December 23, 2013
On November 16th I wrote the below essay for my writing class; the assignment was "Write about leaving (a person or a place)."
I didn't know it at the time, but the last line would prove to be alarmingly prophetic. You see, exactly one month later, on December 16th, my French bulldog Lulu was diagnosed with a brain tumor (meningioma). I'll save the details for another day, but wanted to share my essay, here:
November 16, 2013
When I enter the front hallway I hear it again: a low, guttural baying coming from the apartment upstairs. My apartment, where my French bulldog, Lulu, anxiously awaits my return. It’s a distressing sound, one that evokes images of agony or pain. But I know she is safe in her little fleece bed, surrounded by stuffed animals and chew sticks. She just has trouble with me leaving.
It begins every morning when I get ready for work. Lulu stays curled up in bed, a watchful eye on the closed bathroom door. She’d love to sleep in, but can’t fully relax knowing that my departure is imminent. It takes about fifteen minutes before anxiety gets the best of her and she head-butts her way into the bathroom, eyes wide, stealing a peek around the shower curtain to make sure I’m still there. She then sits quietly on the bath mat with a frown on her face, contemplating how she’ll survive the next four hours alone, before the dog walker arrives.
They say that dogs can’t differentiate between five minutes and five hours, and I hope that’s true. But it doesn’t lessen the guilt I feel every time I prepare to go and she stares up at me with those unwavering brown eyes and furrowed brow as if to say, “You’re leaving again?!” Imagine the toll this daily stress must take on her little body, now ten years old and graying on the fringe. Ten years. That’s how long we’ve been playing this game. “Mind the house,” I say, and hope for the best.
What did I do to make her feel this way? Why can’t she just acknowledge how good she has it, with a comfortable home, warm bed, and plenty of food and water? “She is just a dog,” I tell myself, unconvincingly, as I feel that familiar twinge of unease in my stomach.
But every time I return, and her wiggly little body comes bouncing and snorting towards the door, she reminds me that she is not just a dog. She is my biggest fan, greeting me with one of many assorted squeak toys in her mouth – a gurgling swordfish, a gobbling turkey, or a croaking frog – which she drops at my feet before looking up at me with a toothy smile. She is panting and jumping and simply amazed that I have returned. It’s a remarkable feeling, really.
Lulu has been with me through four jobs, three apartments, two boyfriends, and one cancer diagnosis. She has been the one constant throughout a decade of challenges, changes and celebrations. She is my shadow, following me from room to room in earnest. She is my jester, bringing a smile to my face with her silly antics. She is my confidante, quietly listening to my varied rants and raves without judgment. And she is my steady companion, happy to be with me and do nothing.
And I am the one paralyzed by sadness at the thought of her leaving.