It is the Monday after the Third Sunday of Easter, and my dog, Roo, has gotten into a playful scrap with another dog. The damage at first seems minor (a bloodied ear, maybe) but by Tuesday morning, the dog is incapacitated and screaming, so I rush him to the vet.

Roo has never been seriously ill or hurt in all his seven years of life – an occasional gross stomach bug, but otherwise, nothing – and watching him in pain is excruciating. Once we arrive at the vet’s office, the doctor takes him out of the exam room, still screaming, to take a closer look at his injuries, and I fall backward into the chair, rubbing my temples, furious and terrified at my Inability To Do Anything Useful.

The depth of my Aloneness in this moment is nearly unbearable to me. Since my divorce from Andrew was final seven years ago, Roo has been my one constant companion. He has survived every crisis with me; celebrated every triumph. He has faithfully given me purpose when I felt I Could Not Go On. He sat beside me through all my surgeries; my injuries; my heartaches. He is a dog, and in his dogness has always known exactly what to do to help me when the going gets tough.

I, however, am human, and I rarely know what to do.

A prime example of my Chronic Inability To Know What To Do came early in my marriage to Andrew, when we had had to put my beloved terrier Lilly to sleep. When the critical moment came and the vet prepared to administer the permanent drugs, instead of holding on to my dog, or taking my husband’s hand, I ran from the room like a crazy person. I dashed out on to Lispenard Street; paced the block until it was all over, leaving Andrew alone with Lilly as she died.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of her dying – Lilly had been in kidney failure for months so I knew it was coming. At the Animal Medical Center, where they’d cared for her throughout the last days of her kidney failure, they had taught me to give her fluids under the skin so we’d have just a few more precious days together. In a spectacular display of desperation or denial, I had even gotten her groomed before we put her to sleep so she’d look pretty as she went to meet her maker. I think it was that I was afraid of something bigger; something emptier. I think I was afraid of grief itself.

And now here I am, with my dog who is screaming in pain, and I want to run away but I can’t because it is only me – he has only me – and I have never felt so alone in my entire life. The vet comes back and she gives me drugs for the dog, and tells me his neck is badly injured but he will recover. But it will be hard. It will take time. Everything will take time.

Later, RHJ says to me, It’s ok, I know that going through something like this with a beloved dog is hard…

And I try to explain, It’s not about the dog…but the words don’t come.

It is not about the dog at all. It is about remembering running from the vet’s office and into the street, terrified. It is about how, a week after Lilly died, the hospice called from Florida to say my grandmother was dying and my mother and I left a wedding in California; packing up and flying out the next morning to be by her bed to do the work that women do – bringing lives into the world, and shepherding them out of it.

It is about the fact that on the last night of my grandmother’s life, that Nat King Cole song, Unforgettable, was playing in the background, and I hadn’t been able to listen to it since, but inexplicably, as Paul was being fitted for his wedding suit, the Muzak screeched to a halt, and Unforgettable began to play. I took it as a sign that despite my doubts, Paul was the Right One, because I am always desperate for signs. But maybe that was the wrong sign.

I realise, as Roo recovers, that I have been waiting for signs to tell me how to be Helpful, or Right, or How to Do Things Correctly, like I am Steve Martin in L.A. Story. Symbols that indicate: How to Be Married to One Person for a Long Period of Time. How to Put the Dog Down and Not Run From the Room. How Not to Destroy Your Own Life in 200 Easy Steps.

After three weeks, Roo is walking again; acting like himself again. As I watch him lounge comfortably as I write, I am suddenly confident that there is no playbook for this. We are all just fumbling around, all of the time, blind like newborn kittens, mewling and suckling, with no earthly clue what we are doing. This revelation doesn’t make me feel any better about leaving my ex-husband alone with our dead dog in Tribeca Animal Hospital in 2006, but it at least gives me the sense that I am not nearly as alone as it sometimes feels. That everyone else is just as clueless and afraid as I am; just as prone to running screaming from the risk of loss.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth, and sixth.

It is early June, and I am finally off crutches. People ask me how I am doing, and I tell them I am great. Normally, I am much more circumspect, but when you have been on crutches for an extended period of time, walking unassisted is a terrific feeling.

I am having dinner with my friends Strand and Sam, who babysat me the day I came home from hospital. They are to be married at the weekend, and I have offered to babysit their dog, McGee, during their honeymoon.

It is a perfect night – New York is outdoing itself with the weather this season – and we meet at a burger joint in our neighbourhood, which Sam calls Hipsterburger. We have burgers (veggie for me) and beers, and I try to refrain from giving marital advice in advance of their nuptials. I am a Know-It-All; I know it. Maybe it’s part of being a lawyer.

Sam and Strand met on Tinder, which fascinates me because I went on maybe three internet dates and found the whole thing to be a horrifying sociological experiment. But I had met my ex-husband before smartphones; had ended another longterm relationship immediately before getting together with Andrew, so the last time I had dated was around the time Google was invented.

It wasn’t easy getting to this point, Strand confesses, There were a lot of broken phones from throwing things at each other.

I kept having to go to Rainbow and buy new ones, Sam laughs.

This statement, in particular, makes me chuckle, because only on the Upper East Side do you find young couples who still have land-lines; where throwing the phone is done in the classical sense. These are My People.

Strand begins to tell me about their first date; how she met Sam for coffee and he was so taken with her that he lost his composure. How they moved from coffee to lunch, which was where things got interesting. Sam tells me: I got a text message asking how the date was going, so I excused myself and I replied. Except I told my buddy, “She’s smokin’ hot; it’s going great” and after I hit SEND, I realised that I’d just messaged this to Strand and not to my friend.

At that point, Sam wondered whether he should even leave the bathroom, or if he should just quietly slink away home.

I came out, and I told her, “Look, don’t be angry. I just accidentally sent you a message meant for my friend.” It’s not bad, but I just want you to check your phone and not be mad at me.

Strand, for her part, pipes in, I thought he was sick or something had happened. But once he told me what was going on, I decided to keep toying with him. So she refused to check the message on her phone and continued enjoying her lunch, while Sam sweated it out, until he finally begged her JUST CHECK YOUR DAMN PHONE!

She saw the message and said the feeling was mutual. They’ve been together ever since, Sam’s track record with phones notwithstanding.

I laugh, because I love a love story.

We finish our dinner in the beautiful evening, and begin the slow, short walk home. It is strange to me that I am at this moment in my life: Watching the girls who I advised as their collegiate sorority adviser now getting married and having children. These girls – Strand! – were 18, 19 when I met them, and I was a fresh-out-of-Georgetown newlywed posing as an adult. I do not feel any older, but time must be passing.

The clearest hallmark of this is that during the week of my surgery, I received an email from my ex-husband. He knew Strand only as one of the college girls I advised, who would occasionally dog-sit for us. Andrew and I had not spoken in a long time. He is remarried; is a father. Of the contentious issues in our marriage “Why Can’t Meredith Act Like a Normal Wife” was a favourite of his.

He had been with his law firm for over a decade when he switched jobs and made partner in April. I found this out via a LinkedIn blast. It was unfathomably weird to me that the sacrifices I had made early in my own career – the late nights spent waiting for him, and the arguments about his paralegals – had inured entirely to his benefit. I was notified of the culmination of my efforts only because of an algorithm.

I was wondering if you’d like to attend a panel discussion on Brexit, he asked in his email.

I waited for a day, then replied, It looks like a great event but I’ll be overseas.

And that was that. I did not say Congrats on the new job! I did not tell him how lovely it was that those college girls he had once complained about were now successful grown-ups; did not reminisce about my late night drives to Staten Island. I did not tell him that I had just had another surgery or that he had been wrong about all those arthritis drugs he’d wanted me to take for my own good.

During our marriage, my complaint with him was that we were always striving to achieve only his dreams; his complaint with me was that I was perpetually in motion – always in some airport or another. In an odd way, it is comforting to know that, despite all that had happened, neither of us has changed much.

This is the seventh in a brief series of posts. Here are the firstsecond, and thirdfourthfifth and sixth.

We have made it to the end of May. I am still on crutches, but I am not yet losing my mind. I have Prepared for This – large joint reconstructions are apparently What I Do in the summertime now.

It is the morning of the last day in May, which is also my mother’s birthday, and it is a perfect, slightly cool New York City Early Summer Day. I take Roo out for his morning walk, hopping along beside him using one crutch, and hoping we finish his constitutional quickly. Everything takes so much longer when your mobility is reduced, and even walking and scooping after the dog seems to take hours longer each day than it did when I was fully in control.

As I carefully thread us between the fussy dogs and I navigate the uneven brick pavers on my block, Roo suddenly takes off for a man standing by his car. He is an older man; well-dressed; and is putting some sort of box into the trunk of a late-model black sedan.

I’m sorry, I apologise as I try to steady myself, He doesn’t normally take off like that.

I didn’t think he’d recognise me, the man tells me. I am not looking at the man’s face as he says this; I am looking down at my dog, who is sitting prettily beside this stranger like he has known him forever. But when the man mentions being recognised, my eyes are drawn upward. In New York City, it is not uncommon for a person unknown to a dog’s owner to recognise and be recognised by the dog – Roo is walked by a walker during the day and makes friends all the time. This is to say that, on its face, this exchange is no where near as weird as it might sound to a non-New Yorker.

But before I can ask how this man knows my dog, I realise what striking resemblance the man bears to my dead grandfather – my mother’s dad. I look at his face, and he looks like a very well-dressed, not-dead version of Bop. I am speechless for a moment, because the resemblance is so uncanny.

He bends down to pet Roo, then looks at me: Tell her I love her, he says as he stands up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, like he is resisting asking me for an embrace. I am dumbfounded, and not ordinarily a touchy-feely person, so I nod and I toddle away home with my dog.

I burst into tears in the lift, because I am either going crazy or have already taken too many pain-pills for the day. My mind is racing with questions. When we die, do we simply go on to live as our Best Selves in some other realm – successful, calm, and happy – waiting to bump into the occasional friend and relative along the way? Did I really have a conversation with my dead grandfather on a New York City street in broad daylight? Why would a stranger tell me to tell someone he loves her – unless it were my mother’s father on the day of her birthday?

Am I losing my mind? I am losing my mind.

My mother follows closely in the tradition of her people: Emotional Spaniards Who See Things. She often mentions her conversations with dead people, like this is something perfectly normal, and no one ever bats an eyelash at it. But my apple fell closer to the staid tree of my northern European father, whom I have only seen cry three times in my life: Once each upon the deaths of his parents, and then when I informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be majoring in accounting.

I feed the dog then hobble off to work. I resolve to go back down and talk to this man; ask him how he knows my dog; let my rational mind take over and figure out The Reason For All This. But by the time I get back downstairs, the man has disappeared.

Am I dreaming?

I do not tell anyone about this encounter, because it sounds insane. In the past, I’ve always loved the subtle signs that I thought represented Bop waving from beyond – his name appearing in unexpected places; the time I thought I heard his laugh in the middle of the night. Those tiny events, which always happened at Just The Right Time, seemed ordinary and easy to explain – a consequence of my brain looking for comfort and reassurance after a protracted period of Complicated Grief.

How do I explain this; how can I make this make sense? I wonder in the taxi on the way to the office.

With my EDS diagnosis, the doctors believe that the genes for the disorder were passed from my grandfather, to my mother and Margaret, to me. And so I have been angry at my grandfather – the man who could do no wrong. I am mad at a dead guy, more than a decade after his death – mad that my grandmother had to feel like she was at fault for the death of her child when my grandfather’s shitty collagen gene was the likely culprit; inconsolable that I’ve spent the past few summers having my body put back together and it took so long for anyone to figure any of this out.

I am also suddenly super annoyed that despite spending decades talking and writing about how different and distant we are, I am turning into my mother.

I live in a doorman building. In my New York City Life, I have always lived in doorman buildings.

In my last building, the staff were Family. The doormen knew all my girlfriends by name. They cheered me on for the Marathon, and got special permission to wear the t-shirts I made instead of their uniforms on Marathon Sunday.

In my current building, the staff are Political. They play favourites. They are careless; sometimes even mean. For instance, they have sent my laundry off to the wrong laundry company Just Because – which turned into a multi-day drama where the offending doorman gave my phone number out to the woman whose laundry account they charged, and even after I paid her back, she repeatedly called and texted me to complain – as if I had scammed her.

There were so many things wrong with that situation (from the sending of my laundry to a random company, to giving my contact details to a stranger without my consent, to forcing ME to pay for something I didn’t want), that it was laughable. It was something that simply shouldn’t have happened in a luxury high rise. It was something that would never would have happened in my old building – and if it did somehow happen, the building would’ve paid for it; no one would’ve gotten mixed up with strangers angry-texting strangers.

Also, we recently begun renovations on our apartment, and my relationship with the staff had deteriorated considerably. They kept finding “issues” with our construction, each of which set us back weeks and cost thousands of dollars. The setbacks meant I couldn’t use my living room or kitchen…for weeks…and had to go out every night. Being that social had left me irritable.

With that for context, a few Mondays ago, I went to dinner with a friend, but on the way home, I got into a rather heated phone conversation over something over which I had no control (this was a conversation unrelated to the building, btw). I am not normally one of those women who stands outside a building screaming into her mobile phone like a petulant teenager, but on that night, after half a bottle of wine, and several weeks of demolition dust, I hit a wall.

So I stood outside my building – unwilling to go upstairs into my destroyed apartment – screeching. Flailing. Gesticulating wildly, as if the person on the other end could hear my hands. In my younger days, I might have even thrown the phone against the wall, but I was slightly older and with the one shred of sanity I had left, I remembered that our IT guy told me that he was going to start charging me for phones if I kept losing them and/or breaking them.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my doormen watching me making a total fool of myself on the street. It wasn’t late enough for me to have privacy for my tantrum, and people who were out walking their dogs were actively avoiding me on the street. I could see the doorman who asked me every night where I’d been hovering at the desk at an angle where he was in my direct line of sight; I could see his colleague angling for a better view.

A ten minute eternity later, I slunk into the building, not making eye contact with the doormen. Then I went upstairs, and changed clothes to come down and walk the dog. Naturally, I acted like nothing happened. But on the inside, I was panicking. Because in our building it was fine to be selfish or stupid, but you couldn’t be embarrassing without consequence. And I had just behaved quite embarrassingly.

Then, a solution dawned on me.

On the way back in from our walk, I said loudly to the dog (within earshot of the doorman), C’mon Roo, let’s go back inside and see your Auntie.

The next morning, I did the same thing – except I walked the dog at a different time than usual, and I changed clothes each time I came in and out of the building and took my rings on and off for the rest of the week.

That Thursday, I left for a one-day trip to London, which was the perfect time to bring my plan to its natural conclusion. I travelled with only my trusty bright orange backpack, which was hard to miss as a piece of luggage. Upon my arrival, home the next day, I extravagantly greeted the doormen, then went upstairs, changed clothes, threw what I had been wearing into an old overnight bag, and left again.

Leaving again so soon, Miss S?!

What? No! You didn’t know? I’m her sister. I’ve been visiting all week – we’re twins!

As the doorman’s jaw hung slack, I walked out of the building, went around the corner, put the bag in my car, and changed back into my clothes in the back seat of my Jetta (much to the chagrin of the parking attendant). Then I walked to Starbucks to kill some time before coming home as myself again, just as Paul was arriving.

Since the week my nameless twin sister came to visit, every single member of staff has been exceptionally polite to me – presumably because they are unsure whether their experiences have been with me or with my twin.

I am sure there are less drastic ways to deal with judgmental doormen over what probably seems like a minor incident, but if you have never lived in a NYC doorman building, you simply wouldn’t understand.

twins-1-copy

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with helper dogs: Seeing-eye dogs. Therapy dogs. Service dogs. I had this sense that helper dogs like Labradors, and Golden Retrievers, and other such majestic, helpful breeds could save the world.

But I didn’t personally know any such magnificent dogs. My parents were not Dog People.

I remember being small and asking my dad how blind people drove.  I assumed that being a grown up meant you drove – end of story. At the time, I had also probably just met my first seeing-eye dog. So my father told me, with a straight face, that blind people had the dog sit in the front seat and bark out the directions: One bark for “turn right;” two barks for “turn left;” a yelp for “this way to Grandma’s house,” and so forth. And I remember thinking – Brilliant, I want a dog just like that when I grow up.

I shudder to think of the number of times I repeated that information about seeing-eye dogs throughout my childhood.

But this story is not about helpful dogs. This story is about lightbulbs.

On Saturday, I was at home doing all sorts of domestic things that get lost in the shuffle when you’re terribly busy during the week – like changing the light high above the bathtub in the master bathroom that had been burnt out since I’ve lived in my apartment. (Which, in my defence, required more effort than anticipated, including Sugru, a ladder, and multiple trips to Rainbow Hardware.)

At some point in the afternoon, I got a message from my friend John, and after exchanging pleasantries, I asked him whether he had plans for the weekend. He responded that he planned to go out on a jazz club crawl in the West Village. This was intriguing to me. He then posed the same question to me: What do you have on this weekend?

Without thinking, I replied, I’m changing hard to reach lightbulbs.

I immediately regretted my honesty, and I said as much, because I still have some dignity, and didn’t want to be seen as a) The Biggest Loser on the Upper East Side (which I might have been), and/or b) angling for an invitation to join (which I was). But John is a nice person, and his reply to me was some variation on You should join me doing cool people things instead of changing lightbulbs!

A few hours later, I was showered and changed and on my way to the Village. As I was pulling up, I got a message:

Crazy stoned guy outside this place…

I greeted John and as we waited, a man threaded through the crowd, preaching crackpottery. Remind me when we get inside, there’s a story I want to tell you! John mentioned. I nodded, keeping my eye on our stoned friend telling his stories to the assembled jazz-lovers.

When the bouncer finally let us in, we snagged two seats about midway into Smalls Jazz Club. The crackpot had managed to get in as well, and I heard him behind us inside, telling a foursome about how he could confirm the existence of mermaids, who he found to be all lesbian bitches. He further assured the foursome that he wasn’t a homophobe, it was just science – he was a Marine Biologist who understood and had personally encountered/been severely assaulted by hostile lesbian mermaids in the wild.

The ceiling was low inside Smalls, and the atmosphere was perfect for a night of jazz and gin. We were watching the Fukushi Tainaka Quartet and sipping gin-and-tonics John had gotten us from the bar. Way better than domestic drudgery.

What story were you going to tell me? I asked.

The stupid dog ate another sock, he said. He had two labradors, one of whom had a habit of eating his children’s socks and needing to have them surgically removed.

So that’s like a semester’s worth of school fees in sock removal surgeries this year? 

Yep. 

He then called up a photo on his phone of the removed sock, which made me laugh. It was hard for me to reconcile the image of majestic, helpful labradors I had from childhood with John’s idiot dog.  But having already humiliated myself once that day, I opted not to try to make him feel better about it by offering up a story about how I once thought seeing-eye dogs operated by barking driving directions.

After the set had finished, we decided to grab dessert. John had once lived nearby, and I had lived in Tribeca and gone to grad school at NYU, and yet we still had to pull up Googlemaps to navigate to the sweet shop nearby. There was something oddly bittersweet about not being able to find our way unaided past the yuppified alleyways and storefronts where even the cheesy sex shops were upgraded from a decade before.

It was heady and strange, the feeling of walking through a past life. Andrew and I used to walk our dog Lilly up to the Village from our place in Tribeca on weekends; we’d have brunch, go shopping. But then I got sick and Lilly died, and a few short years later, we were divorced. Everything was different; little had changed in the Village.

But the walk was short and Googlemaps quickly got us to Sweet Revenge. There, we gobbled our way through a cupcake and a mini-cheesecake, laughing about the specifics of our night.

We parted ways after dessert, and I headed home to my own disobedient dog; curled up on the bathmat on the floor next to the expensive dog bed. The bathroom was ablaze with all four lightbulbs finally lit for the first time since I’d lived in the place.

As I put myself to bed, Roo trotted over to sleep next to me, bringing what I thought was his stuffed hedgehog along, but instead was a balled up pair of my running socks that must’ve missed the bathroom hamper when I’d stripped them off earlier. He didn’t do that very often, but occasionally, he would carry around a sock or two of mine, and I would find them thidden in his toy box under the legless Piglet stuffie that he’d once nicked from a baby gift I was wrapping.

I looked down at him, and sighed, and said aloud, If you even so much as think about eating those socks, you are a dead dog.

It didn’t dawn on me till later that sometimes, it takes trying to replace what seems like a burnt out light to find out that it’s broken at the stem and needs a more serious repair. And dogs will still be dogs, no matter how helpful they seem. That might have been helpful to know ten years ago in Tribeca.

That said, I’m still awfully glad to be a Dog Person. Seems much safer than being a marine biologist.

So…I got married.

We got married.

The wedding was beautiful, and perfect, and everything I had hoped it would be. All the excellent parts were better than I had dreamed, and nothing was disappointing because I had mapped out all the potential for All That in advance.

Is that weird?

Before you judge me for saying that out loud, try managing your expectations before some big event. (Hint: The holidays are coming). Try not expecting a drop more from people than they typically produce, just because it’s a Big Occasion, and They Should Be On Their Best Behaviour.

For instance, if the average orange yields 3oz of juice on an ordinary day, than there is absolutely no reason to believe people will be Extraordinary Oranges on special occasions. Rather, people will be nervous, or petulant, or self-interested, or any number of other things that will impair their juice production. At best, they will produce the same amount of juice as usual. But you’re definitely not getting a half-gallon out of them simply because you’re the one getting married – it’s against the laws of nature!

For example:

My brother is not…an experienced traveller. He was booked on an 7:00am flight out of LAX the day before our wedding, which he missed. I had fully prepared for this – in part, because Matthew is a poor traveller. But also because that’s my brother. Before he left, I had inputted his flight details into an app I use to track travel simply because it spits out “Alternative Flight Options” in the event he missed his plane.

Which he did.

Which was how I wound up spending hours on the phone with American Airlines the day before my wedding and not writing my toast or vows.

Which is not to say I expected any different, rather, it is to say that the whole endeavour took up slightly more time than budgeted towards “Matthew’s Potential/Likely Screw Ups.” Save for my own lack of foresight in time-budgeting, the entire weekend was perfect. And I did (eventually) find time to write the vows.

But when the moment came for me to give the toast, which I’d decided to give cold, the best man and wedding planner came to me with the microphone and I looked around the room – this ancient farmhouse filled with everyone I love, and decorated with roses, and thistles, and reminders of the Sierras – I realised I didn’t need to say anything more.

And what I am further saying is this:

When I was a very little girl, I loved this movie called Pete’s Dragon. If you’re a child of the 70s or 80s, you probably know it well. In fact, I still love Pete’s Dragon.

If you know the film, you know that there are several stories within the main story – one of them being that Nora, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, is holding out hope that the sailor she loves will one day return home. He has presumably been shipwrecked and lost at sea. I watched that film throughout my whole childhood and adolescence, holding out hope that I too would find someone worthy of a ballad like the one Helen Reddy belts from the lighthouse.

Before Paul and I got married, I read through my old journals – partly out of curiosity, and partly out of wondering what my marital hopes and dreams had once been many years ago, and how accurate my predictions for myself might have turned out to be. Until then, I had mostly forgotten about my youthful obsession with Pete’s Dragon; I had even somehow forgotten that Nora had been holding out hope for a seemingly impossible to find Paul.

And I had not realised that I had once written: I wonder if I will ever love anyone like that. I wonder if I will spend my life searching for my own Paul and if I will ever find him. Or if I will be disappointed.

I had found him. And that was really all that mattered, wasn’t it?

As I looked around the room at the moment I didn’t give my toast, on that one, perfect Autumn day, it was if I had finally accepted that I had never had to be perfect and Paul would still be waiting. My family and friends would have been there no matter what.

And it dawned on me that maybe it’s true that you’re not guaranteed great results simply because you’re planning a special occasion. Maybe the result you get from people is a direct product of the love you put in.

I was lucky then, on our wedding day, to be blessed like a California girl might hope to be: Surrounded by Extraordinary Oranges.

mere paul roo

This is the sixth in a series of posts about New York.

Sometimes, it feels hard to find and keep friends in New York. So if you can’t find them, it’s always good to have a dog.

And if you do find them, keep them.

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Birthdays are more fun with friends anyway.