I've spent the last 48 hours caring for my older bulldog, Diamond. She just underwent some fairly gruesome hip surgery and must now learn to walk again. Diego, the 6-month old puppy, was neutered on the same day (no, not a 2-for-the-price-of-1 sale at the vet's clinic) and has gone to stay with his breeders for a little while so that I can focus on getting Diamond back onto her four feet.
Diamond cannot walk right now. She can barely stand. I have to carry her in and out of the house; she weighs nearly 60 pounds. I admit it's pretty difficult. I've moved an air mattress into the dining room and set up my computer and a side lamp, as well, so that I can be with Diamond 24/7. The only time I leave the house is when my sister comes over to give me time to go to the grocery store or run an errand. It's going to be like this for at least another week.
And I don't mind at all.
Because I love her. Unconditionally, totally and completely. And she loves me back in the same ways. Lucky.
Ah, lucky. The trick word of our vernacular. Lucky seven. Lucky lady. Lucky in love.
I have never been "lucky in love". I use the inverted commas there because I recognize the fantasy in such an expression. As if love -- borne of a healthy, mutually respectful relationship -- has anything to do with luck.
So when I say that I have never been lucky in love, what I really mean is that I have never truly been in love. And been loved in return. I have had many relationships. Not one of them has been about love. They've been about sex or neediness or fear of being alone, or just fear. One was about the need to control something. Someone. Me.
I know why this is, at long last. Because up until very recently (and we're talking about a time so contemporary that I can probably put a date on it, if pressed) I did not value myself. I looked at my strengths and saw them as nothing special. Anyone could learn to do __________, I would say to myself. Fill in the blank: moderate discussions, speak in front of 400 people, cook sumptuous meals, write the history of Rome in verse. I couldn't -- wouldn't -- allow myself to see any aspect of myself as special. So why should someone else? Or, better yet, how could someone else?
Now I think I have some things that make me who I am. They're mine and therefore they are special -- to me. And they will be special to the person who falls in love with me. Just as what is special and unique about that person will be special to me. We won't be perfect. I don't think I'll love every single thing about that person. Christ, that would be boring! Actually, that would be infatuation. And infatuation ain't love. I'm wise enough now to know the difference. I'm also wise enough, I think, to know that infatuation feels so inspiring and so amazing that it's hard to give it up in favor of the less glamorous, less exciting, less encompassing but ultimately more real love.
I'm writing about love as if I know all about it. And yet I said earlier that I've never been in love. Or been loved. But that's not entirely true.
And that brings me back to Diamond and Diego. My two bulldogs. In caring for Diamond, in lifting her and in waking at three in the morning to make her a scrambled egg and bottle feed her some water, squirting it into her mouth with one hand and petting her velvety head with the other, I am experiencing love. And she returns that love one thousand million trillion gazillion times over.
This is surely what it would have been like to have had a child. Sure, slightly less complicated (especially during the teen years). But, still. I have friends who detest being around children. I have other friends who love to bury their noses into the backs of babies' necks and smell the freshly powdered scent of innocence and purity. Me, I like children. I love being around all that curiosity, all that wonderment, all that openness. When people say (or assume) that I made a wise choice not having children, I'm never quite sure what to reply. It wasn't a choice per se. At least it didn't feel like a choice. It was more that I somehow always knew that if I had a child I wanted that child to come from love. I don't pass judgment on those who have children under other circumstances; it's just the way I wanted it.
Can the dogs be my children? In some ways, yes. And in other ways, obviously not. But what my companions are for me is connection. And love.
Caring for Diamond is an expression of love. It's a way of being able to return the love that she gives me everyday. And, as the days pass, the same is true for Diego, as well. Theirs may not be all the love I want in my life, but it is special. Very. And it makes my life special, too. Very.