Heartbreak on deck

Loving is never without losing—eventually
Illustration by Peter Arkle

I’m a sucker for puppies. But I’m not as bad as my friend Kate, who stopped traffic on I-75 in order to scoot a possum to safety from the center lane. To Kate, even possums are puppies. I get it. A possum once befriended Sockie, my adopted Dumpster dog. Sockie mysteriously whimpered at the back door every midnight until I finally turned on the porch light to see a baby possum waving at her from the patio table. We named him Ruffles. When I let Sockie out to commune with him, they seemed delighted to be in each other’s company, even though the most they did was barely touch noses. 

I don’t know what happened to Ruffles’s mom, or even to Ruffles himself after a while. When he stopped coming around, Sockie was so bereft I got an additional dog to keep her company. I chose another rescued Dumpster puppy of varied canine muttigree like Sockie herself, only while Sockie is latte colored, this one is almost all black. We named her Jasmine. Her face is like a jewel. Precious. Jasmine has a personality like a meadow breeze, calm and sweet. And she likes to eat. All grown up, today she looks like a furry potato on toothpicks. My friends laugh at the sight of her. But when I look at her, I see the same puppy I brought home that day. I can’t imagine her old. Though I know I’ll see her get there. 

Because unless you have a sea turtle for a pet, the odds are that you’ll outlive it. This is why they say that getting a dog is a heartbreak waiting to happen. And it’s true, but personally I don’t see the point in life unless you’re willing to love something enough to be heartbroken if it leaves you. 

Kate is the mother of my girl’s best friend, and the four of us travel a lot together. In Peru I’ve seen Kate buy a bag of fried guts from a street vendor and feed it to a dog still cupped in the arms of its unconscious owner, a vagrant sprawled in the doorway of a condemned building. I kept my distance. “Are you sure that guy’s not dead?” I asked, just as he grunted and tightened his arms around the dog. “Why don’t you just take the dog and find it a better owner?” 

“Are you kidding me?” Kate said. “Look at this dog. He’s happy. He has no idea he isn’t living in the lap of luxury. This is a good dog. Good dogs don’t love bad people.” That last line was a famous one from Lewis Grizzard, but I doubt Kate even knew she was quoting him. Dog lovers think alike. Kate patted the dog firmly and left it there, embraced. 

Once I sat across the aisle from a teenage mother on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Her newborn lay swaddled in her arms while its carrier sat secured to the center seat next to them, and twice during turbulence she was admonished for not strapping the baby into it. “It’s the safest thing to do,” the flight attendant said. The young mother ignored her, which I considered unwise. If we hit an air pocket, that sprogette would’ve popped out of her arms like a greased piglet. You think you can hold on, but you can’t. I even reached across the aisle to pat the girl on her hand and remind her of what the flight attendant said. I’m a mother myself, so stupidly I think I know things. 

Later I learned the girl was on her way to deliver the baby to its adoptive parents. I remember when I was a kid I thought unwanted pregnancies were, like, literally a crime or something. I thought if it happened to you they chained you up in a church basement for Catholic nuns to extract the babies and sweep them off to orphanages, where other mothers chose among them. I didn’t know you got to hold them like this mother did. No wonder she didn’t want to let go. 

I don’t know why I thought of the young mother when I was talking about puppies. Maybe it’s because the girl must have known, even at her age, that her choice was a heartbreak waiting to happen. But she made it anyway. That’s how it often is with the things we love. They leave our lives early, yet we still bring them into it. They slip out of our grip. You think you can hold on, but you can’t.

Hollis has a new book! The novel is called Unaccompanied Minor, and you can find out more about it and her writing seminars at shockingreallife.com.

This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.