Love doesn’t always look like we expect. Today, it looked like three old dogs. None are pretty. One is blind, bitten, unable to sit up on his own. Another looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon – all folds and skin and gaping mouth. She breathes like a labored guppy and hops on three feet like a rabbit, holding her right, rear leg in the air. She has a luxating patella; her knee pops out. The third’s tongue hangs from her mouth where a horse once kicked her in the jaw. If her youthful luck was poor, age itself has caught up with her and her legs are now crippled and buckled. Still, she moves with the speed of a slithering sci-fi alien, clearing an expanse with surprising grace. They are not the dogs one would choose to bring home. No cuddly puppies, here. The ears of two are bitten from rambunctious play and pack rumbles gone awry. Some would say these dogs have seen there day.
My friend Joan doesn’t think so nor her friend Norma. Looking at Norma with fractured hip hobble ever so slowly to and from the car, one might suspect she has seen her day as well. She has suffered strokes and broken bones. Yet, Norma shuffles and picks up blind Ghanny to take him in the thrift store, to show him off to her friends. I worry as she lifts him with shaking hands that she will drop him. I worry she will slip on the wet ramp and fall. I worry she will hurt him. I worry she will hurt herself. She lifts him anyway and I hold my breath and scurry out from the car to spot them both. “Who do I catch first?” I ask Joan.
But with a luck reserved for fools and children, both make it inside. Norma falls into a fading upholstered chartreuse chair amidst other furniture that has seen better days. Ghanny buries his head into her shoulder. He cannot walk any longer. Joan thinks he may have had a stroke. If he were my dog I would scoop him up and take him to the vets. Spend the hundreds and thousands on tests and medicine. She does not. She nurses him as she has done many before him, cleaning his sores and soiled bedding, letting nature take its course.
He is limp and ungainly like a pile of wet laundry spilling out from a hamper; he spills over the lips of Norma’s folded arms. She announces him her “grandbaby” and I monitor the reaction of the chunky, bearded twenty-something store clerk. He approaches to see “the puppy.”
“He’s not a puppy exactly,” I warn. I want to apologize, embarrassed for Ghanny, for Joan, for the young man. “He’s an old one. He doesn’t exactly look good.” And, then I wait, watching for any look of distaste – daring him to make one, expecting it at the same time. And, I am disappointed and simultaneously made happy when all he says is, “Aww, sweet puppy and smiles at Ghanny and at Norma.” He is a good young man.
He even stands and chats for a few minutes as Joan peruses this palace of discarded items for a few finds. She debates over two seven dollar molded chairs, considering them for the kitchen of her new house. I survey them for stains. Was the tan molding once white or always tan? Joan and Norma both deem them “wonderful, a good price.” They lack disdain for the worn; they don’t seem to need everything to be in good shape.
Still, we slip from the store without the chairs amidst a friendly goodbye from the young man and a declaration from Norma that “that place has everything.” We make our way to the feed store where Joan debates over dog food, comparing prices while I offer to buy Ghanny a can of grilled salmon and chicken and Norma throws in a stick of beef jerky. We split it among the other geriatric dogs. They gum it down, drool dripping from the side of their mouths. Each squeals for more.
Dogs fed, it’s our turn and though Joan parks as close to the Chinese restaurant as possible, we still have to walk a block or two. If Norma were my mother, I wouldn’t have her go, but she stifles our protests and makes her way out of the car. We totter down the streets and I remind myself to exhale. We will get there.
We do. We feast on curried chicken, wonton soup, fried rice as Norma struggles to hold her quivering cup. Joan makes a not-too-subtle jibe in my direction about eating out too much. Norma offers to start crocheting a blanket for Ghanny – an undeclared death shroud because we know his days are numbered. We chat about pleasant things, too. It is not how everyone would describe love, but as we return to Norma’s apartment and let the two old-lady pugs out to do their business, another young man awards us with smiles.
“What’s wrong with them? Poor puppies,” he says, watching them hobble, but still reaching down to pat their heads and chuckle.
“They’re old,” I offer, resigning myself to the fact that not everything needs to be fixed. Sometimes love looks like three old dogs. Sometimes it is about letting go and experiencing grace.