Back in the late 90's, I was, I'm not ashamed to admit, a huge Ally McBeal fan. Something about Ally's emotional openness, her willingness to wear her heart on her sleeve, to risk anything for love, spoke to me. I wished I could be more like her, then, and the truth is, sometimes I still do. That heart-on-sleeve mentality resulted in a lot of heartbreak, (not to mention some truly great television), but all that aside, she had a great job, a great wardrobe, (for the late 90's anyway), a close-knit group of highly entertaining, albeit quirky, friends, and at the end of the day they'd all go down to the bar together and dance. Sometimes, they'd even sing, with or without Vonda Shephard, whose career was largely launched by the show's success.
Honestly, it was the singing (often accompanied by some truly inspired dance moves) that often made the show for me. Who could forget John Cage singing Barry White tunes in the unisex, Elaine's endless "numbers," Robert Downey Junior as Ally's love interest, Larry Paul, crooning "Chances Are," or Larry and Ally sitting at her piano, playing and singing Joni Mitchell's "River?" But it was Vonda herself singing "I Only Want To Be With You" that always seemed to get me right in my twenty-something heart. It was, in a nutshell, what I thought I was looking for. What could be better, I thought, than finding and falling in love with someone, and spending every single moment of every single day with that person, blissfully in love?
Now that I am wiser, as well as, inevitably, older, I know that what I thought I wanted, then, isn't what I really want, or need, then or now, when it comes to a human soul mate. I am more of a "let there be spaces in our togetherness" sort of person. I like my alone time. No, that's not true. I don't just like my alone time, I require it. Like air to breathe, like water to drink, I need that time by myself to stay sane. But for people like me, who, no matter how much we love the people in our lives, and treasure the time we spend with them, do need that alone time, solitude does have the potential to be lonely. Unless, that is ... you have an animal companion to counteract the loneliness. Which, of course, I do. Five of them, in fact. Aren't I fortunate?
To digress momentarily, one of my previous assistants was a Brazilian native who had come to the U.S. for college, and for whom English was, obviously, a second language. Thanks to her, I could, if we ever met, and it happened to be your birthday, sing you "Happy Birthday" in Portugese. (G, I miss you!) Anyway, G had a very natural flair for the dramatic, and if she was having a bad day, she would flounce into our friend A's office, throw herself down on the floor where his yellow Lab, Savannah, was lying in state on her bed, open wide her arms, and declare, passionately, "I need dog love!" Of course, with her accent, it came out sounding more like "doghlauvve!" Whereupon, she would cuddle with Savannah for a few minutes, and then rise, brush her clothing free of Lab hair, and return to her desk, restored.
Unlike me, G didn't have, at that time, ready access to dog love, Savannah notwithstanding, though she does, now that she's returned to Brazil, have a darling little Shih Tzu whom she adores, and now can get "daughlauvve" anytime she wants or needs it. Anyway, the point is, dog love has amazing restorative powers. Even a brief moment of communion with a dog who isn't yours can work wonders on a bad mood or a stressful day. I have even heard of a hotel in Canada that has "hotel dogs" that they rent out to their guests who are away from home and missing their own dogs. A brilliant idea, if you ask me. Fortunately for me, I have ready access to dog love just about any time or day or night, even at work, since my amazing boss lets me, and anyone else who wants to, bring their dog(s) to work.
But unlike is sometimes the case with humans, my dogs' constant presence doesn't make me feel smothered, despite the fact that The Paragon quite literally dogs my every footstep. It is his mission in life to never be more than a hairsbreadth away from wherever I happen to be. I am, you see, his polestar, his true North. If The Paragon were a human, I would no doubt tease him mercilessly and very possibly report him for stalking or file a restraining order. Because he's a dog, though, I find his devotion completely charming, and not the least bit intrusive. (Well, sometimes I do, but hardly ever.)
The Paragon was a rescue pup, so I'm not exactly sure how old he is, but when I got him in the fall of 2003, the vet estimated that he was about ten months old. Which, as of late January or early February, would make him eleven years old. Not terribly old, especially for a smaller dog, but nonetheless, our time together, which once seemed to stretch out in front of us almost endlessly (when Dakotah left us at sixteen, The Paragon was only four years old, a mere pup, really, I remember thinking then), now feels infinitely more precious because I am all too aware how finite it is.
Don't get me wrong ... The Paragon is in excellent health. But at eleven years old, I know that the time in front of us is shorter than that behind us. There's just no way of getting around that, and it's a sobering thought, to say the least. I have had dogs almost my whole life long, and I have loved them all. But The Paragon is in a class by himself. Always has been, right from the first. I just can't imagine a time when he won't be here, and hopefully, I won't have to imagine it for many, many years. In the meantime, I want to be conscious, without obsessing over it, of the fact that our time together is not infinite, and make the most of every day.
So early this morning, when my alarm went off, I stifled a groan, and looked over to where The Paragon was lying, curled tightly in his blankets, The Flying Monkey tucked close in to his side. His hair was mussed, his eyes were bleary, and he clearly was savoring the warmth of a cozy bed on a cold morning, but as soon as he heard my voice calling to him, his little tail started wagging a mile a minute. He stretched long and hard, then rose to his feet. His eyes shone with love as he licked my face. I laughed, and scratched his ears, and then he flopped over on his back so I could scratch his stomach, too. In that moment, I couldn't stop myself from singing (not well, mind you) to my dog. I tousled his head, and in a voice husky with sleep (and just a little bit from emotion) I sang:
I don't know what it is that makes me love you so
I only know I never want to let you go
Cause you started something
Oh can't you see
Ever since we met you've had a hold on me
It happens to be true
I only want to be with you
It doesn't matter where you go or what you do
I want to spend each moment of the day with you
Look what has happened with just one kiss
I never knew that I could be in love like this
It's crazy but it's true
I only want to be with you
This year, my Valentine is a dog. And you know what? I could do worse!