Thursday, July 17, 2008


Chicago, IL
photo by S.M.

Tomorrow morning, I am leaving for Michigan with my dog, Paris. Paris is ten and a half years old, born on Christmas Eve in 1997, and I turn thirty-five on Sunday.

My ex-girlfriend and I got Paris in the winter of 1998. We had just returned to Chicago from a trip to Paris, the city, and seeing the dogs there was the last straw for me. There was nothing more important or urgent in my life than finding a dog for myself.

We found Paris in a family's home in the suburbs when he was two months old and so small we could fit him in a purse and take him out to eat with us at restaurants. He used to climb on my shoulders in the car and wrap himself around my neck like a scarf. He slept in the same spot in the crook of my neck and he chewed his way through most of my apartment - a mattress, pillows, shoes, a couple pairs of my glasses. We took him to puppy training school and he nearly flunked out, especially when it came to not eating the hot dogs in the obstacle course. But the teachers, like just about everyone else, were charmed by his irresistible sweetness and gentleness. We tried to crate train him for a while, but he protested by banging on the crate like someone in the kitchen throwing pots and pans. Whenever we took him to my parents' house in Michigan, he got especially wild and excited and raced in circles around their furniture.

When I was a kid, I told my mom when I grew up, I wanted to marry a dog. In many ways, I've felt like that is almost how things turned out for me. In the ten and a half years that I have spent with Paris, I've lived in three cities, nine apartments and have been in and out of a number of relationships. Paris has been the one constant presence - my rock, a child, a soulmate - whatever else it is that I can't put into words. Certainly, my most profound experience of unconditional love.

At night, we sleep wrapped around one another's warm bodies which fit together like they were made for each other. When I come home, giving Paris a hug and a kiss comes first, before past girlfriends and even the internet.

Our transition to New York in the summer of 2005 was hard on Paris. The concrete and stairs took a toll on his knees, and he eventually had an operation which helped a lot. His face grew more and more gray, but he continued to be the most handsome and beautiful thing in the world as far as I was concerned.

Living alone in this city, working long hours to support myself, making trips to develop my work ... all of that has lead to a great deal of guilt and stress surrounding my relationship with Paris. In recent months, as his health has rapidly declined, these feelings have consumed vast amounts of my emotional energy.

When I got back from my last trip out west in April, I discovered that Paris was losing his vision. I took him to the vet, but there wasn't much that could be done to improve his condition, and very soon thereafter, he became completely blind.

For the past couple of months, I have been trying to help him navigate the apartment and the streets and the stairs, which are the hardest obstacle for him. Recently, I have been carrying his eighty-five pound body down two flights of stairs twice a day because it is too painful and devastating to watch him struggle fearfully with the steps.

We have spent a great deal of the past couple of weeks holed up in my apartment - him crying and me crying. Sometimes he stands in the corners of the kitchen like he has no idea where he is, or suddenly falls off the bed, and is almost entirely losing his life-long enthusiasm for food. Whenever I move from room to room, he can't be too far away from me for any length of time without more crying.

After grappling with our situation and our future, I finally asked my parents if they would be willing to care for Paris in their home in Michigan and they generously agreed to help us. I simply could not wrap my head around the thought of him passing away in this city - taking him from one challenging environment, my building and the city streets, to a vet's office one day to be put to sleep.

My parents have a wonderful house with a grassy backyard and a lot less stairs. As much as this impending separation breaks my heart, I felt like it was the right thing to do for Paris to spend the conclusion of his life in a kinder place which has always been his second home.

We are planning to drive the northern route back to the Midwest, dropping down into Michigan through Canada. I hope we will spend Friday night in a motel in Niagra Falls, so Paris will have the opportunity to experience some fresh air and primal forces of nature that are hard to come by in Brooklyn.

It will be perhaps our last of many road trips together. For the rest of this month, I plan to tune off of the internet and work obligations as much as I can and give all of my love and attention to my dog.


nina said...

Tema, I will be thinking of you and Paris.

matt olson said...

man, i'm sitting here crying... in a good way.

me and amy send love to you and paris. we'll be thinking of you.

Liz said...

I'm so sorry, Tema.

nativekee said...

oh, i am completely in tears... i just popped by, but now i love you and i love your dog! i, too know the joy & love of a dog & the pain of seeing them age before we do.
they are such beautiful gifts and this is a wonderful love story you've written. best of luck with the transition!

Suz Broughton said...

This was so beautifully written. It brought me to tears thinking about when I had to do the same thing with my dog years ago.
You are doing the right thing. Just keep saying that to will make it a little easier.