I haven’t always been a confirmed dog lover. However, heading for divorce and in need of some serious extra credit to get into Catholic heaven, I promised my sons they could have a dog. After researching breeds with the shortest lifespan (trust me, commitment is unfathomable in the early stages of divorce) they decided on a St. Bernard.
In January 2009, we brought home Big Ben. We went through the typical puppy years. He ate pencils, rolling pins and a picnic table. He bounded through the front screen door weekly. In six months, he gained 106 pounds. Although massive, he learned to jump out the car window. I chased him through intersections, school parking lots, tennis courts, soccer camps and even a golf course. He became so strong, instead of walking the dog, I learned to body surf and buy Shout by the case.
After nine months with the pup, I became overwhelmed. I was depressed about the state of my marriage, the kids were suffering from the tension, and drool was everywhere. It hung from lampshades, chandeliers, drapery rods and unknowingly, most often from the back of my head. At one point, I owned 17 lint rollers.
I called rescue shelters to take him. However, each shelter encouraged me to work with him in order to properly bond. Eventually he obeyed a couple of commands: sit and … well, okay, maybe he just obeyed one command. But when the boys went back to school that fall, without all the distractions, Big Ben and I clicked and became inseparable.
Sure, he has annoying habits, like drinking out of toilets, snoring louder than a freight train, producing poop larger than sandcastles, and consuming nine cups of dog food and five hot dogs a day. He hides his treats all over the house, like a squirrel preparing for winter. I find string cheese under drapes, hot dogs in sofa cushions, and once I found a three-day-old piece of pizza behind my pillow.
But he loves me. Unconditionally.
He lets me talk for hours, never interrupts, and five minutes later, still gets excited at the sound of my voice. He sticks to his word. He never says he’s going to clean the garage and then doesn’t do it. He never commits to cutting the lawn and then watches a ball game instead. And he certainly knows when to keep his mouth shut. If my jeans are a little tight or dinner is a bit late, he never voices his disdain. We don’t argue about politics, religion or who drank the last Diet Coke.
My divorce required so much change. The kids needed my attention to help work through their anxiety about the future. Not being part of a couple, the dynamics of many friendships changed. Saying goodbye to a beloved home was heartbreaking, and the fear of the unknown seemed to hover over our heads the entire first year.
However, one thing never changed. My dog was always by my side. No matter my marital status, my mood, my bank account, my home, my tears, my laughter, my disastrous dates. And the many nights home alone when the boys are with their dad, Big Ben has been next to me.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence my boys chose a St. Bernard. St. Bernards are said to instinctively anticipate avalanches and storms. They rescue people who are lost or stuck. Big Ben walked into a doozy when he came to our house. And he rescued me. He continues to remind me that loneliness is a choice. A full life takes many shapes and forms. The Joneses have theirs, and I have mine. The sky is the limit when a companion provides unconditional love.
This piece was originally published on Hairpin Turns Ahead.