As a kid, I was always fascinated with the portrayal of old maps. I loved the rather amorphous forms of the landmasses. I chuckled at the fanciful guesses about what might lie beyond. And I especially liked the tiny illustrations of dragons at the edges of the plot, warning adventurers of the dangers that can be found in the great unknown.
I’ve had my own dragons at the periphery of my life. Areas where I have dared not tread in case the monsters of memory are too real. Earlier this week, I braved the edges of my mapped life and I faced the unknown.
It turned out not to be too bad. There were tears but nothing I couldn’t handle.
I have been a dog lover from the get-go. I befriended my parent’s adopted stray as soon as I could feed him from my high chair. From then on, I never went more than a few months without at least one dog in my household. By the end of my marriage, we had three dogs: an elderly, opinionated pug, our “special child” Boston terrier and Glottis, a happy go lucky lab mix. When my ex left me and his life, he locked the three dogs in the basement with limited food and water. Since I was out of town, they had been alone for more than two days when he sent the text. I have a feeling the only reason he sent the message was out of guilt, knowing that the dogs would not survive until I was slated to return. Upon receiving the text, I was able to have a friend take care of the dogs until I could make in back. That same friend took care care of me, offering me a room in her home for the next year.
I knew right away that I could not keep the dogs. I was in no shape emotionally or financially to be able to care for them. I would be living in a guest room in a house with a premature and medically fragile baby. They needed new homes.
I was not strong enough to take on the daunting and devastating task of finding homes for the pets. A friend from work spearheaded the networking connections while my parents tried the shelters and rescue organizations. Over the next few weeks, new homes were found for all.
Within two days, I went from having three dogs to having none. I had to release the care of those innocent creatures who trusted me with their guardianship. I cried more in those two days than I had in the previous few weeks. I knew I was making the best decision for them but, damn, it was hard.
Glottis was the baby in the family. She was sweet and extremely good-natured. She had been impacted the most by the recent upheaval. She used to get so upset when I cried, staying by my side and whimpering along with my keening. A friend at work arranged Glottis’s new home at her parent’s farmhouse in rural Alabama. Glottis would have room to run and new siblings to play with. It was perfect.
On the day of the adoption, my mom and I drove Glottis to the visitor center on the state line, where the transfer was to occur. I cried the whole way while rubbing the thick fur around her neck and ears. I liked Glottis’s new mom right away. She recognized the dog’s sensitive and cautious nature and gave her the time and space she needed to become comfortable. As we sat around a picnic table, the leash was slowly transferred from my hand to her’s. It was done.
Over the years, I received pictures and reports of Glottis (now named Gabby:) ) and her adventures on the farm. I could tell she was thriving. They were able to give her a better life than I could have during that period. It was such a gift to not worry about her, to know that she was loved and cared for.
Throughout this time, I had a standing invitation to visit, but I was afraid of facing that part of my past.
Giving up the dogs was the most painful part of the whole experience. Tears still flow even today when I write or talk about it. Tears from the loss. Tears from the innocent beings caught in the middle. Tears that come from a feeling of failure in my inability to care for them. Tears of gratitude for the people who worked tirelessly to find them homes and for those who adopted them and loved them.
This summer, I finally felt ready.
I’m glad I did. It felt so good to be greeted by that crazy tail, wagging in a huge circle while those familiar ticklish puffs of air danced around my face and she sniffed and greeted me. I believe she remembered me. I received the usual cautious hello, but then her eyes widened and the enthusiasm overflowed. The memories of her came flooding back, opening windows into my former life which I had long since painted shut. It wasn’t painful. It wasn’t scary. It was bittersweet, heavy on the honey.
I felt such a bond with her. We had both been abandoned and were forced out of the life we knew. We both had families that took us in when we needed it most. We have both changed, losing some aspects of our old selves and adopting new passions. We both have found loving families and are surrounded by people who care about us. We are survivors.
I watched Glottis, content sitting on the porch between her two moms. She was at peace. And so was I.
Yes, here there be tears. But they are tears flowing over smiles.
It’s time to redraw the map, replacing the dragons with good memories and wagging tails.
Related: R.I.P. All Terrain Pug