I had just gone through a rough patch, the kind that leaves you looking for a new place to live, the kind that finds you living at a friend’s house for a month sharing a bed with a cat, even though you’re completely utterly allergic to cats, the kind that causes you to lose fifteen pounds inside of a month, the kind that leaves you oblivious to the compliments on the weight loss, the kind where the arrival at work each day is fraught with victory because you didn’t ram the car into the freeway divider at sixty miles per hour after all, the kind that ends on a rainy day when you decide to weed whack your friend’s backyard even though they didn’t ask you to weed whack and even though they urge you to come back indoors but you don’t stop until the waist-high weeds are gone and you’re covered head to toe in grassy confetti like breaded fish. And then you eat. And you sleep. And you can finally laugh. Not a lot, but you can laugh.
And then you think about where you’re going to live. You look at apartments in the City, because maybe it’s time after all to move to San Francisco. Or maybe it’s time to buy a small cottage in Berkeley. You call your old boss, a real estate broker. In the interim, you think you’re strong enough to go back to your apartment, the one that overlooks the apartment-of-the-guy-who-just-broke-your-fucking-heart.
And you get a dog.
You don’t know what kind of dog you get before you get the dog. But there’s a little diner you frequent on weekend mornings, the kind of diner with just eight seats, where everyone moves over one seat if needed. The kind of diner where the dishes are named after regulars. The kind of diner with a killer jive sandwich, which is like hash browns plus a frito-corn-ship scramble with hot sauce and jalapeños that you eat with gusto in your twenties because you haven’t yet been told you have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Anyway, at the diner, there’s a guy who has three dachshunds. You say you’re thinking about getting a dog, that you want a smallish dog but you don’t want a frou frou dog and most of all, you want a laidback dog.
Dachshunds! He says. They’re SO MELLOW. He shows you pictures. They hunt. They’re badass. They’re cute.
So you call up the rescue organization and say you’d like a dachshund. Scan through the pictures. Call them up. They say to come by to meet a couple of dogs who haven’t hit the website yet.
The first little dog comes out. He’s seven months old. His tail is tucked between his legs, and he comes up to you and bows his head. He’s shy, quiet, gentle. You’ve never seen a dog like this before; you’ve always had big bossy alpha dogs. You pet him. His tail uncurls a little.
They bring the second dog out. It’s his sister. She’s bossy, they say. We want to separate them so that the other one can form a personality.
You wonder how you can choose in five minutes…but you’ve already fallen in love with the first one. They were found on the streets in the middle of all the rainstorms, the epic La Niña season of 1997-98.
You take him home. His name is Victor. Because his sister was Victoria. And you think Victor as a name doesn’t make sense anymore. And he doesn’t come when you call him Victor, anyway. You discover he has demodectic mange. And that he has worms. This little dog, you realize, has been on the streets for a long time, possibly most of his seven month lifespan. You take care of him. Bring him back to health. He insists on foraging through the trashcan. He will love trashcans for the rest of his life.
You show Victor to your mom. See? I got a dog, mom.
Your mom takes one look at Victor and says the dog looks exactly like the guy-who-broke-your-heart.
No, I say.
Yes, she says. He is exactly like him. You chose a dog exactly like him.
You insist no. You’re convinced you’re over him. But later, you will have to agree–Victor reminds you of him.
You take him to visit the guy-who-broke-your-heart, because your damn heart won’t stop whispering his name. You introduce him to Victor, who immediately races and leaps into the air and lands onto the guy-who-broke-your-heart’s balls. So now your dog has broken the guy-who-broke-your-heart’s balls.
Inside you think, this is fairplay. And you say, he really likes you!
And you name him Ziggy. You sleep with him each night in your new house, still empty. He sleeps in your arms and the bed feels a lot less empty. But Ziggy is completely in love with the guy-who-broke-your-heart, too.
Ziggy has so much energy. He bounces up and down. Barking. He de-stuffs your entire couch. You think the Diner Guy lied. These dogs are not mellow. He can’t stop jumping up and down. Later, you learn that Ziggy is half miniature pinscher.
You think, maybe he needs a friend, another dog. Someone tells you that dogs really mellow out if they have a canine companion.
You call the rescue organization again. They say they have a dachshund, and to bring Ziggy.
There she is. A sable dachshund. Her name is Scarlet, because she’s so red. She’s super short. Her front paws are so wrinkly they make you squeal with delight. You think Ziggy looks a little odd next to her, not quite dachshund-like. This is when you learn that Ziggy is half miniature pinscher.
You stay at the foster’s house for an hour. The dogs ignore each other. And then they begin to play, because Ziggy is playful like that. Ziggy is a fast dog–he can keep up with an American Eskimo (the dog, not the people). They chase each other around the room.
They say I think this is a match. And you think so too. They say that this one, Scarlet, is hard to let go–that she’s so sweet. That they sit on the couch and pet her for hours.
By now, the guy-who-broke-your-heart has, like Ziggy grown up while apart from the bossy female (read: you). You have grown up, too. And you are going to be together forever. All of you. You will grow up together.
Scarlet is a six year old sweetheart. But she’s a wreck, too. She is frightened. She snaps. Her paws are soft, as if they haven’t touched concrete in her whole life, and her feet bleed after walking one block. You wonder about her past. But no one knows her past except for her. The rescue organization just found her at the pound and took her home to save.
It takes four weeks for her to figure out it’s okay to pee in front of a human being and that she won’t get yelled at. Thus, it takes four weeks of taking her on walks before she learns to go outside. Until then, she holds her bladder on walks, and releases it the second we glance away inside the house. The first time she goes outside on complete accident, her little dog face eyes open with terror and fright. But we are so excited. We’ve finally had a breakthrough moment. We praise her, pet her, kiss her shocked and shamed little face, and then she figures it out.
She becomes alpha to Ziggy. And she falls in love with you, and you with her. You’re her human.
Scarlet will follow you around for the next twelve years. She will follow you to the bathroom. When you leave the house, she will wait at the door for your return, you are told. She will have two spinal surgeries, and bounce back with incredible will. She is tenacious. You will discover her undying loyalty to you; she is a dog who would attack Godzilla to defend your life. She won’t ever forget that you saved her. You’re her human. She follows you everywhere you go.
And she is sweet. When you cry, she sits with you. You will treat her tenderly when the dog neurologist tells you that the next disc to slip will be inoperable.
Ziggy and Scarlet grow old. Ziggy will stop jumping and he will begin to run slower. Their fur will whiten. Scarlet’s sable coat will thin and lose its luster. They will sleep all day. They will…finally…mellow. They will still team up on you.
And then you realize you will never listen to other people’s advice about dogs again. Because not only are these dogs not mellow (until they’re old, but even then they’re not really mellow), but now you have two of them teaming up on you.
And you know that on the day you adopt them, whatever happens in ten years, you don’t know–but you know you’ll have these characters in your life.
Joining Heather’s Abecedary and Fog City Writer in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.