Today deserved a memoir.
Today deserved a memoir, so I wrote one.
It’s allergy season. My eyes sting, my throat burns, and my sinuses feel like someone’s trying to hammer their way out from the inside. But today, it’s hit 80 degrees before 10 am, and I’m not afraid of skin cancer. I’m not afraid of heatstroke or car crashes, either. Last night I had a panic attack that made my organs itchy and made me think I wasn’t human, made me curl into a fetal position until I cried myself to sleep. But today is different.
“Milo, want to go for a ride to the beach?” And he leaps from where he’s lying, watching me pull on shorts I was too self-conscious to wear last summer and a tank top printed with hot air balloons, a shirt that has spent many good summer days clinging to my salty, sweaty skin. He knows the words “go”, “ride”, and “beach”, and even if he didn’t, he hangs on to every word I say with his head cocked and his ears forward, if he could have one wish it would be to understand English.
I pack a bag, a notebook and a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, my cell phone, wallet, and chapstick (chapped lips still give me anxiety), a bottle of water, the new Paisley red and gold collar I bought on sale at Target yesterday because it compliments the red patches on his back and the sun-bleached yellow on his head, and his fourth or fifth leash, triple braided canvas that replaced the first few he ate. And sunscreen, because even if I’m not afraid of skin cancer anymore, I’m not going to welcome it with open arms.
He leaps into the car the second I open the door, and I buckle him into his harness. At the bagel store down the street, I crack the windows and lock him in the car while I go order a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese and a raspberry iced tea. Back at the car, I roll down the windows while we share the bagel, and then I let him lick the cream cheese off my fingers. The songs on the mix cd I play are about summer and hope.
When we hit the highway with all the windows down, his face is priceless. He smiles often, when he wakes up, when he plays, when I come home, during walks, during rides, outside, inside, morning, evening. But it’s nothing compared to his face now, eyes squinted against the wind but still totally focused on me, the blond curls on his head blowing all over, his ears flapping gently, and his tongue hanging out, lips pulled back in a grin. I wonder if I will ever love my children as much as I love this dog. It seems impossible.
We’ve never been to this beach before. I’ve driven on the highway before, but not this far, and not with Milo. Not willingly. Every time I merge my heart stops for a second, but it doesn’t really matter. Not with Sublime covering Grateful Dead on my radio. Not if Milo doesn’t care.
After about 15 minutes, the air drops suddenly about 10 degrees, the hairs on my arms raise, and Milo whips his head around and sniffs hard. If he had any doubt about where we were going, he knows now. He’s never been to the ocean, but it smells just like the sound.
We stop at a light next to a white SUV with a weimeraner sticking it’s head out of the back window.
“Look!” I say, but Milo just stares, devoted, at my face, straining to understand one word he’s never grasped. I point, and the Weim smiles at me over his head, but Milo doesn’t get pointing. The people in the car smile at us, and I wave. They wave back.
At the beach, we walk down the off-roading trail to get to the dog section. A jeep slows past us and an enormous yellow lab with his head hanging out the window lets out the deepest bark I’ve ever heard. Milo jumps a foot in the air and I’m brace myself for HIS panic attack, screaming, pulling, snapping at anything that gets close.
It never comes. It’s been months and months since Milo’s had a panic attack in public, and they’re infrequent at home, too. We’re both doing better.
When we get to the sand, I kick off my flip flops, a gift from my boyfriend’s mother. I fondly remember their Hampton’s beach house two summers ago, where she looked at the tattered sandals I’d be wearing every summer since high school, the soles worn clean through at the balls of my feet, and then at me, the first girl her son loved who never hit him or swore at her, and handed me a credit card.
While I reminisce, Milo pounces on the rocks and shells that spot the beach. He gazes at the seagulls, and looks up at me while we walk past other dogs, including the weimeraner from the traffic light, and children playing “twister“ on a board game towel. He trots through tide pools. The sand is hot, the breeze is cool, and I have the best dog in the world. I lie down on the hot sand, and he sits right on my shoulder, the nub of his tail pressing in to my neck with every wag. We stay like that until the tide brings the waves to my feet.
On the way back up the beach, Milo stops, digs rapidly in the sand before crouching down and giving me the “chase me” look.
“I’mmm-gonnnnnnaaaa…..GET YOU!” I say, tiptoeing towards him crouched body during the first half of the statement, and rushing towards him during the last. He tucks his butt under him and in a spray of sand races away as I sprint after him to keep the leash loose. After about 15 feet, he stops, bounces around me, kicking his feet, and it starts again. Three or four times and we’re both tired, and nearly to the pathway out.
He glances longingly at the frigid ocean, the small waves breaking haphazardly, and then looks back up at me, ready to do whatever I say.
He follows me blindly, going wherever I ask, without complaint, every day. I decide this once I should follow him.
“Go ahead” I say, and we both run into the water, I let the waves break against my knees while he splashes around until my feet are numb.
On the way back to the car, we stop at the ice cream truck and get a vanilla cone. He drinks straight out of the water bottle back at the car, something I never taught him, he just knew how to do, and we share the ice cream, taking turns licking it. I don’t care if he licks his butt or I get a disease, his messy nose is worth it. I let him crunch the end of the cone up and don’t care if he gets ice cream on the seat. I think about how today deserves a memoir, and I come home and I write this with him lying on my feet.
"My favorite color is green, green like newly cut grass. When it comes to green with envy, though, you can stick it up your @ss!" ~ Grammy