Your pets would love me. Trust me on this. Your dogs, cats, or whatever, they would freakin’ love me.
Upon finding out that someone has a domesticated animal back home, I assure them of this fact. Of course, they shoot back a doubtful stare and tell me how their dog doesn’t like strangers.
“He just barks at everyone,” they swear to Gods of Alpo. I nod along.
But deep down, I know their dog will love me. When I eventually meet ol’ Smokey, or whatever his name is, I’m petting him within minutes.
“He never does this with people,” they marvel while expressing their disbelief.
Not me, though. I knew it. I love pets. Pets love me.
This is all fairly new, though. Truth be told, I wasn’t much of a pet person for most of my life. Today, when seeing a dog being walked down my pooch-infested block, I always smile or tell the walker how great their pet is. I see these animals everywhere and all I want to do is interact with them when I do.
The strangest relationship I have with one of these tiny puppies is a volatile little white one who walks by on the mornings that I drive my kids to school. He’s always yapping and jumping while the unenthused walker trots four steps ahead. The first time he ever spotted me coming out to my car, he barked like a pint-sized pitbull. It was adorable.
With the walker looking away, I stared right into this little dog’s eyeballs and flashed all my upper teeth in a crazy Wild Kingdom Predator kind of way. It sent the little guys into a cartoonish frenzy. The walker turned around and called to him.
What are you doing? Stop. Come on.
The dog begrudgingly followed but looked back at me once more. So I did it again, whipping him into a tiny tornado of yip-yapping as he walked up the block. It was hilarious. He and I go through this at least twice a week. I love it. It’s our thing.
This bizarre back and forth with the miniature mutt is just a part of the overall testament to my love of pets. That love, however, is not born from some sort of a natural affection for animals that I’ve had since birth. I haven’t had any such thing. It all is learned and stems from something else. Something a little less glorious.
I really miss my cats.
Since 2005, I was a “fur parent” or skin daddy, or whatever the heck they call it. I raised two kittens from the time they were the size of teacups. As the years ticked by, though, the nine lives started to tick down.
Last year, right as my marriage was starting to reach its final stages, so did Buddy. He went from a chubby little brown feline to a bag of bones, ambling his way up and down the hallways like a little old man. When I found him, passed away, at the start of the pandemic, it was a major blow that I never expected to hit me like it did.
His sister, Tipsy, is still alive, but she doesn’t live with me anymore. When I moved to my own place in January of this year, she remained in my former house, which I rarely step foot in. Today, my only interactions with T-Belle are digital. They usually occur when my daughter Facetimes me and I pick up, to see my furry pal’s face staring back at me. I immediately start talking to her in a high pitched voice.
Sounds painful? Yeah, it has been. Yet that pain didn’t ruin me or make me into something broken. I didn’t come out of it hating animals or fearing their presence. From that painful feeling I had (and still have) inside has come an appreciation for other people’s pets. I know how special they are, because I’ve lost mine.
“Damaged” is a loaded term. The connotation that comes from saying you have suffered is that you’re somehow worse for the experience. It’s because so often that damage manifests itself in the most awful of ways. I know because I have that kind of damage too.
Abandonment issues? Check. Fear of commitment? Yup. A slew of my other mental pitfalls and character struggles can fill the page. Some of them I’m able to deal with. Others I’m not. I know that in many of those ways, I’m pretty damaged.
Yet, some of my proudest qualities come from that hurt too. The way I raise my kids is one of those results. The positive things I bring to my children come from negative things I vowed to never repeat in my own adulthood. No one gave me a handbook and told me how to be a good parent. Rather, I took the lessons I learned from others and grew up to do the opposite.
The experience that came with those lessons caused plenty of anguish. I could have easily gone the other direction and inflicted the pain I experienced on others. Yet, I didn’t. I used it as blueprint of what not to do. I accepted all I had gone through, labeled it what it was, and promised myself that I would never put anyone else through it.
It’s not simple. For me, it was about pushing past natural instincts. Resentment and anger could have provided me with an excuse to be everything terrible I felt justified to be based on my sad backstory. I couldn’t though. My kids deserved better. I deserved better.
Life is long and, as it goes by, you’re going to take hits. It’s how you view them and what you take from them that is important. There isn’t a chance you might be damaged at some point. You definitely will be damaged at some point. It’s how you define its place in your life that truly makes it good or bad.