I love your hard to loves.

I look at you, and I savor.

You are alive on your thirteenth birthday.

We weren’t so sure.

You remember, don’t you?—you don’t, the science says—when I curled up to your body like a comma and whispered into your ear, “You are good to go.” I meant it. You are a good dog. And it was okay if you needed to be a gone dog, too.

That didn’t make it easy. For a whole three weeks, while you were on your hunger strike, I cried. I stayed home. I dry heaved grief at four a.m., every night, season four episodes of Kimmy Schmidt the only thing that made me forget you were dying. I’d never lost anyone I loved as much as you.

Steroids saved you; other people’s love saved me.

You weren’t yourself for some time after. The medicine made you greedy—and beady-eyed. You let your tongue out a lot and didn’t like to be touched and peed on the couch more times than we could count before getting you medicine—and more medicine. You weren’t as easy to love. But you were alive.

Not everyone we love is alive now.

Now is the new normal. Your hair fell out in the furminator and grew back looking as burly as a bear. Your ears smell like old people, and your teeth are banana yellow.

You are more of an asshole than ever.

I might be more of an asshole, too, if I had to eat the same thing everyday, no treats, no exceptions. Still I cringe when you stick your butt in front of us when we try to pet Alvin instead of you. You make me mad when you get mouthy with the mail lady. And why do you sometimes actually JUKE when I move towards you? If you had your own blog, I’ve long known what it would be called: #bitchplease.

Still, I love your hard to loves because they help me to love mine.

Like, when I tell people about you, “She makes bad first impressions but she’s a sweetheart after five,” I’m telling them about me, too. The way I clam up around others’ good cheer. Or use questions as a way to curtail connection. You remind me that it’s okay if it takes a while to find the fit of my true self.

Or, like, when you refuse to do “night rounds” and instead make the kiddos come to you, nose already buried under the covers, I think GENIUS and give myself permission to drop the ball every blue moon. Sometimes, the girls don’t even mind, relishing the chance to do the tucking, the forehead kissing.

Once, you rolled your eyes at Rush and said in your Cartman voice—because you have a voice and NO, it’s not us talking for you—“You animal! You went to the grocery store in your Crocs?” And I thought, “Thank you” and “God bless you.” While I suffer from a recurring tone problem, you always tell the truth with levity. I am learning from you still.

My buddy, Steve, once said to me, after I was through thoroughly discerning some inner darkness of mine, “But, like, imagine if you were a character in a t.v. show. Don’t you think you’d like yourself more? Like, sometimes I just shake my head and go, Steve. Steve?!? That guy. What a lovable nut.”

That’s it, isn’t it? Dogs, like good friends or grimy children or sitcom sidekicks, help us see ourselves outside of ourselves. There’s something about noticing the glint others find in rough edges that helps us to love our own. It’s loving our hard to loves that allows us to accept the totality of another’s.

From the moment we got you, Amelia, you have been complicated, a verifiable world of mystery behind your eyebrow arc. This is how all beings worth knowing are.

This kind of knowing never gets old, even though you and I do.

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