I was named after my Aunt Jo’s beloved child hating red chow mix who died just days before my feckless mother deposited a newborn me into my aunt’s arms. Bethany, my mother, channeled Sarah, Ruth’s free spirited, artistic sister from the TV show Six Feet Under, and giving me up was probably the best thing she could have done for me. I grew up in a household full of love, chaotic stability, and more animals than should have been possible. See, Aunt Jo was, well, is an animal rescuer, so her home perpetually overflowed with critters in need of a soft place to land.
Many of my earliest memories include dogs. I learned to walk holding to the back of a patient brown hound dog named Missy, and I lived in perpetual fear of the coffee can full of cremains belonging to Portia the Chow that lived on a book shelf. I gave myself nightmares for years because I was sure she would somehow resurrect from the ashes and eat me for stealing her name. My heart broke a thousand times as animals died or moved on to new homes, but there was always a new one needing help to ease my pain.
As I grew older I realized how different my aunt’s household was from those of my friends, and I began to distance myself from her rescue work. It was hard enough to explain my odd name and family situation to classmates whose world view didn’t yet include alternate families. I ended up going to college in a big city, eventually got a job for an executive I came to hate, and, suddenly, and thirty-two, I found myself here, meandering and rudderless.
I sighed and fiddled with the straw in my watery iced coffee. “I just don’t know how to explain it. Nothing has changed, but I just don’t enjoy life the way that I used to. There’s no passion anymore.”
Monica bit into her sandwich and chewed thoughtfully while Alena just laughed. “That sounds like a simple case of the thirty-something blues,” she drawled, winking.
Usually, Alena’s exaggerated southern accent coaxed out a smile, but today I just shook my head. “It’s more than just frustration over spinning my wheels for the past ten years, Al.” I just have a persistent feeling that something’s missing.”
My blonde best friend leaned forward to take a sip of her Mountain Dew. “I don’t know what to tell you, Portia. Have you thought about trying to get out more, meet new people? Maybe you should start up a new hobby or volunteer. You can’t been an executive assistant 24-7.”
I stuck out my tongue in mock outrage and tossed a straw wrapper in Alena’s direction. “And you’re doing so well?” My friend was stuck in a dead end retail job and romantically hoped for some handsome rich man to fall madly in love and sweep her off on grand adventures.
“Now, girls, do I need to separate you?” Monica interrupted in her best court room voice. She worked as a junior associate in a family law firm specializing in divorce and child custody suits, and it showed when she tried to get us into line. Pushing a strand of thick black hair behind an ear, Monica fixed me with a piercing gaze. “Alena’s suggestion isn’t half bad, Portia. You spend all of your time fussing over work. The only fun time you allow yourself is our weekly night out.”
“I just don’t have much drive to get out once I’m done with work,” I shrugged. “Once I’m home alone in my little house, I can either continue prepping stuff for the office or burn a few brain cells in front of the TV. Focusing on work just makes more sense.” I slumped over the table. “Other people have roommates or significant others to come home to. I just come home to silence.”
I could sense Alena and Monica exchanging glances above my head and felt a twinge of guilt for dumping my feelings so openly. They didn’t need to be sucked into my premature midlife crisis; they had their own careers and personal worries.
A hand clamped firmly over my right one. “You used to talk about getting a dog when we met in college, ” Monica gently reminded me, “but you just weren’t in the right place. Now it seems like you’re determined to not be in the right place.”
My head shot up from the table, and I turned my focus from Monica to Alena. “Oh no! You know what my childhood was like, how much I suffered every time we lost a dog. You cannot seriously be suggesting that…”
My childhood friend patted my head softly. “Sweetie, I’m standing with the lawyer on this one. A new dog may just be the cure for whatever’s ailing you.”