As some of you know, I had a wonderful dog named Sidney who passed away this winter. When he was sick I took him to the emergency vet via car service a few times, and all the drivers had pets and wanted to talk about them with me, but also they wanted to talk about when they’d had sick pets, the loss of pets, what we would do for our pets (answer: everything). In this way, I felt supported by strangers.
And I loved hearing their stories. As a writer, obviously I just love stories in general. But also, I spend so much time by myself that the conversations I have with random strangers out in the world are generally quite thrilling to me. I am pretty good at reading people but on the other hand there’s always some twist or turn that makes you realize you can never predict or stereotype a single person on this planet. And most people are not sitting around thinking about how to craft their personal narrative. Most people are just living their life. And that often makes for the best stories of all.
After Sidney passed I was sad for a good long time. I missed having a little writing companion. Not to mention I had less reason to be out in the world, less exposure to conversations with strangers. But I wasn’t ready yet. I still had some traveling and thinking to do.
Then when I was in Portland last month I went to visit my friend Pat who had adopted a dog since the last time I saw him, and when they sat with each other on his couch, perfect and comfortable, a boy and his dog, I felt my heart gasp in desire for that same kind of feeling. (Later Pat said I seemed like I was, “dogless.”)
I had already started looking for a dog online, just to see what was out there. I called it “Petfinder o’clock” when I gave up on the workday and just started scrolling through pet ads online for hours. How do you even know if a dog is right for you? You just have to guess. I just kept telling myself what I knew to be true, which is that all dogs are special, and you kind of can’t go wrong in the end.
Still, it’s a big commitment. I thought: Should I do it now or wait until I’m done with this fall’s travels? And what kind of dog did I want? And while I gave it a lot of thought about what I was looking for beforehand, what really got the search going came down to was this: one night I got drunk and sent in an application for a dog.
Great. Fine. It’s casual. I’ve sent so many emails I regret when I’m drunk, this one seemed minor in comparison. Was I really ready for another dog? I loved my last one so much. I thought I was ready but it’s such a curious feeling, when you move on in your life, no matter what area. You really have to know yourself. You really have to trust yourself.
So then it’s a Sunday and I’m going to meet a dog in Baton Rouge, about an hour from where I live. Of course, I sent his picture to everyone I know. My group chat was like, GO GET HIM, but I was like, “Oh, it’s no big deal I’m just going to meet him, I don’t have to adopt him.”
I hit the road late morning. About a half hour out on the interstate, both my battery and brake light went on. I thought: Do I turn around? Do I give up on this dog? Or do I keep going? I kept going. I just have to meet the little guy, I thought. I’ll never know if I don’t try. Fog starts coming out of my air conditioner. I thought: That’s just because it’s hot out, right? My steering wheel starts to stick. I thought: Well, I’ll definitely take the car to the shop this week. After I get to meet this dog.
I think you can tell where this is going.
I somehow make it off the expressway and almost immediately my car is dead in the middle of traffic. I was but five minutes from meeting the dog. We were in the middle of a heatwave and it was hot as fuck that day. I stood in the middle of traffic talking to my insurance company. I did not cry. I was like, please do not be the lady with the broken-down car crying in the blazing hot heat in traffic. Do not do it.
Eventually a community service officer pushed my car out of traffic into a bank parking lot and took off. I called a tow truck company to drag my sorry ass back to New Orleans. I stood, waiting in the heat. I was melting. I did not cry. Twenty minutes later, the community service officer came back and apologized for having to leave, and then handed me a bottle of water. Only then I cried a little bit, in gratitude.
There’s more to this story: A convivial tow truck driver who talked to me about his beloved pit bulls and his need for better work/life balance. And a sensitive car service driver who talked to me about the time she had to get towed in Lafayette, and what it felt like, being alone, as a woman, waiting for someone to show up and help you in the night.
When I am telling you that the stories of strangers comfort me more than practically anything else, I mean it. I was grateful for everyone I met that day.
Hours later, I showed up back home, still dogless and now carless, too.
Friends, did I drive straight to Baton Rouge after I picked up the car from the shop to go meet this little dog and then bring him straight home? You know I did.
Is he perfect already? Yes. Does he love to snuggle and sit by my feet while I write? Yes. Does he hate cars and bikes, too, and are we definitely going to get him a trainer? Yes. Was he worth all the things that happened one hot, long, emotional Sunday? Yes. And now that is his origin story.
I’m sorry this newsletter today has nothing to do with writing. It only has to do with a dog. But having a dog is part of what makes me happy and steady and alive, and those things help me to be a writer and a better participant in my community. And to most of you I am a stranger, maybe less random as time goes on. And this was my story to tell.
Have a gorgeous day.