I mean that metaphorically.
The only way I know to convey how I feel -- how I've felt for the past one year, nine months, and thirteen days -- is to speak in metaphors. So you'll have to bear with me.
I poured so much of my heart into Max Bear that, when he died, I buried that piece of my heart with him. And it left this huge, raw, gaping hole. A hole I've never thought about filling. It felt futile to try. It felt wrong to try. The idea of ever adopting again seemed utterly inconceivable. Impossible. Not even worth imagining.
Which doesn't mean that I could never love another canine. I've done plenty of work with the Humane Society in the intervening time. I've gladly babysat on several occasions, for long periods of time. I adore my nephew Willoughby beyond the telling of it. My life is full of puppies whom I adore. The idea of being a dad, though? It wasn't even a possibility.
Nearly a month ago, I was driving home from my best friend's house, and I decided to take the long way into the neighborhood to get the most out of the cigarette dangling from my lip. And as I turned the corner onto my street, I nearly ran over this gorgeous -- but emaciated -- bullmastiff/boxer mix (come to find out, much later, he's got some staffie in him, too). I stopped so close to him that I couldn't see him anymore over the hood. I thought I might have hit him. So I leapt out of the car, and he ran past me, hopped into the open door, settled into the passenger seat, and looked at me as if to say, "Let's go!"
I rode around a bit, asking people walking by if they knew him, and eventually honed in on the corner where a few people thought he lived. One house was empty. One neighbor basically told me to sod off. The other two, though, were pretty sure he lived in the empty house, but hadn't seen a human there in weeks.
So I gave the two nice neighbors my phone number, asked them to call if anyone showed up, and he came home with me. The next day, I spent most of the day trying to figure out what to do with him. I called the Humane Society (the good one, the real one, not the evil douche-face charlatans at the Humane Society of the United States). They said he would be isolated for five days to give someone a chance to claim him before they started evaluating him for adoption. They asked if I would mind fostering him for five days, to keep from putting him through that. And, of course, I agreed to that. I didn't mind this sweet face sticking around for five days until we could find him a good home. Who would?
Late that night, though, I spotted a sign for him, called the number on the sign, and discovered that his name is Bruno. He had been rescued in Indiana from a situation where he was fought and kept in a tiny cage. Not long after that he moved here, and the guy who rescued him was soon thereafter sent to survival training. So while the kids went to live with the guy's brother -- with whom I was speaking -- Bruno remained at his new house, and the brother visited twice a day to feed him and check on him.
After hearing a little more of his story, I told the guy I would bring Bruno right over, and loaded him up to get him home. And I don't know what got into me, but I lit into the guy pretty hard when I saw him face-to-face -- all but accused him of neglecting Bruno, demanded to know why he was so skinny. I got pretty grr. I shocked even myself. The guy took it well, though. He explained that Bruno had been battling a bad infection from his previous life, and was on some hardcore antibiotics. His appetite was thoroughly shot. I accepted that and calmed down.
And then a weird thing happened: when all the dust settled and it was time for me to leave, Bruno turned and kissed, like, my entire face. And I started bawling. Out of freaking nowhere. It hurt so much to tell him goodbye. It hurt worse than I could have imagined it would. Which is weird, because I didn't realize that, in the day he spent with me, I had started to fall hard for him. And I'm usually very in touch with my feelings. Annoyingly so. I don't think I have a subconscious.
Anyway, as it turns out, that wasn't goodbye; Bruno's breakouts continued after I got him back to his house.
I got a call the next afternoon: "Hey, is this the guy who was asking about that dog yesterday? I thought you took him home. He's in my yard." So I went to pick him up, and returned him back home that night. And the next day, another call, from another neighbor. He quickly figured out that all he had to do was knock on a neighboring door, and I would be there within minutes. He would sit at the curb and wait for me -- his own personal taxi service. It happened several times that week, and when it happened the next Friday, the brother asked me if I would just keep Bruno overnight, since he had plans. I gladly did. The night turned into the weekend, and Bruno didn't go home until Sunday. Then Sunday night, though, he called for another pickup.
It was decided the next day that Bruno would just stay with me until his person's training was over and he was back home, which ended up being the next Friday. And in that week, the love I felt for this boy only grew. For the first time in nearly two years, I felt alive. He did something mischievous, and I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. The missus looked at me and said, "I can't believe you're laughing." Has it really been that long since I had?
And maybe it felt okay to open my heart up to Bruno so freely because he's just so completely and utterly different from Max. He wasn't filling the hole that Max left. But he was finding a new place in my heart, and in the process, at least healing the horrible scars around that old ragged hole.
After he went home, I went over later that night just to get a sense of his home situation, make sure he was okay, and introduce myself to his person. He explained that he was being deployed to Afghanistan, and asked me if I would adopt Bruno. And I was through the roof! "YES!" I said, with tears in my eyes.
He said he hadn't seen Bruno in weeks, and wanted one night with him to snuggle and let him know he loved him. "Pick him up at oh-eight-thirty tomorrow he said." And I was so excited I didn't sleep a wink that night.
Then the phone rang at seven the next morning, and when the first words I heard were, "I'm sorry," I knew the news was bad. The guy had talked to his dad, told him he'd found a good home for Bruno, and his dad pitched a fit. He had assumed Bruno would be moving to Indiana. He had been working on the fence, and preparing a place for him. The guy said to me, "I can't dishonor my father's wishes. I just hate that I got your hopes up."
He hadn't just gotten my hopes up. He had crushed them. I spiraled into a nasty depression. A really nasty, bitter, mean depression. Friends were worried about me, and rightly so. But I had thirty days left to see Bruno before he moved, and the guy told me I could come by any time to visit. I don't think he believed I would, but I did. Nearly every day.
Then, last Wednesday, he texted me and told me he had to go to Georgia for the day. Would I keep Bruno while he was gone? Of course I would! Some friends didn't think it was the best idea. One said I was torturing myself. But I had to spend one last day with him if I could.
Day turned to night. No call. The next day, I got a text: "I talked to my dad and he said if Bruno is going to a good home then it would be alright."
There was more said than that, I assure you. But as of last Thursday, and as of that text, I'm a daddy again.
Bruno, on the other hand, is a wallow butt. He's... well, special. He's also pretty sure he's a Pomeranian, I think, and if he's not sitting in my lap, he's resting his ginormous head on it. (Right now, he weighs about sixty pounds -- up from I'd guess around 45 when I first met him -- but he's still way too skinny. His doctor thinks he'll probably weigh around eighty when he's done gaining weight. So not too too big, but still quite a lapful.)
He has sooo much personality, and his own weird quirks. I remember being puzzled when asking how he behaved when having his nails trimmed, only to be told that they had never been trimmed. His nails are immaculate, though! Turns out, he chews them himself. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen. He'll chomp chomp chomp , hold a paw up, inspect it, and when one nail is to his liking, he'll chomp chomp chomp on the next.
He's incredibly playful, but also very quiet. He doesn't bark when the doorbell rings, although he always goes to inspect. The only time he really barks is when he sees my dope-dealing Pentecostal preacher neighbor, whom he hates for some reason. And when he does bark, it sounds like a cross between Sauron, Michael Clarke Duncan, and a Hound of Hell.
But whereas Max's coming into my life was an act of abduction, really, Bruno's coming into my life was an act of kindness by someone who saw that we loved one another, and realized that he would have a good life with me.
I rescued Max, and he never forgot that. Never. Every day of his tragically short life, he remembered that I took him from a horrible situation.
Bruno... well, he rescued me. And I don't think he'll ever realize it.