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Goodbye my friend, my heart.

I said goodbye to Gemma, my dog of almost thirteen years, yesterday. I had prepared myself for its inevitability for years, with morbid humor, with extra special attention and kisses, and by telling myself that establishing expectations for impending grief can help mitigate it when it comes. How naive of me that was. And yet also, perhaps not. When the time came, it was as awful and heartbreaking as I predicted it would be, but along with that came a strange, ethereal form of calm. Of peace.

I got Gemma when she was ten weeks old, on my 32nd birthday, screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-3-51-43-pmas a gift to myself, from a breeder in LA where I lived at the time. I was two years away from separating from my ex-husband, and subconsciously, I must have known that I needed her to assuage the pain and loneliness that was expanding inside me, and that I would need her for the arduous journey that was to come. I must have known that the “kiss” command was the one she needed to learn first, as if I knew that was the one I would soon need most. I named her Gemma, because I’m a Gemini, and she’s a Gem, and thats the kind of cheesy shit you do when you fall in love with a chunky ball of fur, wide amber eyes, and floppy ears that tend to invert themselves like cauliflowers.

When I left my ex-husband and the home we lived in, with the big backyard and the rolling hills that Gemma loved to bounce around on like a dorky deer, I moved four more times, from two guest houses in Hollywood, to a corporate apartment in Santa Monica, and a few weeks in a hotel. Gemma was by my side (while pulling on her leash for a cigarette on the street that resembled a french-fry), or snoring next to me, her nose an inch from mine, as I wept in her fur. When I left Los Angeles to start my life over in NYC, a friend in LA cared for Gemma until I found a place in NY. On the day my parents drove me to Newark Airport to get her, I ran to the “baggage claim for pets” area, shrieking when I saw her emerge, her face peaking at me from inside the crate, her entire body ricochetting with joy at the sight of me. She knew that our reunion meant she was home. And I knew I was home too. When we went for our first walk together in the dog park on Columbus Avenue and 79th Street, I burst into tears when Gemma took her first NYC poop, crying “We did it, Gemma! We did it!”
screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-30-43-amShe rescued me – for the next eight years – in all those moments she bore witness to my sorrow and upheaval, both the visible – three more apartment moves, including in the worst snowstorm of the decade, bad dates, fights with my ex, unprompted crying jags of self pity and despair – and the invisible. If I had a bad dream and woke up distraught, she was there, poking me with her wet nose or yawning in my face. Like a cat sometimes, Gemma wasn’t a mush ball on command. Sometimes after one kiss, she would turn her head away and stare at me sideways. She made me work for it, but it made me love her more. She understood human nature, that love, that reward, needs to be earned and appreciaed, or at least preceded by a treat (it didn’t work that way in reverse, of course). She was a clear communicator of her needs, be it when closing my laptop with her face when she wanted attention (or food), putting her head in the trash can and emerging with the lid stuck around her neck (food), or whine-talking when I ate lunch, dinner…food. Or just swiping and inhaling the thing like a dog-magician, like she did to Mom’s cheesecake when Mom went to greet her guests who were meant to eat said cheesecake. Sorry Mom! Sorry cheesecake! (And sorry to those of you who lost their meals to that ravenous beast – I know there are many of you).  screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-9-29-43-am

Besides being my guardian and protector, when I lived alone or we traveled together, she would suss out people’s essence. She was an avid crotch sniffer (and inhaler), be it to strangers in the elevator (“Sorry, she doesn’t bother with flowers or conversation first!”), and once, to a blind woman (I didn’t make a joke then, no). But most importantly, she sniffed out the men I dated that way, quietly telling me what she thought afterwards, with a snort and a shake of her head.

Until she met my now husband who is 6’7″ – after several upward attempts to reach his crotch unsuccessfully, he squatted down to kiss her nose instead. She kissed him back. She knew, and so did I.

She loved him instantly, and he loved her. When we moved to our new home a year ago – Gemma’s retirement home adjacent to Riverside Park, which her old bones could not revel in – Gemma mellowed out, but I don’t believe it was solely because of her age. Gemma saw that I, her mommy, had mellowed out. She sensed that I was content, that I was happily remarried, that I was no longer lonely, and that I was planning a family (I never told her directly but I have no doubt she knew, or overheard our conversations).

She knew that it was okay to let go – to let me go. She knew that her purpose on this planet, to be my guardian angel, my best friend, my caretaker, my beloved companion, had been fulfilled. Her back legs had been deteriorating markedly over the last year, but she waited. She waited until my husband was in between semesters at school so that he could be there for me, and with her. She waited until my gazillion rewrites on my novel were complete, she waited until she knew I was no longer procrastinating the advent of motherhood. She maybe also waited until after the election and the depressing air of 2016 cleared. When her legs collapsed suddenly on her midnight walk with my husband and he woke me distraught: “Gemma’s not ok”, I knew too. I knew that Gemma, like life, was not interested in sending me a subtle message of slow, indiscernible decline. No, her legs gave out – and so did she. She didn’t want us to belabor our decision to offer her peace, swiftly and compassionately. She made it clear to us – she offered us compassion and grace in return.  15873082_10154977770994791_5459664981719952739_n

I do believe that on the day Gemma and I found each other, that we were meant to be. That God knew that I would need her, better than I knew myself. In those final hours of unbearable sorrow and grief, when we said our goodbyes, when I thanked her for all she had done for me, when I whispered to her that she did a wonderful job, and that Mommy is ok now, I felt a rush in my chest, like a window being blown open. I could feel my heart breaking into pieces, as if a love-geyser was exploding, overflowing, and I could feel God’s intention when he created us, and the animals that are our devoted best friends.

The word for dog in Hebrew is “Kelev.” The word “Lev” means heart. “Kelev” means “of the heart.” My Gemma was of my heart, and I knew it the moment I met her, on my 32nd birthday. Numerically, the letters for “ke-lev” also equal 32.

No wonder my heart hurts so. It’s because she continues to live inside it.

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In the cross-fade: As one phase disappears, a new one begins...

My husband and I put our Chelsea apartment on the market about 2 weeks ago, right after we found an apartment we liked on the upper upper west side. Since the sellers weren’t in a rush, I figured we weren’t either. I had until at least August to chill out in my current one bedroom, the one that I had moved into when I was single, before my husband and I started re-dating. I had some time to enjoy the roof in the summer time, and my eleven-year-old dog Gemma could chillax in the dog run too. I had some time to acclimate to the life stage shift that comes with moving to a bigger space that can accommodate a family, and all the psychological and emotional adjustments that come with it.

So we cleaned and de-cluttered our apartment. Showings began immediately, and fortunately I am able to work from home and can be on call to de-dog the apartment beforehand.

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As in, removing her dog bed from the floor, the sheet from her chaise lounge, and taking a lint brush to the couch and comforter on the bed. It’s her house, we just live in it. (and the rent aint cheap).

Around this same time, I had put the finishing touches on my memoir proposal, and my agent decided it was ready to go “on submission,” which means she puts together a list of publishers with names you may have heard of such as Random House, and submits it to them in the hopes that they buy it. Saying that I had butterflies is an understatement. My story, in a way, my baby, which had been gestating for years was going out into the world, and I was worried and excited. I had written a novel several years ago that had also had a shot at publication, so this wasn’t my first book barbecue. I knew what to expect in terms of process, patience, and the inevitable rejections. But this, this was different. This was not – and is not – fiction. This is real, this is true – or at least my experience of what is true now, and in my memory. With this book, the butterflies had blown up into monarchs that needed to chill the ef out. The book also represents my very own gestation, from young, self-absorbed, and clueless twenty something through the disillusionment and identity crisis of a single divorcee, and then to the third act of me – finding myself and subsequently my true love, my husband, whom I marry at the wizened age of forty.

On the morning my literary agent hit the proverbial “send” on my memoir, my real estate agent emailed my husband and I to say that an offer had been made on our apartment, and they wanted to move in as soon as possible – in no less than four weeks. This would mean we might need to find a temporary housing solution in the interim.

Luckily, I was in a taxi with my best friend and colleague, Kelly, because I burst into tears. “Isn’t this good news??” she asked, looking at me with compassion and confusion.

I nodded at her, as tears streamed down my face. “I feel like I got shot out of a canon, ” I told her, aware of how dramatic that sounded. “It’s a just a lot,” I said.

But tears? Like this? This was indeed good news. My thoughts immediately went to Gemma, who had just turned eleven, and this only made me weep more. I thought of her then, curled up on her throne in her palace, white face tucked into her lumpy chest – my furry baby with whom I had moved close to ten times with in the last decade, from multiple temporary homes after my ex-husband and I separated, to NYC in various sublets. Who had been my companion through all my joy and pain, and the thought of moving her yet again undid me.

But that couldn’t be the reason. Her new apartment would be so much bigger, with more territory to mark.

A few days later, the real reason dawned on me. My current apartment represents and is the last tangible vestige of the “before me.” It was an apartment that suited me when I was single and unsure of what my future looked like. It was the apartment that my husband joined me in. And now, soon, that proof of this stage of life will disappear into the past, and we will move in together to our new home – our home. This was unequivocally a joyous and momentous step and one that I had yearned for, but I don’t believe that we are able to look forward, to move forward both literally ad figuratively, without looking back at where we have been.

And Gemma represents the me that I had been. She is the one remaining thread that links me back to my former life, when I lived in LA with my former husband in my former house, and on my thirty-second birthday, I drove to the breeder’s ranch in the valley to meet her, on a mission to have a puppy. I named her Gemma because I’m a Gemini and she’s a gem and that’s the kind of cheesy shit you do when you fall head over heels for a floppy eared animal. I needed to have that dog. I needed her love.

The timing of all of this and the inherent and prominent markers of the cycles of life are not lost on me. I am getting older – transitioning into the stage of being a homemaker and a mother – as my furry child transitions out.IMG_0036

The pain and anxiousness I am experiencing must be growing pains. Or a shedding of skin. Like a caterpillar hanging upside down, getting ready to be a butterfly.

Or like standing in a crossfade. One stage of my life is fading out, and another is fading up. And I am standing right at it’s plexus, where the frames on the end of one film strand begin to darken, and a new strand, a new scene – a new life – begins to brighten.