I celebrated New Years 2011 with a kiss. I was in love for the first time in my life. Not infatuated, but actually in love – with someone who changed the way I thought about that over-used, intangible word. Blair was poet and a musician. He had a voice that could fill a crowded subway tunnel without a microphone. He had a gift for writing about the heaviest of topics in a way that was strangely uplifting. I was in awe of his talent, and even more so of the person he was beneath it.
When Blair died unexpectedly in the summer of that same year, it goes without saying that I was devastated. I wrote at the time that I was someplace between comfortably numb and feeling everything. As my therapist put it, I was barely keeping my head above water. Every metaphorical barrier I had ever built around myself was the equivalent of rubble. I felt small and soft, vulnerable and terrified. I was alone in a city of eight million people; an alien among old friends.
A few months later, while in the thick of my depression, my friend TJ posted on Facebook that he needed to find a new home for his dog. He had decided he was too financially unstable to take care of an aging dog, and the original adoption plans had fallen through at the last minute. I had known Coeus since he was a puppy. I was in a place where I was financially stable, but otherwise not so much.
It was one of the shortest deliberations I’ve ever spent on a major decision. I remember my parents telling me I shouldn’t do it. It was too big of a responsibility to take on after everything I had just been through. I didn’t tell them that I had already made my decision until it was too late to be talked out of it. I was certain of very few things at that point in my life, but I knew this was something I needed to do.
There was a moment I remember being on the phone with my friend Aricka, and someone walked by with their dog. The dog was carrying a giant stick, and it couldn’t have been prouder of the discarded tree limb it had found on the sidewalk. When few things are able to shake depression, the ones that make you smile really stand out. I think that’s what locked it in.
After a few months of planning and finding a new apartment, it was finally time to pick Coeus up. It was a Saturday evening in December. I braved driving through Manhattan for the first time in my life to get from Brooklyn to New Jersey. A mutual friend had driven down from Upstate with the dog in tow, and left him with another friend outside of Jersey City.
Coy was smaller than I remembered him being. It had only been six months since I’d seen him last, but at forty five pounds, he’s a little guy compared to the dogs I grew up with. We met in a stranger’s kitchen, took a brief walk around the suburb, and drove back to Brooklyn
We were both incredibly awkward during our first few days. We were in a strange new place where we only knew each other, and we were trying to adjust to a new normal. The next few weeks were filled with learning experiences. For example, white sheets and dog do not mix. Stuffed toys and tennis balls have an average lifespan of a few minutes. To this day I always cross the street when I see other dogs because, as wonderful as he is with people, Coy can be a total asshole to other dogs.
Before I knew it, I was time to drive upstate for Christmas. My family and I decided it would be too much for our 13-year old lab, Tucker, to handle having a comparatively young pup around the house. So I was leaving Coeus with my friend Sean for the holiday.
It was after Sean’s mother made us dinner, and I was preparing to leave, that I had an epiphany. Seeing how casually Sean interacted with Coeus and his own dog, pulling him in and scratching his belly, I realized that I had forgotten how to do that. Somewhere in the mix of my grief, and the turmoil of things happening more rapidly than I could process, I had lost the simple means of sharing a dog’s affection. I let that sink in.
When I picked Coy up at the end of the weekend, I made a conscious effort to relearn what it was to have a companion. To reopen those parts of myself that I had subconsciously closed off.
Over the years that followed, Coeus managed to become one of the singular driving forces in my recovery. The lull of a long depression is tedious, but it can be made bearable when you’ve got a companion to cuddle up with on cold mornings. And there is no better cure for a shitty day than coming home to a wagging tail and uncontainable joy. Even with all of the anxiety and bullshit the world periodically sends my way, Coeus has an uncanny ability to make me smile in spite of it.
[An earlier version of the story was posted on my Tumblr in December 2013]