To my darling Ruby-Mae, also known as Ruby, Rubily-Boobily, Roto-Rooter, the Rooster, Rue and Ru-Ru (so far) -
Happy first birthday, baby!
I realize as I sit here that I have never had an animal where I knew their actual birthday before you. All my other animals have been rescues with nebulous-at-best origin stories, usually strays, so we just celebrated our “gotcha” days, which is a perfectly lovely tradition but I have also been embracing the novelty of having this extra bit of information. I have also not regretted adopting our other animals as adults one iota (save for our Clara Bow, found in our backyard as a newbie kitten) but there is also little bit of longing attached for me to have been able to at least see a picture of them as babies. With you, it was different. I not only got to see you as a puppy this past year but experience you and all those needle teeth, those sweet little grunts, that soft belly, those floppy ears, that delicious puppy breath. Even your poop, even in unwanted places, was adorable.
You came into my life when I was at a crossroads of trying to decide if I was able to take another chance at love, at trust, at vulnerability, at possible heartbreak after a profoundly traumatic, sudden loss that capped off two very difficult and stressful years.
Ruby-Mae, our lives together started like this: On February 16, a friend (you might remember her, Stacey), who crossed state lines to rescue your pregnant mama Lulu, posted that four puppies had been born in her home. (Stacey thought that was it but two more would follow, making you one of six.) You were part of the first four, Ruby. Somehow Stacey’s post made it to my eyes. I lingered on it for a minute then closed my laptop. I wanted to pipe in but I also know my tendency towards leaping before I look. I also didn’t know what to say and my heart was just so tender. I went back. In my mind, seriously, I kid you not, in my memory, I returned to the post the next day. Nope. I just checked out the timestamp on that. Fifteen minutes after Stacey’s original post, I commented. To me, this took enormous self-discipline, not fifteen minutes, but nearly a thousand seconds of being calm and moderate.
Ever-so gingerly (even if it did not come across as such, I suck at playing hard to get), I intimated that if there were still households needed, I would toss my hat in the ring as a potential adopter. Stacey ever-so gingerly acknowledged my comment with a thumb’s up circled in blue. I put this interaction in the back of my mind, telling myself little clichés that managed to be true: “If it is meant to be, it will be.” “At the very least, I know my heart is ready to adopt again.” I tried to put it out of my head and just carry on. Meanwhile, I was dreaming up names, making more room in my heart for you.
Fast forward to March 21, when you and your littermates started being introduced. As you were born on Mardi Gras, your initial names were all New Orleans-centric, and you were originally Roux, future Ruby-Mae; your picture was in my feed, though I still didn’t know if I would be an adopter of you or anyone else. On March 28, I got word from Stacey that if I were still wanting to adopt, she had a puppy in mind for our family. Did I still want to adopt? The puppy was you, soft face, floppy ears, cutest paws, your expression a little tentative but confident, too, the sassy head tilt, easily held skyward by Stacey’s gentle hands. I stared at your picture. I gasped at every little whisker and obsessed over your sweet eyebrows. You were looking through the screen to me: “Mom?” I said, “Baby.” I said your name over and over until it morphed into Ruby-Mae. I was incredulous and it also felt as natural as anything has ever felt that we would click together like puzzle pieces.
I said yes.
. . .
Puppy love is a real thing. I already knew this but I remembered it in a more real way as I geeked out over your picture. The deeper love was to come but it was immediate. You nestled into me that blurry day as we drove home from Stacey’s house (April 13), and I knew. There was no doubt that we were meant to be and that you, in fact, had rescued me.
What can I say, Ruby? One way with countless examples is how you have helped to heal me: This year you experienced seasons, nature and life for the first time and I got to experience it through you. Your first swim. Your first flowering bushes in bloom. Your first Gay Pride parade walking past. Your first autumn. Your first sticks to chew up. Your first redbud pods. Your first acorns and pine cones. Your first walk in the woods. Your first animatronic Halloween display. (No likey!) Your first trick-or-treaters. (Same.) Your first leaf piles. Your first snow. Your first eerie tornado warning the first Tuesday of every month. Your unabashed curiosity and enthusiasm for life was a wellspring for me. I got to not just observe these things passively but look at and experience the world with fresh eyes, a less jaded perspective. This alone has been immeasurably valuable at a time when I was starting to get used to feeling more than a little numb inside.
One of the things I missed most about Romeo, your brother in the spirit realm, was how just looking at him, I could get a hit of dopamine. How he made me smile with all of his perfect ways: The way he bounded down the steps from upstairs to join me on my yoga mat in the morning; the way he looked when he was sun-dappled on the couch in my office; the way he sighed in his sleep; the way he curled behind and between my legs to sleep; the way he was an ambassador in our neighborhood, making all the good people feel special, especially the older ladies; the way I knew that even if it was A Very Bad Day, even when I came close to really disliking myself, he was an ardent fan. Losing him was losing a lifeline to everything: Not just the loss of this magnificent being who meant everything to me but losing all the endless, everyday magic he sprinkled on all of life.
You have endless, everyday magic, too, Ruby-Mae.
Your curiosity and intelligence. Your fierce self-confidence and loyalty. Your razor-sharp comedic instincts and dazzling sensitivity. You have given me this daily reminder: That this world, capable of profound suffering and unfathomable cruelty, could also create a being as exquisite as you. As Lorenz Hart wrote in “My Funny Valentine,” you make me smile in my heart. Every day of my life, I get to smile because you’re in it, Ruby-Mae.
Happy birthday, sweet girl. I am so grateful for you.
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