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Dog Days are Over

Long before there were the kids, there were the dogs. The first night I met my now-ex-wife, she told me she owned a young black lab named Max. I could tell by the way she talked about him that she was as much in love with this dog as she had ever been with any human dude.

That meant a lot to me. I found it enticing, captivating. Meeting a bright, pretty girl is always pretty great. But meeting a bright, pretty girl who has a young black lab—that’s just straight up over the top. That’s just hard to resist, really. I found it endlessly charming. And quite frankly, I found it wildly hot.

Not long after that night, we were married, and Max slipped into a starring role in my life. He became my closest buddy. He became the heartbeat I fell asleep to more than any other heartbeat I have ever heard.

Brooklyn, Manhattan, Salt Lake City: Max led a life most dogs only ever dream of. He chased mule deer in the mountains and he took sh*ts on 34th Street, in the shadow of the Empire State Building. He was our guy—a dark, beautiful symbol of our small family.

He was the poster child for our flawed but unflappable love.

--

A few years later, around the time my wife became pregnant, we drove up into the mountains of Utah and picked out another dog, a puppy, to roll with our crew. They were all labs, all black ones, purebreds, couple hundred bucks apiece. My wife was so excited. I never saw her like that before.

That’s what happens with dog people: They lose their minds on that big day that only ever comes once in a great while if everything works out. You pick a puppy out, every now and then. It’s like only having Christmas morning every dozen years or so. But when it happens, your mind kind of crumbles in the flood path of your own rushing blood.

But I understand Milo. I feel him, so to speak. I have bathed enough in his rancid breath to know his innermost feelings and thoughts ...

The guy selling the dogs opened a small gate and let the puppies tumble off the bale of hay in their doghouse. One by one, they found their way out. It was a crazy windy day, I remember that. Up in those mountains, the winds were slashing and bashing against the world and you could barely hear each other talking. I was afraid the pups would blow away, but they didn’t.

Some people tell their dog story and they tell you all about how they knew right away—RIGHT AWAY!—that the dog they ended up taking home was “the one.” That didn’t happen for us that day. All the puppies looked exactly the same and none of them was doing anything cool or whatever.

I kept thinking, “Isn’t one of them supposed to come over to us and squeal with delight and hop up on our shins and basically tell us to take his ass out of here so we can be best friends forever?”

But it didn’t happen.

They all just kind of stood there, a throbbing lump of Labrador retriever being pounded by the wind. My wife oooh’d and ahhh’d, but she didn’t know which damn dog to pick. And neither did I.

Then, we both noticed something at the same time. One of the pups had something on his eye. Was it a birthmark? Whatever it was it was the only thing separating any of the dogs from the pack.

We urged that dog over to us.

“Come here little buddy!" we said, kneeling down/twitching our fingers/egging him on. He showed up. Maybe it was the wind. But he showed up at our feet and we stared down at him, a husband and his wife/a wife and her husband, gazing down into the soft browns of warm, fresh life.

I rented a house where dogs aren’t allowed. I needed something fast that I could afford and that was the big trade-off. And so now he lives with my ex ...

The mountains were the Colosseum. The wind was the crowd exploding. Fate entered the building, I guess.

The monocle ring around the puppy’s eye?

It was a smear of dried dog crap.

We had our guy.

--

There are two kinds of labs, they say: proud, stoic, mature ones with regal dispositions; and wild, energetic, crazy-as-a-sh*thouse rat ones, who will try your patience for the rest of your lives yet demand that you love them with all you’ve got because they love you like that and so it’s easy.

I don’t need to tell you which one Milo turned out to be.

You already know.

--

Max died this past November. Milo seemed to take it all in stride, but I know it hurt him. And it still does. It’s tough to tell with dogs that only want to play Frisbee and run and roll around on the stinky bones of a dead deer, because they never seem to react to too much—unless there’s a Frisbee or a field or a dead deer laid out before them, you know?

But I understand Milo. I feel him, so to speak. I have bathed enough in his rancid breath to know his innermost feelings and thoughts and so I know he misses Max more than he wants to let on.

It kills me in a way.

But everything about Milo kills me in a way anymore. See, I seem to have lost him, us. Our thing, it’s going away. I never dreamed that it could or would—especially not like it has, with divorce and all—but it has and it sucks. And I suck.

I rented a house where dogs aren’t allowed. I needed something fast that I could afford and that was the big trade-off. And so now he lives with my ex, walking across the same rug where Max took his last breaths, both dogs, both of my best friends, ending up living in a nice house with a beautiful backyard in a cool neighborhood, and yet, I’m not in on any of it.

I’m losing Milo and it’s all my fault.

And obviously, you, sitting there in your computer chair or skimming this on your iPhone on the subway or sitting there in traffic, you’re saying to yourself, “This guy’s an idiot. Why doesn’t he just drive over there and take the dog for long hikes and play Frisbee with him and spend tons of time with him just like he did when they lived together?”

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But it’s not that simple.

Time, work, kids, the 20 miles between our homes: they’ve all wedged themselves between my dog and me. I know that sounds like I’m making excuses. No sh*t, Sherlock. I mean, that’s all I’m doing, really.

Still. I miss him so bad. I miss being his hiking partner. I miss the evenings when I’d get up in his earholes and rub my fingers gently and this maniacal tornado of hair and slobber would just melt in my hands like Sunday morning frying pan butter, people.

--

I might be able to make it right with Milo. I need to try somehow, before it’s too late. Spring will be here before long. I never have enough time. Neither does Milo. Dogs know how to live.

But humans really suck most of the time, did you know that? You should know that by now. Our priorities, our dreams, what the hell happened to them, you know? We lose the plot so fast.

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Money/happiness/vanity/sex/weight loss/entertain me/I’m mad at you/don’t talk to me/retirement fund/college fund/fund fund/after all this time, you don’t even know me/I need to find myself/parenting styles/Gods/expensive organic carrots will make you live longer/Facebook messages from married people/I wonder when I’m going to die/I have to save more/I need to spend less/my kids are my life/it hurts when I pee/I hate the people I work with/we need to go our separate ways/I need to be alone/everything that has ever happened was a great big mistake.

People divorcing people. Man oh man.

People divorcing dogs. I’m going to Hell, aren’t I? Ha ha ha. We probably all are.

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