After a brief and admittedly ill-advised trial period with a three-legged pup named Elmore—who, let the record show, I still miss dearly and would write letters to if he had a second front leg with which to open them—we took the three-wheeler back to the Humane Society. That is, Em took him back to the Humane Society, since my three separate attempts at his return culminated with me breaking down in sobbing fits, hysterically weeping into the brindle of a dog too sweet and too stupid to think that anything but a backhand to his perma-grin was praise for good behavior.
This is Elmore:
Buster's Humane Society portrait. Please adopt.
I imagine him with a big yard, green grass catching the pads of three feet, a durable (but long) leash giving him freedom to frolic and room to breathe. There are kids there somewhere: a set of rough-and-tumble eight-year-old twins who wrestle with him. Maybe there's a cynical, brooding fifteen year old who at first scolds Elmore for scuffing his prized leather jacket but soon has his heart softened by the wide eyes and tender trust of a creature that solely to love and be loved.
This may all sound ridiculous, like I'm in love with this misfit mutt who chewed up my shoes, pissed on my carpet, and howled from his kennel every night he didn't get to sleep in the bed.
But maybe I was. Maybe I was in love with this silly animal, this hobbling bundle of canine sincerity that would only sit still so long as you were scratching behind his ears, who greeted my daily return from work with a big smile (and, often, an uncomfortably large erection).
Maybe no one has ever been that happy to see me.
In any case, it wasn't going to last. I knew that very quickly, but denial ain't just a river. The mauled furnishings, the dinners devoured right off the plate the second you turn away—it's all cute until your couch smells like a hobo blanket and your braised tilapia with red quinoa slips through the jaws of an animal you don't want to punish but can't bear to live with anymore.
So: Em took him back. And while she's one of the most absolutely compassionate people I've ever met, she doesn't miss him, and I don't blame her. I have a weakness for inherently broken things, being one myself, and someone with a reserve of strength I don't understand doesn't need that kind of dependent reinforcement.
Twelve hours before she returned Elmore to the shelter, we obtained Buster, who looks like this:
Buster in his Halloween costume, courtesy of Sarah
If you're wondering: yes, he is wearing a crocheted Spider-Man sweater. And yes, he did fit right into it, and no, he didn't nip at me when I tried to dress him like a paper doll. He likes walks just about as much as I do—a little—and he has an energy level on par with mine—relatively low—and he likes spinach and car rides and sitting on my lap and licking my face every morning.
You know what else he does? He just sits with me. Just sits. If I'm watching a movie, working at my desk, reading a book—doesn't matter. He sits on my lap, he sits at my side, he sits in bed at the small of my back while I toss and turn every night, exhausted from the day but terrified of the dreams pounding at the gates of sleep.
This dog is perfect for me. Objectively, subjectively, and wholly suited to every single need and want I've ever felt, expressed, ignored, or sublimated (usually a combination of the three).
But it doesn't mean my heart doesn't sometimes wish Elmore was still around. I think that's natural, though, isn't it? I don't daydream about something gnawing on my cowboy boots or shitting in my laundry basket: I think about how nothing made him happier than seeing me, how he couldn't contain his joy and had to express it through leaping on two back legs strengthened by necessity (he only had one front leg! it's sad but seriously HOW DAMN CUTE IS THAT).
He's happier, though. He's happier, I'm happier, Emily's happier, we're all happier. And I fall asleep with Buster at night, his long face nuzzling up into the back of my knee, legs spinning like a dreidel as he dreams of chasing intruding rabbits down a deep backyard hole.
I get used to Buster, and so maybe sometimes I don't always value him 100% that I should. Maybe he deserves more walks, more treats, more attention than he sometimes gets from me. Just falling asleep next to him every night, feeding him thrice a day, and letting him sit on the couch isn't enough. This dog is here for me, after good days and bad, and I wish I knew how to communicate just how dearly I love and appreciate him.
But sometimes that I think that maybe, at this point, it's just a matter of not screwing things up, of letting time and tenure take their place in our home and let his place in my routine become settled concrete. Maybe, right now, what I need to do is just acknowledge that I'm not always super great at making clear how dearly I value him, that I'm too distracted by my job and volunteer work and impending graduate programs and potential cross-country moves and cheap beer and good whiskey and old westerns and lingering wounds from unrelated betrayals that still sting to the touch and make me recoil from any affection, that force me to fight against crippling self-loathing installed by unfaithful ex-girlfriends or abusive partners or dogs that just can't help destroying good things.
I got home late tonight, and Buster and I went on a quick half-mile walk. The ritual: first he goes #2, then he goes #1—I don't understand or identify with the order, either—then we get to exploring. Bustie's got this thing with trees: he finds our street's matured elms irresistible, and he makes clear his admiration by urinating all over their root systems.
And though I identify with many of Buster's attributes, this is where we differ: I think I may have finally learned to stop pissing all over things that are healthy and growing.
I may not have Buster forever. But goddamn it, he's mine right now. And until something makes that an impossibility, he will fall asleep every single night knowing that my life is warmer for having him in it.