Six years ago, when I decided to move back to New York from Los Angeles, I left my dog Dexter behind.
I was jumping into a new life with no job, apartment, or impressive savings account and it seemed cruel to make him jump too. My best friend Shannon had always felt a close bond with Dex –closer than his and mine it seemed– and she jumped at the chance to become his new guardian.
Six months after my move, Shannon got very, very sick and had to be hospitalized. While my eyebrows knit in concern for my sick friend, the corners of my mouth turned upward with the news. I had been so full of shit to think I could leave him behind without any consequences. Every moment away from Dex had been awful. I cried myself to sleep at night, embracing a stuffed animal a friend had sent me as a joke years before. In those lonely months I had found some work, a nice enough place to live, and a few friends. He was the only thing missing.
I did have one problem though… how to get him here.
Flying an unaccompanied dog from Los Angeles to New York in the middle of the winter is prohibitively expensive and unnecessarily stressful on the dog. I searched online for alternatives and came across a website called uShip.com. They are a shipping service that will transport anything you can think of anywhere in the US; from parcels to pianos, campers to couches. Some of the drivers are willing to give your pet the shotgun seat for a very reasonable fee. I was connected with a truck driver named Gary Lee who had to haul a boat from Sacramento to New Jersey. He said he could pick Dex up in Los Angeles and drive him across country to me in about 7 days. I explained to him the kind of dog Dexter is: a strange mix of Lab and Corgi with a bit of Shepherd in the ears. He’s a well tempered and trusting dog that can get a bit snarly when underfed or underslept – much like his mother. Dex is not the smartest animal on the planet but he makes up for that by being the most loyal and earnest dog around. He’s as true as the day is long. He’s a patient, ego-free boy, content to sit with his thoughts, or lack thereof, in one place for hours. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great road trip companion he could be. I told the trucker that and he sighed and said “Yes ma’am, but I’ll probably just keep him in the cage in back.”
“Sure, sure, I understand.” Crazy dog-parent, that’s me. Nothing mattered as long as Dex was safe and on his way.
It was a long 7 days for me but Dex seemed to be having a blast. My trucker texted me pics from the road – “here’s your boy at the drive thru” – wagging his tail in front of an Arby’s… “hey momma, look I’m driving!” –Dex in the front seat of the truck grinning ear to ear. Gary Lee told me that he had moved Dex from the back of the cab to the passenger’s seat and that he’d eventually taken him out of the cage. I think they had many talks, those two men as they made their way across this glorious country, about women, food, and life on the road.
My heart was racing the morning of his arrival. I was nervous, elated, and breathless– like I was reuniting with an old lover.
Peering out my living room window, I saw the truck turn down my street. I ran down the stairs and out the door to meet them. Almost in slow motion, Dex leapt from his seat and ran into my arms. I had never seen him look so happy and I felt as though my missing limb had been re-attached. I felt whole.
I turned my attention to the trucker, a 350 pound bearded man wearing a cowboy hat, jeans and a crusty button down shirt. He stared at Dex.
“He’s a good boy, ma’am. A very good boy.” I handed him his payment plus tip and thanked him profusely.
“No, thank you ma’am.” And he raised his bear claw of a hand and wiped a tiny tear from his eye.
“He’s a special boy. I’ll miss him.”
I grinned and nodded at the trucker because, of course, I knew exactly how he was feeling.
Last week, I found out that Dexter has hemangiosarcoma. It’s cancer. It’s terminal. It’s very aggressive. Our options were this: start chemotherapy, which would give him another 6 months or so; or do nothing, which would give him another couple of weeks. And, though I can’t really afford it, and it will put burdens on my relationships, and I might experience more daily heartbreak as a result; I chose love over money. He is my best friend. I’ll be by his side for every second of life we can squeeze out of him. I’m never going to leave him behind again.
One of the strangest things that happens when a loved one becomes very ill is that you slough off a lot of the unnecessary chatter from everyday life. Last week, a client requested lamb chops and asked me to choose the sauce and preparation. I suddenly remembered a homemade blended butter that a friend from long, long ago used to cook with. I created my version of it and now I want to put it on everything. It’s a blast from the past, but something definitely worth revisiting. We dip pita in it, and chips; I slather it onto chops, chicken or fish right after they’re taken off the heat. You really can’t go wrong with this butter.
Sundried Tomato Butter
- ½ cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- ½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
- In a food processor, blend all ingredients together until combined thoroughly.