FL, Barlow Vincent, OH, & Parkersburg, WV. He moved with me to Gasontia, NC, Arden, NC, and then into Asheville proper. Seven cities, thirteen addresses, and he barely batted an eye. He had me and he had Dixie, so he was cool. Less cool once my son was born… but he adjusted like the champ he was. He was my co-pilot in my twenties. Something, if you’ve lived through your twenties, you know you need. We saw each other through a lot of change.

In December of 2014 I did the thing that every pet-parent knows they’ll have to do, but hates the thought of… and I had my boy put down. He’d weathered a lot in his eleven years, but after a couple of months of changing meds around and lugging his now 100 lb self up and down our apartment stairs, I knew. I came home one day and he hurt so bad that he couldn’t even get up to greet me. Weeks later, I held his head in my lap and petted him and told him that he’d been the best boy I could ever ask for, and I thanked him for eleven years of sticking with me. I must have told him a hundred times that I loved him. Then I felt it… I felt him go, and I lingered there to take in every last ounce of him that there was to take.

I miss Brun most of the time… & he holds a place in my heart that will forever be specific to him. So does Dixie, our girl, who has been by my side for almost all of what Brun was, too and then some. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to have another dog, or if I’d just have Dixie Do and then take a reprieve – just work and be a mom – after she takes her leave several years from now. Then… I saw something.

I saw this guy: blakeyboy

And he reminded me of this guy:

brunoboy

I figured I’d fill out the adoption application, have my Charlie meet the pup, let the chips fall where they may. If Charlie was in, I’d make it happen. C isn’t one to fawn over anything artificially… he’s pretty pure that way at the ripe old age of three and a half. He was smitten when he met the new potential pup… and me? Once I saw Charlie fall in love I was gone. Dog gone, all over again, just like when I woke up next to Brun or when a sleeping Dixie opened her eyes and looked at me for the first time. We bring our new boy home on Friday and I feel like something that’s been off kilter is realigning. I get to introduce another sweet love into my world and this time I get to share it with my son. Charlie’s only question after we left the initial meeting with our new pup was this: “Is he going to be my puppy for the rest of his life and I’ll never ever leave him?” When I said yes to both he threw his arms around my neck and squeezed as hard as his excited little self could squeeze. He gets it.

All the things I’ll someday be.

You know that box you have (surely you have one) where you’ve tucked away some precious keepsakes from your life’s sweetest moments? Mine is a shoe box. It used to be an Asics cheer shoe box, from the shoes that came with a dozen colorful plastic discs that you slid into the side to customize them to your school colors. (In a natural progression, I replaced it in my twenties with an Oscar De La Renta gift box.) I have so many treasures in that box. A full diary that my third grade teacher gave me, mementos from school dances, encouraging notes from my favorite OASC (Ohio Association of Student Councils) camp counselors, my tassel from my graduation cap. Concert tickets, letters (because we wrote letters, not texts back then), my Italian visa.  A nautilus shell from Positano, a cork from a vineyard in Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Tags from the first designer anything I ever purchased. A pin from my first ever trip to the Met. Rifling through this box is like scrolling through old Facebook posts, only in real tangible life, before Facebook memories were even a thing. It’s all so nostalgic and delightful. Most delightful though, is one of just a few photos in this box. It’s my favorite photo of myself – full of hope, love, excitement. Trusting of all the things I held in my heart.

My then-husband snapped the photo one night while we were lying in bed. We were both barely twenty something and living a world away from anyone else who meant anything at all, in Lago Patria. (Southern Italia, outside of Napoli). I was so very in love and it is written all over this photo. You can make out my blurry, beautiful antique style rings on my left hand, coyly hiding my freckled, smiling face. I love this photo because it captured, so clearly, that I was living out exactly what my heart wanted. Not to live in a foreign country (I didn’t know well enough to desire that at 20), but just to follow love. I have always done best when I followed love.

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I loved my husband more than anything, so I followed him to Italy. I love fashion, so I studied it. I love dogs, so I worked with them. I love music, so I sought it out in my social life. I love jazz, so I learned it and sang it. I love serving others, so I followed that love to a job that allows me to serve people who serve our community. It’s led me to my sweetest treasures in life… the kind you can’t keep in a shoe box. Treasured lessons learned from mostly rewarding and some challenging relationships, two rescued pets who changed my life and taught me the truth about loyalty, a job that teaches me so much about my capacity for grace, betterment, and perspective every day, a son – a song. Some journeys that brought me to the treasures, and some treasures that are the commencement to the journey.

I’m writing this for the same reason that I go sifting through that box, reveling in that sweet photo, once or twice a year. It’s to remember what I want. What I wanted, what I had… what I lost. What I found my way back to. I was made to be all the things I am – a mother, a daughter, a sister, a manager. A believer. A Christian. Gracious. Full of gratitude. Humbled. A caretaker. An advocate for boundaries. An adversary to conflict. A woman who grows every day, sometimes gracefully, and sometimes not. Someone who softens, and who is softened. And to remind myself, with hope, of all the things I’ll someday be. A world traveler again. A wife, for good. And so much more that I don’t even know.