On Losing and Wondering When You’re Ever Going to Fucking Win

I sat on the cold, linoleum floor, crying, surrounded by the beings I love most in this world.

Standing in front of me, Clark Kent. My love, by beacon. The man I don’t deserve who reminds me that I do most certainly deserve him. The lankiest nerd in the West.

Next to me, Penelope. Small Dog. My princess. A brindle bundle of joy.

And laying in front of me, my Hippopotamus. The fluppiest fucking dog in the world. The face that forgave a thousand and thirty sins. The paws that figured out how to work the step trash can. The grin that ate an entire goddamned pineapple.

He way laying in front of me, here on a plaid fleece blanket on the floor of a vet’s office on a Sunday night, because he couldn’t stand. In less than 24 hours he went from daily, dorky walks to losing motor control in his legs. His head always turned to the right. Clark Kent had to carry his 60-pound fur body down 2 flights of stairs to take him outside to pee. Which he wouldn’t. Or maybe even couldn’t.

My puppy was broken. And my heart was in a nonstop spiral of breaking, pieces flying off as if a centrifuge were disintegrating before my eyes.

We’d made the decision to put Hippo to sleep. And goddammit, I didn’t want to because I looked into his eyes and I saw HIPPO. And I know he saw me. And he didn’t understand why his body didn’t work and neither did we and he was only nine-and-a-half years old and he — this big, dorky dog laying in front of me, panting, and wondering what was going on — wasn’t old enough for this to be happening.

Shit. I wasn’t old enough for any of this to be happening.

And Clark Kent, the man who never breaks, broke. He knelt down and wept over a dog that had become his dog. He was The Man and Hippo loved The Man very much. And it was more than obvious that The Man had fallen in love with Hippo as well. He’d fallen in love with the dog who had explosive diarrhea all over his crate. He’d fallen in love with the dog who — instead of peeing — just liked to stand outside, wind blowing through his fur and ears, while it was cold as bloody fuck. He’d fallen in love with the dog who’s butt broke sometimes which meant ooey-gooey smears of poop felt through the gossamer protection of a doggie bag.

And Miss Penelope. Well, she just sat right by Hippo’s side. THIS IS MY POTAMUS. As he lay curled on his side, she nestled herself in the crescent of his belly, between his front and hind legs. MY POTAMUS.

And there was no way that anyone was leaving this room a winner. I felt like the biggest loser. I was killing my dog and this wasn’t fucking fair and I had nothing good to say to or about anyone or anything and I felt mean and angry and sad and if it were possible for a single, 60-pound black dog to blot out the entire sun — that was exactly what was happening.

Let me tell you — when the vet walks into a room where you’re laying on the floor with your about-to-be-gone dog on a red-and-black plaid blanket that you have to figure several dogs before yours have also laid upon as a vet walked into the room — you are not ready.

You are not ready to hear her ask if you are ready.

You are not ready to let go.

You are not ready to look at the man you love and ask for his love — enough love to get you through however many days you’re going to have to get through.

You are not ready for Small Dog to growl at the vet.

You are not ready to look into a dog named Hippopotamus’ eyes and ask for him to forgive you.

You are not ready for the thought to dance across your brain that you’d gladly trade the 18-year-old asshole cat for one more year with Mr. Potamus.

You’re not ready to be the grown-up in the room. This room, or any room.

You’re not ready to lose the first dog you ever had. The dog who turned you into less of an asshole because it depended on you for everything. The dog who looked at you with chocolate truffle-colored eyes and reminded you that when everything was shit, he had a really good face. Oh, my god. He has such a good face!  You are not ready to tell him thank you for being the dog you weren’t worthy of but tried every day to be a better Dog Mom to and for. And you are not ready to stop wondering if you’re killing your dog.


And you can’t stop thinking that if you wait ONE MORE DAY, he’ll get up and walk. His body would have sorted things out and it wasn’t a disc and a stroke and a whatever else and it was just a BLIP.

But she asks. Are we ready?

And you look at the man you love. Through tears, a minute nod — at me, not her.

And you look at Small Dog. She gets up and moves to sit by Hippo’s head.

The only sound in the room is your heart breaking — which sounds like every organ in your body crying.

You nod.

And you feel your Hippopotamus slip away. His tongue — which he never could quite manage to keep in his mouth — peeks out as if to say, “It’s still me, Lady.”

And the moment you feel your Hippopotamus leave the room, Small Dog leaves his side, hops up on the why-the-fuck-is-this-wooden-park-bench-in-a-vet’s-office-bench and sits right next to Hippo’s shapeless harness.

And the only feeling in the room is that you’re never going to win again. At anything. Anytime.

Because the one thing you thought you’d won is the Dog Lottery. On the day before Thanksgiving in 2007, you decided to go to an animal shelter in Las Vegas, Nevada because you just might get a dog to add to your family of two cats and one lady who couldn’t make relationships with humans work. While driving, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” comes on the radio (as it does). And you almost left that evening without a dog until you saw this explosion of black fur nibbling kibble, all quiet in a kennel by himself.

You asked to see him.

And he walked right over and sat in your lap and you’re like — motherfucker. I’m getting a dog.

And then the dog gets up out of your lap, puppy-waddles around for a few circles, and then sits right in a puddle of water.

I got a Hippopotamus. For Christmas. He was the only dog to have Prince’s “Sexy Motherfucker” on loop when we walked home after his grooming appointments.

And now I was losing the Dog Lottery and I was going to have to explain to Small Dog where her Hippo had gone.

But Small Dog was ready to leave. She knew her Hippo wasn’t there anymore, as did we.

And finally, we were ready to leave.

But we were not ready to go home and hear what the house sounded like with only one dog.

And it is a lonely feeling to take one dog for a walk when a mere 36 hours ago, you were walking two dogs.

And your heart breaks as you see Small Dog sleep on the sofa, facing the front door, as if her Potamus will walk back through it and he’s just been on a long walk.

This is a story filled with a shit ton of Ands and Buts because when you’re trying to find a way to get through loss, the Ands and Buts are how you connect the hours of the day.

And when life comes crashing down and demands that you be a grown-ass adult, you spend a lot of time wondering if you’re ever going to fucking win again.

It happened this week.

I looked around my life and realized that I had won.

That I’d brought my life back from the destructive despair of losing Jason and nearly offing myself to a new city and a new career. That two dogs and two cats had been there for me when I wasn’t strong enough to let people inside my heart. That I’d become a person who was worthy of love. That I’d put myself in a place where I could fall in love again and accept love — which meant that when I found a man I would come to love, I would fight for it instead of doing what I do best when shit gets hard:

Walk away.

And that on that day — March 19, 2017 — I was surrounded by the beings that I loved most in this world.

One Man called Clark Kent.

One Small Dog.

And one Hippopotamus.

Which stands as, to-date, one of the single biggest wins of my 44 years of life.


Hippo and Penelope

Our first trip to the beach when we moved to Chicago.

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