O: I don't like his dog slobber, but I love him anyway.
When I was 19, I did a very dumb thing. Actually, when I was 19, I did quite a few dumb things, but that is for another time and place. I was living in a guest house in LA, and I got a dog, not a tiny, fit-in-your-purse kind of dog, but a real, honest-to-goodness, archetypal dog. I got him from a breeder (see, I warned you, very very dumb). He was the last in the litter and I drove my beat-up old mustang all the way to Chatsworth "just to look," and came home with a brown-eyed, brown-nosed, very brown dog, with a white diamond on his chest and the cutest pink puppy belly ever. He puked on me on the ride home.
I was young and short-sighted, and getting a dog was really dumb. I had a busy, unreliable schedule. I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. Sam, Yahoo!, and I figured it out. I taught Sam to sit, fetch, and potty outside. Sam taught me responsibility, the importance of showing up, and what unconditional love could feel like. Because of Sam, I didn't go to the next bar. I needed to go home to walk him. Because of Sam, I didn't go on that last minute, ill-conceived trip to Vegas. Because of Sam, when my life began to feel out of control, when I was self-isolating and being self-destructive, I still had to get out of bed and go buy dog food, and sometimes, that made all the difference. Sam is, without a doubt, the best dumb thing I've ever done.
Somewhere along the way, I met Jim. We were working together and maintaining a strictly professional relationship. According to Jim, he first realized he was interested in me romantically when he caught himself wondering whether or not Sam would like him. At this point, Sam has been my and Jim's dog longer than he was just mine, but I still remind him, Sam was mine first. Jim thinks, cosmically, I got Sam for him, and he might be right.
It never dawned on me, that hot day in Chatsworth, that I was getting my children's first dog. Of course, a little research on the lifespan of a chocolate lab and a little math would have lead me to that possibility, but like I said before, shortsighted. I remember the night we brought O home from the hospital. I was so worried about how my gentle giant would react to this new tiny person in our home. He sniffed her and licked her and she was instantly his, part of our pack. That first night he whimpered anxiously whenever she cried, and ran from her crib to our feet and back again. Now, he sleeps at the foot of P's toddler bed when she is restless at bedtime. He puts up with their clumsy hugs, eye pokes, and ear pulls. He endures the noise and the chaos of our small home, full of small people. In return, we give him as much love as we can muster and all of the food that gets dropped on the floor.
And now he is 12, geriatric for a dog of his size. He doesn't jump on the bed anymore and I think his hearing is going, or perhaps just becoming more selective. He'll still chase a tennis ball until his paws are bloody and the other day, out of nowhere, he jumped straight up on to a three foot wall from a standing position. Some days, he still looks like a puppy. Some days, the reality of losing him hits me like a punch in the gut. Sam and I have been together for a long time.
Sometimes, by being sensible, we talk ourselves out of some of life's biggest joys. Sam is my reminder to do dumb things, to take big risks. You never know how they'll play out, and sometimes, they are so very worth it.