Arielle Angel is a Miami native and Brooklyn-based writer and artist, the co-founder of ketuv.com, and an occasional Beached Miami contributor.
On New Year’s Eve, on my way to a potluck in North Miami Beach, I spotted a Shih-Tzu running headlong at my car with his tongue hanging out, the poof of his off-white fur ablaze in my headlights. I stopped the car and opened the door. He jumped in and laid down in the passenger seat. He was filthy and collarless. Just like that, I had a dog.
I had wanted a dog for a long time. Actually, I was obsessed. At home in New York, I followed people whose dogs I coveted down city blocks, conspicuously altered my pace to keep pace with them. To the annoyance of my friends, I had several “dog voices” that came out involuntarily in the presence of the breeds I loved.
Why didn’t I just get my own dog? Anytime I thought about pulling the trigger, there were always compelling reasons not to. Take my current situation: I’m in school full time and I just started a business, which puts a premium on time and money, and I don’t have anyone with whom to share the physical and financial burdens of dog-rearing (my roommates are cat people). I’m applying for artist residencies for all of next year, none of which allow pets, and I can’t say where I’ll be going once school ends in May.
At this age, many of my friends are getting married, taking on mortgages, having babies. Though it’s hard not to register the pressures of these social cues — I’ve got a Facebook newsfeed crammed with wedding and baby photos — when I’m honest with myself, it’s not the husband I want, and definitely not the babies (maybe the house, maybe).
What I do want — especially when my funds are low and my writing isn’t coming along as planned and I’m going through a break-up (again) and I hate New York (again) and my roommates are getting on my nerves and gosh am I lonely — is “adulthood,” and the settled, stable feeling it purportedly brings. And while I have been fairly successful at keeping the husband-hysteria at bay, the dog idea was slowly, somewhat unconsciously, snowballing into the more poignant symbol of that “adulthood” desire.
The day before my 27th birthday, a few weeks ago, I bought myself a gift of an hour with an upscale psychic. In his utility-closet-size Upper West Side apartment, he told me I wasn’t ready for the stable life. But if I could imagine the partner — who I wanted him to be — if I could begin a fantasy relationship with this person, then I would know him when I saw him. I must admit, I haven’t begun this exercise as it pertains to my dream guy, but I had long been fantasizing about my dream dog. He was a Shih-Tzu (or some mix thereof), a rescue dog and not a puppy, older and already house-trained, with a calm and loving demeanor, sort of low-energy and not a yapper, content to lounge around the house, follow you from room to room, and lick your feet.
I wouldn’t have gone out and bought this dog, not under the aforementioned circumstances. But could you blame me for thinking, as he came hurtling towards me on New Years Eve, jumping right into my lap, that I had found what Jews call Beshert, my soulmate?
All of a sudden, I was a complete romantic. The words “love at first sight” came to mind as I considered how my dog had been delivered to me on New Year’s Eve, how he had chosen me, when I least expected him. I knew my roommates in New York would not accept him, so we would have to move in together on our own. It would be a costly, stressful move, but worth it. We would build a new life together, and he was going to change my life, too, make me better. I would have to become a cleaner person, a more responsible person. I would learn about sacrifice and selflessness. And maybe I wouldn’t be so gloomy.
In those first few days, all of my predictions were coming true. I loved the dog, and he loved me. I hated to leave him, and when I was away, all I did was talk about him. Sure, sometimes he had accidents, but on the tile, never on the carpet, and not because he was bad, but just because he was a little confused. And I didn’t mind cleaning up his poop. Afterwards he would lick my hands and feet and face for a quarter of an hour, non-stop, to show his appreciation.
Did I ever consider that he might have an owner? Of course. But he had no collar when I found him, and his microchip led — get this — to a tabby cat in Washington State. (The vet, bewildered, called the owners. “Our cat is fine, thank you,” they said.) My stepmother scoured Petfinder and Craigslist a few times a day and found no ads for a lost Shih-Tzu.
On our fifth day of bliss, feeling secure that he was mine and mine alone, I took him to get his shots. I spent $200 on a full check-up, and $300 on a year’s worth of preventative care, to be paid monthly. They warned me I would not be able to cancel this contract, but I waved away their concerns. This was the real deal. I was committed.
I had up to now been tossing around dog’s names with friends and family. Woody, Al, Oscar, Schroder, Leon. He never responded to any of these names, and I was just about ready to choose one and stick to it. But upon my return from the vet, the names bouncing around in my head, I received an email from my stepmother, in it a link to an ad on Craigslist for a lost Shih-Tzu, posted only that morning.
There was a name in the ad: “Flyboy”. I called it, and my perfect little dog came running. Flyboy? Really? Flyboy. “Like a pilot,” my grandmother said. Like “a stud,” Urban Dictionary said. My heart broke.
The owner didn’t put his phone number in the ad, so I emailed him my information and waited for a response.
In the meantime, I took Flyboy for a walk. I found myself short-tempered with him. Why hadn’t he been neutered? If he didn’t have his balls, maybe he wouldn’t have run and I wouldn’t be in this mess! Maybe I wouldn’t be stuck paying alimony to a dog that would no longer follow me from room to room, much less lick my feet.
But there was no use getting angry. It wasn’t his fault. And anyway, it was hard to stay mad at him. While he rested, I went online, checked out the profiles of some other Shih-Tzus in the area. They were all old, or they were damaged from previous relationships. Or they seemed fine from the profile, but their pictures were blurry. And what does “communicative” mean vis-à-vis a dog? It could go either way. I didn’t want these other dogs, I wanted Flyboy. Flyboy was the one who was meant for me.
The owner got back to me and we agreed to meet in a public place once he got off work.
If life were a romantic comedy, this would be our “meet cute”. The owner would be my age, and attractive, and we would raise Flyboy together. But no, he was just a kid, maybe 19, long curly hair pulled back in a low ponytail. He spoke with a slight accent, and had a verbal tick of saying “exaaaactly” after everything I said, whether it made sense or not: “He was really dirty when I found him. He was running in the middle of the street.” “Exaaaactly.”
I passed along the medications I had received from the vet, for his ear infection and slight digestion problems, and explained to the owner when and how to administer them. He promised to pay me back for the cost of the visit. And then I let Flyboy go. He tried to follow me when I walked away, looked at me like, “where are you going?” His owner scooped him up, and they got into his car and drove away.
I was sad and shocked. It seemed like the universe had been sending a clear, strong message. Now what was I to believe? Coincidence? Chaos? Or maybe it was still a message, but I had misinterpreted it. Maybe the message was something cynical about there being no such thing as “meant to be”.
Last year, around this time, I wrote an essay about Patti Smith’s belief that what you do on New Year’s Eve sets the tone for the rest of your year. What attracted me to this viewpoint is that it presents us with the opportunity to create a narrative for our lives, to be mindful in connecting who we are now to who we’d like to become.
That idea continues to give this year, in a different way, when I consider the events of my New Year’s Eve. I am reminded that it is not passive submission to the events of our “new year” that sets the tone, but the way we interpret and project those events forward. We are in control of the narrative, and we get to decide what is and isn’t meant to be.
This year I got caught up in one kind of narrative, one that promised a new life. It happens to be the narrative of a life I might like to have eventually, but that I am simply not ready for now. I’ve had to amend this narrative in light of the way the story ended, but I’m confident that I’ve come up with something more truthful and more empowering, a story where instead of being delivered the thing I desire, I am actively working towards gradual change and self-love and the graceful acceptance of loss.
Whatever the story, I’m glad to have met Flyboy. And I know there are other flyboys out there, when I’m ready.