I felt like the father in a TV series who keeps waiting to bond with his newborn. By the end of the episode or act break, there’s a crisis, he’s forced to swoop in, and inevitably they bond. Sure I bonded with our beagle Mr. Bikini; it’s hard not to love a dog, any dog. I mean, they’re just love on legs, with tongues, and eye boogers. There wasn’t anything not to like. You know where this is going. Now I’m the guy with commitment issues who chooses not to settle down, nitpicks, finds something wrong with every girl, until he finds one who meets all his criteria, nothing’s wrong with her. She’s, in a word, vanilla. In another word, milquetoast. Mr. Bikini is that girl, only he’s a neutered male dog.
Kini could open the door using the doorknob, let himself out. He’d sop up the sun, chase and subsequently kill baby rabbits, had the run of over two acres, to come and go as he pleased. And then we decided to move to Florida, to live in a country club home with a pool in place of a yard. No grass, we were situated on a golf course, and the only outside time he’d get would be limited to walks with me, the woman who avoids the sun. He’d need to be restricted to a leash, put on a schedule, get wedged into a smaller life without the thrill of the hunt.
The truth is, had he been the love of my life, I would’ve been selfish and tortured him a little, tried to change him, turn him into a house cat, the way I had with the Lineman. But with Linus, my Toy Fox Terrier, who’d seen me through marriage, divorce, dating, marriage, miscarriage, New York, Texas, and pregnancy, he never knew differently. My self-exercising Labrinus was raised in Manhattan, all muscle and springs, with a mama who’d leave for work and drop him off at Camp Canine, a basement, and when I’d scoop him up after work, I’d watch through the glass, and he’d be sitting on a bench, quivering, my anxious dog with ‘rhea who could do without the existence of all other canines (I published an essay about this, and it exists in an anthology).
Before we left for Florida, we of course had to be sure Kini was in good hands. Phil knew a family with young kids who had a beagle, and the family wanted a second beagle. The beagles played all day—again, free to come and go as they pleased, running on acres of land—with the mom taking them to the groomer every two weeks. He was spoiled and happy; we made sure of it before we left. I never once felt sad or missed him. I still don’t.
Let’s face it, Mr. Bikini was Phil’s dog. I felt like too much of a traitor to the love of my life, Linus, to love another dog. Maybe. When I had to give Linus up to Lea—Linus is a biter, and we couldn’t risk having him mixed in with the kids—I was heartbroken. Maybe I couldn’t allow myself to let love in when it came to Kini, but in truth, I think I just prefer small neurotic dogs with big personalities. I know I’ll one day get another dog. He will be small, likely another terrier, a dog who’ll make indoors on pads and outdoors. Lea sends me photos of Linus DAILY. Monthly, I get videos of him humping something.
When I can’t sleep, when I’m in a stressful situation, being coaxed to think of a serene setting, I think of two things: snorkeling through a school of fish, holding Lucas’s hand, and I think of Linus, curled into a pink and white bean in the nook of my leg, his body softly rising and falling as he sleeps. I love him as much as I love my children I think. There’s no way to really measure love or loss or the profound effect of the souls that connect with us, but his is a lasting love that I keep with me. He’s old now, and soon he will die. Lea won’t be able to function. She’ll need a new paranoid anxious dog to love. Just as I will one day, just not yet.
As for our children, no tears were ever shed, they always knew Kini as a runner and roamer, and once they visited our home in Florida, they said, “Kini wouldn’t be fond of this place.” As it would turn out, neither would mama. After a year, we moved from Florida to New York, where we are all now very happy, loving the seasons, the snow, the people, and every bit of everything. Though Abigail does beg for a dog, a small one she can dress in doll clothes. We’re not going there. We’re visiting Austin this month and staying to celebrate the New Year, with no plans to visit Mr. Bikini. He’s the love of someone else’s life now.