I agreed to condo-sit in midtown Toronto, for a friend who would be going away for a couple of months. The deal was, I would take care of his dog, and in return get a space to myself to catch up on work, edit and try and get my writing mojo back. At the last minute, I asked if he could bring the dog to his dad's house while I stayed alone. Afterall, at home I have responsibility, duties to walk my own mutt, clean up after it etc and I didn't feel too pumped about minding someone else's pooch.
"I'm starting to feel like this isn't going to work out." The deal was with Riley. I obliged.
Panic stricken, I pulled into the condo feeling that familiar anxiety that creeps in when change presents itself to me. Where do I park? How do I operate this fob key? Where will I get my morning coffee? How do I work this convection oven?
"What happened to you?" my friend asked, almost puzzled. "It's like moving to the sticks has made you completely unconfident in how to do things."
He wasn't wrong. Besides, I was reminded at any time that I could go home. I wasn't stuck here. But I didn't want to go home when scared. I wanted to stick it out. With grit and determination and proving to myself that I could do it solo. And Riley was the perfect excuse to not be able to pack it in when things felt slightly uncomfortable. Do things that scare you. Trust me. There's no other satisfaction like it.
It's a strange feeling being taken care of but wanting your own autonomy to do things independently. After I got locked into the parking garage (my spot is 25 winding turns to the destination) and got honked at and yelled at by a resident, I got my inner guts back. I opened the car door, walked up to his car, tapped on the window and in Carrie Bradshaw fashion yelled "You're SOOOO Busy!"
He then apologized and showed me what I was doing wrong, to the detriment of the lined up cars behind us trying to get out of the retail parking they paid for.
That felt good.
I then hesitantly put Riley's leash on. My own dog bites at any given chance and has made me fearful of other dogs. Even though it's owner says it would never turn, you just never know with nature's wild. He looked at me with his big brown eyes and gave my hand a sloppy kiss, as if to let me know that he would cause me no harm.
Riley is three times the size of my dog. He's an Irish wheaten terrier so I half expected him to pull my arm off at the sight of a tree. I walked by the front desk where the security guard started asking questions about the dog. He handed him some treats from behind the desk and I would then find out that he was a Veterinarian back in Iran and performed hundreds of surgeries on smaller animals. He took the security guard job because of the flexibility it allowed him to study to take the equivalency test here.
They say Toronto is unfriendly. Maybe people just need a reason to make eye contact, or a four legged friend to start up conversation. Everyone loves Riley.
Christmas at my parents had me packing the car and bringing the dog in tow. He sat in the front seat like an angel and didn't so much as make a sound. My own dog gets put in a crate for the entirety at our parents because he goes to the washroom in the house and is a complete mental case. Riley pranced in slowly, let everyone get accustomed to him and he didn't leave my side. He was a great comic relief in certain needed moments and really just had love to give. Sometimes there is strength and comfort in quiet and calm. He doesn't say much, but you know he's there.
I can tend to hibernate in this season. Taking care of a dog reminds you that you must get up and take care of them, even if you don't feel like it. It means you don't open your backyard door, because it's a condo so up and down you go whenever he needs to go. I realize that most of you reading this are parents, and that you are probably rolling your eyes at me. But it's important for me to get my sense of responsibility back. To care for something other than myself. My job. My house. My spouse. My own dog won't let me care for him the way I want to.
They say that the grass isn't always greener on the other side...but sometimes it is. Sometimes you have to trust another, even if something in your past has bitten you hard. Afterall, he's giving his trust in me, a total stranger, left and expected to feed and care for it.
I came to Toronto to get inspired by the city. Instead I found it in a dog.
Love is, a four legged word.