The love that changed my life

It was around fourteen years ago that my life started to normalise after the birth of my son. He was five years old and finally he was perfectly healthy, he was (eventually) sleeping through the night and I was beginning to feel like I could venture out of the home to work rather than bringing work into the home to complete.

To some people five years is a lifetime, to some it’s a blip on the radar, for me it was the right time.

But five years spent at home meant that my wardrobe was not, how you would say, modern work contemporary. There was a lot of elastic and whatever fabric tracksuits were made out of more than a decade ago. I was going for an actual job interview in the actual city and that required a trip to the shopping mall to get the outfit sorted.

And so it was one Saturday all those years ago that my husband, son and I went shopping for a shirt. I remember it. A light pink button up shirt, smart enough for an interview, nothing that I could imagine actually wearing. I also remember my husband and son getting bored of looking for clothes before we even left the house but try as I might I can’t remember why I took them along.

But I do know that instead of shlepping around with me they went to the pet shop.

This was fourteen years ago. I thought nothing of pet shops. It was Maya Angelou who said “when you know better you do better” and she was right. I know better now, I have learned a lot which would stop me from supporting a pet shop in 2019.

But there were my husband and my son waiting for me in the pet shop when I returned with my pink shirt. On my husband’s lap was a ball of caramel fur, on his face was a look of intense love matched only by my son’s. They had fallen in love with a puppy.

I never imagined owning a dog. I am easily overwhelmed. People and responsibility make me feel claustrophobic. Imagining having something else to look after made me scared. But my husband’s face, my son’s eyes…

We left home with half the pet shop, a tiny little bundle of fur and a pink shirt. I sat with him on my lap on the way home and he started to seep into my heart. My son named him Henry after a character in a book we were reading him.

Henry’s first night at home was the closest I have ever come to leaving my husband. He believed Henry would be okay sleeping on his own in the laundry. 14 years later we laugh at the idea that we would even want him to be that far from us. But that night we put him in the laundry and he cried. My husband said the crying would pass. It didn’t. After about an hour of on and off crying I told him he was a cruel and evil man and I was taking my son and dog and going to live with my sister. I hadn’t even had a chance to make a dramatic exit when he brought Henry to our room and he stopped crying. I have never heard him cry since.

The following Tuesday I left the house in my pink shirt prepped for my first job interview in forever. I sailed through the questions with all the mock confidence I could muster until one of the interviewers asked me what would be the hardest part of returning to work after having being at home for so long.

I paused. I could feel the familiar sting of tears building up in my eyes. I wanted to shout at myself for bringing bloody tears to an interview. I didn’t even know what had brought them on. If I was outside of myself I would have taken a tissue, dried my eyes and said what the fuck. But I live inside of myself and so I let the tears fall down my face and I managed to tell them I was wasting their time. There was no way I was going to be able to leave my new puppy at home alone while I went to work. I left, tissues in hand and a beautiful pink shirt which I never wore again.

Henry turns fourteen today and I have long lost track of the pink shirt. What I have gained instead is a best friend, a love in my life which I could never have dared imagine, a constant companion and a little weight on my bed every night just where I need it.

Henry tied our family together. Even on our shittiest days and in our worst moods Henry brings out the love in all of us. He is our shared heart.

I can’t describe the love I have for this little creature who turned me vegetarian and made me look at animals and love them in a completely different way. I cannot begin to describe the comfort and joy he brings me. But I know that if you love an animal — you understand.

Happy Birthday Henry. I’m sorry dad left you in the laundry for that hour all those years ago. It’s the only regret I have from all the years we’ve shared together (and I know he regrets it too because as hard as it is to believe, he loves you even more than I do)

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