When Love Means Being Selfish

When we brought our baby home from the hospital, Bhoga, then 14, welcomed him with a sniff and a lick before easing herself arthritically onto her bed. Her ears stood up straight to compensate for her growing deafness, and on walks, when she came to cracks in the sidewalk, she would often leap extravagantly over them. We wondered what, exactly, she could still see. Strangers approached to pet her, drawn by her sweet sugar face and slow perseverance, and probably by the memories of the old dogs they themselves had lost.

A dozen times a day we would help her off the floor where she had fallen, grateful to be of service for all she had given us, which was essentially our family. Tears came often and unexpectedly to me, washing the dishes or folding laundry, knowing we were close to letting her go. Those old feelings of abandonment came knifing back. I didn’t want to do that to her, knowing her fear — common among dogs — of being left behind.

When we made the decision, we were lucky to have a vet come to our house and administer drugs to Bhoga through an IV while we sat with her in the sun beside the woodstove. She slipped away in our arms, perhaps the best-case scenario, but every bit as wrenching as I had imagined.

What was a comfort were the tributes that poured in from the scores of people who had known Bhoga; her self-possessed presence had touched them all. Compared to other losses I have endured, the support from friends and family in losing the dog felt unconditional. In the past, condolences over lost love always felt tinged by blame, as if I could have chosen more prudently, or behaved better.

The irony is that in suing my ex for custody of Bhoga, I couldn’t have behaved worse — at least as far as my ex was concerned. I learned that in love, selfishness can be as important as selflessness, about knowing what you need and holding onto it — even if that sometimes means hurting someone else. In keeping that dog, I was assuring my most secure relationship, one which allowed me to love myself, and, in time, others.

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