Ponderings

My Corgi and I, Growing Together

It was a hard week. I knew I was signing myself up for mental and emotional exhaustion this month and the next with all of the activity I had planned. I arrived home on Sunday having been gone since Labor Day. In the time between, I had been from Colorado Springs to Durango to Ouray to Telluride back to Ouray to Colorado Springs to San Francisco to Fort Collins and back again. All of those travels had been well worth it; I reconnected with college friends, ran the sickest race of my life, finally met some of my coworkers in person, and did some adventuring with relatively new, but lovely friends in Colorado. I was set to leave for home in New York on Thursday, with a concert in Boulder on Wednesday, so I planned to hunker down at home for the few days in between. Sometimes life doesn’t care if you have a plan, though.

Midday Sunday, I arrived home to find my garage door open and my roommate, Megan, gone. I was confused, but our garage door occasionally bounces back open upon leaving, so I didn’t dwell on it. I had unloaded and been in the house all of five minutes before someone knocked on our door. As Megan’s dog, Grizzly, howled, I shook my head, wondering who could possibly be bothering me on a Sunday afternoon. It was our neighbor, Angel, there to inform me that Megan’s puppy, Nugget, had been hit by a car. He had scooped up the dog and helped get him to the animal hospital with Megan, and had returned to inform me. I left immediately.

The next days were agonizing. The vets x-rayed Nugget and found the poor pup had lungs that functioned at 30% capacity … before getting hit by a car. His hind legs were weak for some inexplicable reason — perhaps a spinal or neurological issue. He was struggling so hard to breathe.

You feel so helpless in these situations. As the roommate, I tried doing what I could. Cooking dinner, doing the laundry, straightening up, dealing with the mail and trash and recycling. It felt insufficient, but asking for updates or being overly optimistic felt wrong, too. Moreover, realizing I was really leaving Wednesday, though flying Thursday, left me in a scramble. There were people I wanted to see, things I wanted to do, packing, and organizing that had to be done before I left Colorado for three weeks.

It all came to a head on Tuesday when it was decided that Nugget should be put to sleep. Further procedures would require him to be transported to a new facility, and transport just didn’t seem feasible in his condition. Of course, we were devastated. I attempted to hold strong for Megan, adamant that I would drive her to and from the veterinary hospital and accompany her every step of the way. But I knew it was going to be brutal.

When I was 12 years old, our vet discovered that our golden retriever, Dixie, had stomach cancer. She was only 7 years old, but the cancer had spread considerably and she was no longer living a happy, comfortable life. It crushed our family to put her down, but it was in her best interest. The question was, who was going to go to the vet and see her through to her last breath? It seemed like just my dad. I couldn’t bear the thought of him being all alone with Dixie like that, so I got in the car and we drove the hour to the animal hospital to say goodbye to her. We cried the whole way home, only stopping at 11 p.m. at Applebee’s to cry into some onion rings and a brownie sundae.

I knew exactly what I was in for with Nugget. But I told Megan multiple times, “You cannot do this alone.” And so, we entered the clinic together, proceeded to the “comfort room,” and ultimately our dear boy, gasping through a respirator. His eyes widened at the sight of us; that’s when I broke down.

Nugget was just a baby, not even a year old. And so even though I wasn’t very close to him, what with all of the traveling the past few months, it was impossible for me not to feel angry and upset that this should happen so early in his life, when he had so much ahead of him. That he should be taken from my dear roommate and best friend Megan — the most conscientious, caring dog owner I have met in my entire life. It was all so unfair and painful.

When we got home, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves besides weep. The following morning felt surreal, too. I felt like I was out of tears, but so profoundly sad. But I couldn’t process what had happened — partly because I decided to distract myself, partly because I had to leave.

I felt guilty leaving Megan, but it felt silly to not attend this concert, too. I had been looking forward to it for months, and I had fallen deeper and deeper in love with the artist, Remi Wolf. I felt that seeing her could restore my soul, at least partly. So I packed the car and left Colorado Springs behind.

The concert was everything I hoped it would be and more. After wanting to crawl into a hole all day, I arrived in Boulder with my climbing partner/partner-in-crime, Ryan, who is too goofy not to cheer me up. We caught up over beers with my Colorado dad and hiking buddy, Captain, got dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant, and danced and sang our hearts out to Remi. Did you know she plays the drums?

I should’ve expected that a high like that could only be followed by a low, especially since I had delayed all my feelings surrounding Nugget. Thursday moved in slow motion, the air cool and rainy, work feeling meaningless. Up until leaving for the airport, I felt pretty numb. But as I dragged my suitcase to Ryan’s car, I felt this lump forming in my throat.

It was a cascade of emotions. Three weeks gone felt so long, particularly when I had a devastated roommate at home. On the one hand, I was trying to process Nugget’s passing, lamenting the time away from Colorado during this time of year, and already missing my friends — some of whom (not just Megan) I felt concerned about. On the other hand, I was overwhelmed by the happy moments, too. Thinking of Remi made me emotional; thinking of my dog, Chowder, made me emotional; envisioning my dad at the airport to pick me up made me tearful, just knowing the enormous relief I would feel to see him, to be home.

I basically held it together to hug Ryan outside of DIA — a hug that, if it lasted a second longer, would have resulted in tears. As soon as I stepped inside that airport, it was over. I fought tears through the interminably long security line, and the pain was only exacerbated by all of the switch-backing. I was making eye contact with the same people over and over. Yes, I am still crying. Of course I got randomly selected in the security line. Of course my flight got delayed 45 minutes. I got some food and took it to an empty gate so I could at least cry between bites and be away from others.

I cried myself to sleep on the plane, and just when I thought I was cried out, tears would bubble up on and off. And as I predicted, the moment I was in my dad’s arms outside of LaGuardia, the full-on waterworks arrived.

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love our corgi, Chowder. At 11 p.m., home at last, I finally felt like I could be happy and not launch into tears, all because of that dog trotting up to me with excitement. We hadn’t seen each other in nine months.

The following morning, Chowder followed me everywhere. He sat under my chair as I coded invoices, hiked up the stairs after me as I got ready to run. Watched me cruise out the door from his perch on the porch, then waited an hour, patiently, until I returned.

This isn’t the Chowder we adopted 11 years ago. Growing up, Chowder avoided people a lot. We always think of him being a cat, not a dog, because he tends to be aloof. You’d often find him asleep tucked in corners where no one could bother him. He didn’t like being held or cuddled very much. You knew he loved you, but he didn’t show it in very overt ways. For a long time, he and I were alike in these manners.

And, I realized, we’re still alike now.

Seeing Chowder follow me that morning, with true care and slight anxiety in his eyes — anxiety about me slipping away … it felt familiar.

At the beginning of this month, I was home for the weekend, watching Grizzly for Megan while she was away. To my disbelief, it seemed like all of my friends were out of town, sick, or busy. I was on my own — and I couldn’t handle it.

At some point in college, I came to this realization — or perhaps decision — that at the end of the day, the only person you can rely on is yourself. Sure, you can let yourself down at times, but you have the most control to prevent this heartache. Others, even the best intentioned, will inevitably not pull through for you at some point or another. We can’t be everything to nor be there for each other, always.

I fully acknowledge that a lot of my feelings of let down had to do with setting unrealistic expectations for others — expectations they had no idea I held for them. So how on earth were they supposed to come through for me? Yet other times, my expectations were perfectly reasonable. And I was still let down, left alone.

So I became unbearably self-reliant. I prided myself on unflinchingly going on “Solo Slaico” adventures. I’d go to concerts by myself, see a movie. Attend events, take myself for long hikes, go on brewery tours, and just explore on my own. I’m not saying anything is wrong with living this way. But as time passed, I found myself not only less and less willing to let others in, but also incapable of seeing the value of company. Things were only exacerbated by COVID, when the last of my college buddies moved out of town. I found myself with just two friends beyond my roommate to spend time with, and regardless, you weren’t supposed to see people in person. Solo Slaico became more than just an energy, but who I was.

Thankfully, as the world opened back up, so did I. I made friends at the climbing gym, reconnected with co-workers, and met others through running clubs. Now having been in Colorado Springs for 7 years, I can genuinely say that I love the town and all of the people I have met within it. I feel settled and secure from a social standpoint. And, unbeknownst to me until this particular weekend, watching Grizzly, I realized I’ve moved to the opposite end of the spectrum: I can’t stand being alone.

The weekend felt agonizing. I had so much free time to do all the things I loved — play drums, read, cook, watch movies, run, bike — but it all just fell flat being by myself. I think I relish so many of these hobbies precisely because I don’t have enough time to do them; every opportunity feels special. But this was torture. I couldn’t wait for Megan to get back and for me to begin my travels to Durango and beyond, desperate for human connection I used to care so little about.

My need to be around others became even more evident the night before my race in Ouray. My best friend in Durango, Marta, was unable to join me (through no fault of her own), and Megan and our friend Lacey couldn’t arrive until late that night. I felt absolutely daunted by the idea of driving to Ouray alone, checking into my Airbnb alone, getting settled alone, eating dinner alone. Alone, alone, alone. It brought me such overwhelm and disappointment — and to think, three years ago, I would’ve gritted my teeth, buckled my seatbelt, and thought, “And so begins another Solo Slaico adventure.”

Now two weeks later, at home, I saw myself reflected in Chowder as he moved from room to room with me. A creature seeking the presence of another creature. I think he and I are similar in that we’ll certainly retreat into ourselves when we need — he goes to the furthest corner of the house, I have myself a “big Slaico nite” where I cook, watch Community, and play drums — but we prefer simply being around others. We don’t have to interact; it’s just the company that counts.

Chowder and I have seemingly grown together in this way. We were once loners and super content to be, and now we’re mildly anxious and attention-seeking. Neither way of being is necessarily right or wrong. I tend to think that the change is for the better, though.

As I finish writing this, Chowder is resting next to the couch I’m sitting on. He’s not on the couch, sidled up to me, but he’s close. If he hadn’t relocated to be nearby me, I think I probably would have gone looking for him, just to have him near while I typed out my thoughts.

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