My darkest moment came in February, two months after my husband and I separated. There were boxes stacked in every corner of my house. Boxes I was too tired — and, honestly, too afraid — to unpack. Somehow, remnants of him had survived the move. Tools that he'd touched, clothes that he'd worn, mail that had his name on it.
And then, there was my stuff. Or, at least what was left of everything we'd had together. All the furniture I could squeeze into my tiny new rental, and even some pieces that wouldn't fit. Pieces that I loved too much and was too stubborn to get rid of.
I wasn't adjusting well to my new single life. My husband and I were divorcing after nine years of marriage. I'd never imagined I'd be 31 years old, starting over. But there I was, settling into my new routine and trying to block out the silence.
That particular day in February was a Tuesday. It was one o'clock in the afternoon and I was still in bed, staring up at the ceiling, even though I'd been awake for hours. It didn't really matter; I wasn't being lazy. I had nowhere to be, nobody waiting on me. Just one week earlier, I'd also been laid off from my job. My life, as I knew it, was shattering.
I remember lying there that day, trying to motivate myself to do something worthwhile. Or just do anything, for that matter. But I was stuck. The weight of my problems felt like too much. I wanted to cry, but no tears would come. And, as morbid as it sounds, I remember thinking at the time, "I could die right now and no one would notice. Nobody needs me at all."
Except my dogs. My sweet dogs.
It's strange how it happened, but immediately after having that awful thought, I found myself wondering who would feed my two greyhounds if I were gone. I pictured them being returned to the rescue group where I'd found them, being bounced from one home to another, and it was enough to get me out of bed that day. I thought of them and forgot all my problems — my insecure future, my fears of starting over.
For the rest of the day, I thought of them, instead of myself. I topped off their food and water, gave them both baths and took them to the dog park to let them run. And it was liberating.
Truth be told, when my ex and I adopted my dogs, I should have known what was coming down the road. He'd been hesitant about the idea altogether. He'd asked me, "If you were single would you still want them?" He'd wanted me to sign a contract stating I'd take them if we ever separated.
At the time, I thought it was just another one of our ridiculous arguments. Obviously, I knew that we had our fair share of problems, but that's all I thought they were — our problems. The things he and I had to deal with weren't unusual, just like every couple in existence deals with their problems, too. I've never been one who romanticized love, or believed that with the right person everything would be perfect. Because love isn't perfect for anyone.
So, I didn't see that things were falling apart. To him, our problems weren't really "ours" at all. They were my problems with him and his problems with me, and he had no interest in trying to solve them anymore.
If you were to ask me how I've survived my divorce, I'd answer simply, "Rusty and Lilly."
I'd think of all the moments when those two beautiful creatures were literally the only ones who were there for me. And not because of a lack of caring or love or support from my family and friends, but because of my own stubbornness and prideful nature.
I'd think of all the moments where I lied by saying that I was OK, only to go home and break down later. All those moments where I pretended my heart wasn't broken, or stayed in instead of going out because my eyes were red and swollen. All those moments that no one saw how I was truly handling things, because I refused to show them — the only ones who were there were my dogs.
Rusty, my goofy boy, who can make me smile just by looking at me.
And, Lilly, my soul sister, who would nudge me with her nose each time she found me crying.
If you were to look at their adoption forms it would be easy to assume that I rescued them. That's what people often say to me, at least. When they find out that my dogs used to be racers and grew up raised in kennels, they say, "You saved them, you sweet thing."
But it's not really true. That's only part of the story. Sure, I may have welcomed two retired racers into my home, but I didn't save them. As corny as it sounds, they saved me.
They make me feel protected when I'd otherwise feel alone. When I come home, they're right there waiting.
They don't judge me, or need me to be anything that I'm not. They don't care if I'm perfect, or if I'm struggling. And the simplest things make them happy — car rides and walks, or to just lying beside me.
When I look back now, I honestly don't know what would have happened on that day in February if it weren't for these dogs who needed me then and gave me a sense of family.
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