Newsflash: I am not an American-dog person
When all is said and done, a lot can be said about getting older and making certain decisions. Or in my case, a lot can be said about turning 30 and deciding what you want in life or not. I don’t know all that I like or don’t like yet and not even getting older gives one the clarity to some of the slew of questions thrown one’s way on a daily basis. For example, “what your favorite song?” or “what’s the name of your best friend?” I don’t know, and I don’t know (have). Maybe because my love for music can’t be whittled down to one single song nor have I been able to handpick one person tasked with the Herculean responsibility of being best friends with someone as complex as me. I couldn’t answer any of these questions growing up nor can I answer them now. But we are expected to provide answers to such questions on a whim, and our inability to come up with answers could be met with accusatory looks or looks of disdain.
Speaking of decisions, I tend to adopt a romantic attitude towards experiences I am yet to venture into. I look at those experiences through rose-colored lenses and often underestimate all the parameters involved when turning those fantasies into actionable goals. A very relevant and timely example was my decision to adopt a dog because I thought it was a perfect panacea for my situational loneliness. For so long, I romanticized the idea of getting a dog with a particular focus on what it could DO for me and underestimated ALL of my responsibilities toward the dog. I grew up with dogs in my house in Nigeria, and at one point, we had over seven dogs at home. Growing up, I was the kid who walked her dog around the neighborhood before it became a ‘thing’ in Nigeria. As I’d always considered myself to be a dog person, it was, therefore, a no-brainer that I’d turn to my furry friends for companionship (given my canophilic tendencies) when I moved into an apartment that allowed pets. You see, I’d been nursing the idea of owning a dog since I relocated to the US.
And last Saturday, my husband made that dream possible when we went to the shelter together to adopt a dog. You must have seen my husband’s post mafficking about the latest addition to the family. We named her Lôla (not Lolá:-D; ours was of the showgirl variety), and she was of the Australian Cattle pedigree. Lôla, for the most part, was adorable and made herself very comfortable at home from the very night we brought her home. In retrospect, this wonderful trait would coalesce to produce the crack that began to form on my rose-colored lenses and obscure my picture-perfect view. You know that adage about how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? It’s really a thing as it was especially difficult to set some boundaries with Lôla regarding some behavioral issues I observed. That was the biggest problem coupled with the responsibility of picking up (poop and all) after a dog almost three times a day.
My daily schedule had to be re-engineered around her, and this put a lot of strain on me. My mornings began with spending up to an hour vacuuming hair strands (despite being a short-coat dog, she was blowing her coat off at this time of the year) and sanitizing my suede futon that she sullied every morning with a caked ‘non-delightful’ mass made from her bodily fluids (I think her saliva or heaven knows what) and hair clumps. Attempts to ward her off her nightly romp with my futon were futile as Lôla had an obdurate positioning regarding this; she just couldn’t be bothered. She would scurry off to her sleeping spot looking away at me guiltily every time I caught her in the act; thus making it clear to me that she was aware of right and wrong. Having to daily clean after her mess on my futon left me livid and brought back some repressed feelings from my childhood. The sense of helplessness mired with anger at having to clean up after two brothers constantly. Incessant cleanings, for me, are triggered by stressful situations and stressful situations make me clean. I might need to seek professional help someday for my obsession towards cleaning, but today is not the day for that. That, along with my long list of to-dos, would have to wait.
With Lôla, I saw too much, smelled too much, and I judged her too much for me to love her deeply. One moment, she’s passing solid waste, and the next minute, she’s licking her nether regions like she just only excreted honey-flavored macaroons. These vivid imageries were all I could think of every time she brought her face towards me for a kiss, and I could never bring myself to be that affectionate towards her by returning the favor. Please understand that this is coming from someone who carries her hand around like a diseased rhinoceros pizzle when she comes in contact with anything unclean and is yet to make the offensive appendage clean and whole again. I learned too fast that petting Lôla meant her reciprocating with licking my face and when I think about where her mouth had just been, I shrivel and treat my face like the defiled object that it has now become. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel connected with Lôla.
I am gone nine hours a day and can’t stand the sight of hair on my clothes, couch, throw pillow, kitchen floors, and duvet covers. You can say that even when I left Lôla at home, Lôla never left me. I became a walking testimony of her presence in my life, with her hair strands on my person to boot. I couldn’t bear how she smelled from getting wet from the sprinklers on our way back from our nightly walks from the bark park. Walking into the bark park felt like entering a cesspool to play a simulated game of dog poo Minesweeper. My morning gloom rituals were replaced by letting out the dog to do its business and having to feign giddiness at ignoring her intrusion on my life. That didn’t feel like companionship; it felt more like servitude. I was tired of living my life on a leash and assuming the role of caregiver. I was getting dizzy from the swaying tethers that my life now seemed to be anchored to and the restraints it had on my own daily movement. To me, it felt like I was the one constantly on a leash and not Lôla. I longed for the halcyon days when all I had to worry about was myself and nothing else. For the days when my apartment smelled and looked exactly the same way as I left it. For days I could spend extra hours at work or soiree with friends without fearing that my protracted absence could lead to disastrous accidents and consequences from the dog.
I was too stressed to enjoy the positive aspects of having Lôla around, such as how really smart and intelligent she was, and how playtime with her awakened the child in me. Days into bringing Lôla home, I began to think more of her as a liability than an asset. My husband, on the other hand, who by now (and only within a week) completed and received his Ph.D. in Canine Psychology, took Lôla’s side most of the time and thought she was the cutest thing ever since fried plantains served on a bed of steamy party Jollof rice. His stance was not unexpected as the shitty tasks (literally) were often left to me, until I made him clean up after one of her messes. I just desperately wanted my life back the way it was before Lôla.
I decided I had enough of Lôla and she had to be returned to the shelter. My ambitions of owning a dog were borne out of a selfish need to fill a void in my life. It was therefore unfair of me to heave such a heavy responsibility on a dog, especially as it turned out that she could not meet that expectation no matter how hard she tried. So one week after I adopted her, I drove back to the same shelter and returned her as she was within the 10-day return policy. Because there is not yet a law allowing for the return of one’s husband plus he’s also passed his return window (see, we have been married for six years), he had to come home with me, sadly (I need to write to my Congressman about that). It wasn’t really a tough decision returning Lôla, and I didn’t look back one last time to give the customary final glance you reserve for sweet partings as I walked out of the shelter. From there, I drove my car straight to the car-wash and had it thoroughly sanitized, and I cleaned and vacuumed my apartment one more time.
Later that night, I saw one of her toys wedged behind my buffet table, and my heart didn’t skip one beat. And that’s when I concluded that owning a dog, at least now, wasn’t for me. I feel such a huge relief. My loneliness would probably linger on, but I’d rather be tortured from the silence of my demons and have them keep me company than expecting anyone, a dog most of all, to fill such a nagging need. From here on out, I would instead settle for swapping kisses and bodily fluids between my partner and me and fill the time points between such joyful fellowships with honing the perfect art of nothingness.
I have also made peace with the fact that my decision to return Lôla and loving Lôla are two mutually exclusive things. I can (and now) love Lôla from afar.
Oscar Wilde once quipped “some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
I love her more now that she’s away, and my happiness (and even the loneliness) knows no bounds. I am thankful to Lôla for making me realize what I don’t want for now and I hope that she gets adopted by someone who will give her all the love and attention she deserves. Preferably someone without an aversion for loose stray hairs and who wouldn’t mind getting licked by a mouth that has been down south.
My selfish desire to own a dog could also be emblematic of almost everything I thought I wanted in life and have had but no longer want because it was not just for me. Perhaps, the same can be said for what others (or even us) think we need for ourselves, say a new job, marriage, or perhaps having a child (or more children). Reality always trumps expectations, and if we venture into things, without being thoughtful and mindful, we might find ourselves in the quagmire of being stuck with the grim consequences of our actions. I count myself lucky to have had the wherewithal to correct my decision without having to pay dearly for my actions. Yes, I lost a little money from adoption fees, toys, and dog supplies but these pale in comparison to the life lessons I gleaned from my experience. I would certainly no longer be hasty and rash in making big decisions anytime soon, and I use this medium to publicly appeal to the tender sensibilities of my friends to snap me back to consciousness anytime I stray away to Lalaland (or in this case Lôlaland). And I declare that the appropriate safe word to bring me back from any oblivious state should be ‘Lôlaland.’ A perfect use of such word could be ‘There you go again, Mo. You are in Lôlaland right now and need to snap out of it!’
My decision to return the dog after romanticizing so much about owning one made me think about all the needs and wants I mull over in my mind. While my experience with the dog was real, I couldn’t help think about what else such experience could symbolize in my life. Perhaps, what else am I still being romantic about in my life? While I would need to check in with those desires soon, I am OK with saying that, at least for now, I don’t think I am an American dog person. I tried to be for a whole week and failed miserably at it. Perhaps, someday when I have a house of my own with a generous backyard replete with a white picket fence (yes, the quintessential American dream) and an outside shed/kennel to house such a delightful creature, I’d reconsider my stance.
For now, I want to be selfish for myself, and I want to be the queen and countess of my lowly manor. I want my life back, as simply complicated as it was when I didn’t know what I wanted and did nothing about it. Maybe being conflicted about my predilection is not a bad thing. For example:
I don’t love being alone until my sense of carefree independence has been compromised, and then I do.
I think I am a people person until I think I have had enough and long for the moment I can recoil back to my solitude.
I am conflicted and mercurial that way; the outward workings and showmanship of an extrovert trapped within the repressed convenience of an introvert. Some may call me ambivert, but I am yet to decide if that’s what I want to be either.
I love to go to parties and bask in the cacophony of cackles, back talks, and the familiar camaraderie of distant friends and sometimes become the center of attention until I find them enervating and I yearn to head back home, to be alone with my thoughts.
I need to write daily, to exorcise my demons and reduce the torture and leverage they have on me. But I can’t all the time because maybe I love the pain and the torture; they might just be the fodder I need to generate my subsequent materials.
I want to read more books than I currently do but I don’t because books always leave me changed and wanting more out of my ordinary, banal life but I am conflicted as to whether or not my life needs changing.
I love to close my eyes and dance; it’s the only time I can fully express my emotions without holding back. When I do, my body moves joyfully with my bones in tow. My oversize stomach jiggles like a bowl full of jelly, providing the subtle and right amount of accompaniment to enrich the music. My feet become lighter, and for a moment, just a moment, I am trapped in my echo chamber where nothing else matters and sound ceases to exist, only music. My thoughts are in perfect array, circling around my head like a pixelated halo and I feel at one with the cosmos again. But I don’t dance anymore, so I feel more emotionally constipated now than I have ever been.
But when all’s said and done, I hope to find the right distraction or panacea to feed my lonely monsters. Pending then, I will give in to the mocking sounds of my quiet thoughts and bask in the overwhelming presence of my loneliness. And if these don’t gladden my heart, then I’ll be doggoned!