It was a wonderful birthday. Vasant made me breakfast in bed and wrote a birthday message in Christmas lights on the ceiling.

After breakfast and a movie, Will and Mary joined us for a Supernatural marathon.

Then Mary treated Vasant and I out to dinner at the Dahlia Lounge. Will, Claire and Emily joined us.

We went to see the Christmas lights and Gingerbread Village downtown after dinner.

We just finished up cake and presents back at home and tomorrow, we go up to Leavenworth in the traditional “kind of my birthday/mostly Christmas” outing.

I’m going to wrap a couple of boxes for Christmas and then hit the hay. I’m exhausted, but this day has been wonderful. I’m so thankful for the people in my life.

6

Today is Lilo’s third birthday.

I’ve known a lot of good dogs in my life, and have always been a dog person. Cats are great, and my allergies not withstanding, excellent subjects for internet videos. But I love dogs. I love wrestling around, going on adventures, and the great intelligence that certain breeds and mixes demonstrate. I love the history of man and canine, how much our species have accomplished together and maybe most importantly, how fluffy they are.

I had three dogs before Lilo. One bit me, one was like Nana in Peter Pan. She wasn’t a playmate, but a nursemaid, checking on each child before bed, never to cuddle, but to protect. The third, Maggie, was a companion. She hiked up mountains with me, went exploring through creeks, and played with me. She passed away three years ago, while I was in Rome, and I Skyped with her in her final moments as she used her last bit of strength to raise her head and inch closer to the laptop so she could be nearer to me. 

I never thought I’d find a more perfect dog than Maggie. But I hadn’t met Lilo yet. 

Lilo is a mix of three of the smartest breeds out there: half Husky, a quarter Golden Retriever and a quarter Shepherd. Her mother was shot by a neighbor who felt it was more important to protect his garden than it was to preserve the life of a living creature. The villain drug her body back into her owner’s yard where she bled out in front of her three week old puppies.

Eight puppies, whose father’s owners hadn’t been too happy that their champion show dog Husky had bred with a mutt, were placed into a rescue shelter, Mickey’s Chance. They hadn’t had the requisite eight weeks with their mother, and they needed a good home fast. 

Meanwhile, my sister Emily was looking for a Christmas present for me. We’d all had a tough year, with the loss of Maggie and other family issues, and Vasant and I were about to graduate from University of Washington. We’d gone back to school after getting married for our degrees, and been given a lot of grief about it from our peers. We’d faced financial hardship, illness and ridicule, and come out of it with two degrees each. She wanted to celebrate that by buying us a dog.

So one night, after offering this, we opened my laptop and began search Petfinder.com. We instantly fell in love with two of the puppies from the litter in trouble. When we found out about the litter in trouble, Emily decided to rescue one of the dogs as well. We called the shelter and set up an appointment to go meet our dogs. We fell in love with Lilo the minute we met her, and she came to live with us that Christmas. 

I didn’t know then how much I would need her. I found out a month later that I was pregnant. Expectation of new life soon turned to tragedy when I began miscarrying. Complications arose and soon I was fighting for my life. Over the next three months, I was bedridden and heartbroken. 

Lilo never left my side. 

Her Husky coat makes it hard for her to snuggle for too long without overheating, but she never misses a chance to sleep on or near me when I’m sick. She knows when tears are threatening to come, and will run to me, put her paw on my shoulder and kiss me. I don’t think I would’ve gotten through the miscarriage without her. 2011 was the second darkest year I’ve ever gone through. Lilo was there for both of us at a time when we couldn’t be there for each other or ourselves. She loved and licked us back from the brink and everyday, we know we owe her that debt.

But dogs don’t keep track of debts, do they? Lilo loved being ours, even with such a rocky start. She tackles us, tries to walk like people, sit like people, talk like people. She watched the Royal Wedding on her hindlegs, to get as close to the TV as possible, an honor usually only reserved for the Thanksgiving Day dog show.

She loves popcorn, she doesn’t bark, she loves everyone, does tricks and is currently training to be a service dog. She is a rough-houser with Vasant, a companion with me while I write, sleeping on my feet under my desk, and the smartest dog I’ve ever met.

When I’m lonely, she always seems to know. The other week, when I was too dizzy to walk around from my sinus infection, she lead me from the kitchen to the bedroom. Once she got me to the bed, she was so excited that she’d helped me that she tackled me, but hey. She’s still young. And it was a pretty big deal.

But the best part about her is the comfort she gives. None of the dogs I’ve known comforted the way she does. One night, when I was crying in the living room by the fire, she got out of bed, came and kissed me, and then after five minutes, went into the bedroom. She gently bit Vasant’s hand, pulled on his shirt, and howled at him, jerking her head toward the door. 

Vasant followed her out into the room, and found me crying. Lilo came over, kissed me and then looked at Vasant, like she was saying, “It’s your turn.” As soon as he sat next to me and took my hand, she went back to her bed. 

I can’t believe we’ve already had three years with her, and I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the last three years without her.

We’re on our way to see Emily and Penny, and let the two dogs see each other on their birthday. Lilo and Penny manifest such distinct parts of their makeup. Penny is a Golden build with a Shepherd coat and personality. Lilo has the Husky build, intelligence (she, like many in that breed, talks) and fluff, with a Golden’s color and temperament. 

When Lilo or Penny hear each other’s names, they begin running around the house yipping until they get to see each other. Penny’s been just as much of a blessing to Emily as Lilo has been to Vasant and I these past few years. 

So, because everyone loves pictures of dogs, and I love my dog, here is your massive Lilo Appreciation Post. Read it in good health.

This is just not true. 

I have an incredible love life. I have amazing friends. And I work very hard at what I do, and have a lengthy novel (of what I feel is quality stuff) before the age of 30. 

Now, I will say this:

Since getting married, many of my friends dropped off. 85% of them, I’d guess. Since starting the book, even more dropped off. Some of them told me outright to my face that I was going to fail. Told Vasant and I that our dreams of creating art where folly and parted ways with us because we were just “too different”.

However…

I have incredibly close friends. My sisters, Emily, Mary and Claire. My friends, Danielle and Matt, Will, my friend since the age of two, Jen Bliss. I have Jules, who is now a real-life friend, as well as here on Tumblr, and Tumblr… I am loving some of you so much lately (I’m especially, but not exclusively, looking at you Erin and Jennifer). I can’t wait to meet some of you in real life, like I met Jules. 

I have a bunch of friends whom I won’t list here, but who are still there for Vasant and I. One couple even moved down to Vancouver to live with my friend’s mother, because they were inspired by our “it’s never too late to go back to school and the price of education isn’t too high to live with family” ideal. They were our champions when others let us know they looked down on us for it, both directly and in a passive agressive “do you know so and so is talking about you” kind of way.

So I’d say I have 20% of the friends that I did before I got married and before I started writing. But I can tell you this: the friends I have now are better than the ones I lost, with the exception of one single person. 

And I have to work hard at my marriage. I have to work hard at my book and my art. My life is not easy. I strive for the best in all these areas and so often, over the years, I feel like I fail miserably before I succeed. But the failures are part of what make the art great. Failures make a marriage more interesting, and most importantly of all…

Failures are how you tell who really loves you. 

Writing a book, marrying who I married, moving back in with my parents so we could finish school… it rooted out a lot of people who were gossipy naysayers in my life. For a while, this was incredibly depressing. But now, as I find a home for my book in the world, as I look around at a smaller, but truer group of friends and *cough* tonight when Vasant comes home…. I know that it is possible with bullheaded idealism, perseverance and grace, to have all three.

So the poem is right and wrong. It does cost you to have something truly GREAT in your life, but it’s wrong to assume that the cost you pay means that you can’t have all three. You can. It will cost you heartache and tears and late nights. It may take your health for a time and you will lose friends who weren’t worth keeping. However, if you persevere and work hard at all three, you can have it.

And that’s a lesson it’s taken me six years to learn.

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