For eight long years, Frankie had dreamed of becoming a mother. After relocating from Europe to Australia, suffering several broken love affairs and earning one PhD, she wondered if she'd ever settle the dilemma that had plagued her antipodean adventure: which of her two countries to call home. That is until she woke one Sunday morning with my head snuggled into her neck and our bodies intertwined and realized, with absolute clarity, that she WAS home. Because home, it turned out, was with me. And being with me meant she was ready to make her dream come true. Frankie was ready to get a puppy.
Having been on my own for most of my life, I was still figuring out how to be in a relationship. I had no adequate modelling on how to parent. Or a family. Sure, I had timeshared a cat with my neighbour for twelve months while her human was away. Unfortunately after four months in our care she was too fat to walk up the stairs by herself. Due to our erratic work schedules and now obvious lack of communication skills, it turns out we were both feeding her two meals a day plus snacks. Affectionately known as fat penny to the building's other residents, she did seem to enjoy her time with us. A LOT.
In need of some reassurance about my suitability for parenthood, I turned to my best friend Erin, the over-protective mother to a slightly neurotic whippet called Wally. Having dated every available, age-appropriate lesbian in Australia and several from New Zealand, an exasperated Erin up and moved to New York - where she was busy dating every available, age-appropriate lesbian in the tri-state area.
"How's Wally?" I asked via Skype, our preferred method of communication these days. "
Look at his new snow outfit!" she said excitedly, forcing the unimpressed looking dog to model his new jacket and boots for me.
"Very stylish but why is he wearing them inside?" I asked, slightly concerned for the poor animal's welfare.
"We're taking photos for Facebook. He loves it."
I felt myself warming to the idea of dressing a cute little puppy up in outfits and photographing him for my friends. "And how's day-care going?" I asked, remembering that Wally had been accepted at a prestigious centre in the East Village.
"He's fitting in perfectly. He made a new friend and look at this!" she said excitedly, holding up a block mounted artist's impression of her dog that the centre gave her. "Wally as art." We both erupted into laughter at the absurdly ugly picture. "I know. It's total New York bullshit," she giggled. "But I love it!"
Seeing Erin so happy with Wally calmed any anxiety I was having about getting a puppy of my own. "I'm ready," I announced to Frankie later that evening. "Let's get a cute little puppy to play with!"
"Really????" she asked suspiciously. "You're sure? Puppies are hard work you know. We have to..."
I kissed her softly on the mouth, stopping her mid-sentence. "We're getting a puppy," I whispered softly.
"We're getting a puppy..." GF whispered back, tears filling her eyes as she hugged me tight.
So we began visiting breeders. And shelters. And more breeders. And more shelters until we finally found GF's perfect baby. A tiny, deaf French bulldog puppy called Hugo. Hugo was having a tough time finding a family who wanted a deaf dog. He looked confused and sad and disoriented, which bought out all of Frankie's protective instincts and gave her a major oxytocin rush.
"This is him, baby. He's soooooo beautiful. This is our boy," she said, cradling him gently in her arms as he looked up at her with his sad brown eyes and tried to lick her entire face.
"Wow he's ugly. What a weird head." I thought to myself, trying not to be alarmed at the sight of dog saliva on my girlfriend's face. Back at home, I vibered photos of Hugo to Erin for her expert opinion.
"Yes he's ugly. Very weird head," she concurred.
GF excitedly sent photos of Hugo to her best gay boyfriend. "Bahahaha he looks like a scrotum," he guffawed uproariously down the phone line.
"Well if anyone would know about scrotums, it's you." I shot back, discouraged by the negative feedback.
"True darl. Actually last night I was...."
Not in the mood to hear another sexcapade story, I cut him off loudly. "Hanging up now. Bye". I reassured myself that it was fine if Hugo had a head only a mother could love. "GF thinks he's beautiful and that's all that matters. Besides, he comes home in four days so there's no turning back now."
When Hugo came home in his crate, he looked like a tiny, terrified little mouse, way too vulnerable to be taken away from his family. I felt an overwhelming urge to pick him up and reassure him that he was safe. Hugo felt an overwhelming urge to run as far away from me as possible and ended up bivouacking under the bed with no plans to ever come out.
"I told you to keep the bedroom door shut!" Frankie angrily scolded me, her perfectly planned homecoming ruined. Two hours later, Frankie had used food to coax little Hugo out from his barracks and they were curled up happily on the sofa. Where they slept. Together. All night.
Frankie arranged to work from home for the next few months so she could bond with her new baby. They quickly settled into their new routine of napping on the sofa, playing, napping some more, answering a few emails and exploring the neighbourhood. I'd never seen this side of Frankie before. She was so tender, loving and protective of her puppy, completely devoted to his needs.
"I understand motherhood now. You never have any time for yourself," she announced as she collapsed, exhausted, onto the sofa at the end of week one.
"Or for your girlfriend..." I thought as I made dinner and offered to look after Hugo the next day. "Maybe you could even spend the night in bed," I suggested casually, not optimistic about my chances of getting sex. Frankie seemed to have lost any interest in sex. She spent her evenings cuddling Hugo on the sofa, where they fell asleep in front of the TV. I tried not to be jealous or concerned by the obvious changes in Frankie and to our relationship. Rationally I knew that this was only a small moment in time and it was truly beautiful to see her this happy and content.
The next morning she staggered out of bed at 11am dressed in her Kermit the frog coloured tracksuit pants, a ripped t-shirt with no bra, fluffy hair and socks with thongs. Then she drank her coffee, grabbed Hugo and took him for a walk around the neighbourhood. My super-stylish Italian woman was now walking the dog dressed as a homeless person.
"Am I overreacting???" I asked our friend Sofia when she rang to ask why we hadn't turned up to brunch. "We haven't had sex in a week, we don't even sleep in the same bed anymore and now she's out in public dressed as a homeless person. Was brunch really today? Sorry, we forgot."
Another week and still no sex later, Frankie had to go into work for the day, leaving her no choice but to trust Hugo to me. She left a detailed list of instructions and apprehensively walked out the door. Then she came back, kissed Hugo goodbye again, sternly warned me not to overfeed him and finally left for work. One and a half hours late.
"I'll be home for lunch," she said nervously as she drove off.
"He'll still be alive," I replied reassuringly.
Hugo and I decided to walk to the post office. I went to put his harness on him but he ran and hid under the bed. Four liver treats later, I was lovingly applying his sunscreen to his ears. Hugo bit my face, jumped off my lap and hit his head on the coffee table. After five minutes of close observation he seemed no more confused than normal, so we headed out the door.
Perhaps fearing for his safety, Hugo wasn't very interested in walking with me. In fact he used every wall, fence and doorway to help rub his harness off his pudgy little body. "Do dogs need fur?" I pondered as I realized that by the end of this walk he would no longer have any. When he wasn't rubbing his harness off he was sitting on the footpath watching cars and refusing to move until I gave him a liver treat. Our ten minute walk turned into a one hour forty minute endurance test, complete with amused onlookers laughing at my expense.
"We have a Frenchie," announced a stern looking woman as her two children smothered little Hugo with hugs and kisses. "They're very stubborn. You really need to show them who's boss." she added in a disapproving tone.
"If you're so good at this, you have him then." I thought angrily, wishing I could give her the dog and run far, far away, back to my old life.
Finally back home, I made lunch while Frankie played happily with her perfectly behaved little angel.
"I miss him so much. How was your morning?" she asked.
"Yeah, great," I said enthusiastically. "We went for a nice long walk."
After lunch, Frankie took Hugo downstairs. "Why's he got diarrhea? Have you been over feeding him?" she asked anxiously.
"No no. Just a few liver treats because he was such a good boy," I lied, trying to discharge her anxiety.
Frankie reluctantly went back to work and Hugo got on with his day. He tangled himself in the TV chords, almost pulling the flat screen down on top of him. Then he chewed his way through the heels of my favourite Sergio Rossi pumps, diarrhoea'd all over my neighbours doormat, hid my modem then vomited in my leather handbag.
"I can't do this. If this is my new life, I don't want it." I sobbed at Erin when she answered my Skype call.
"It's ok," she said soothingly. "Puppies are hard. Especially if you have no idea what you're doing. You need to be firmer and more confident. In a few months it will be much easier. You'll see."
"And what about Frankie?" I spluttered in between sobs.
"Frankie loves you. There's enough room in her heart for you and Hugo. She'll get it together. I promise."
A few hours later Frankie threw herself excitedly through the door, scooped up the exhausted puppy, sat on the sofa and cuddled him contentedly as he slept on her lap. I sat down next to them, quietly wondering if she would ever cuddle me on the sofa again. Hugo stayed snuggled up with Frankie for the next few hours. He was too dozy to get up and play and didn't even wake to feed. His listless little body seemed to be getting hotter and hotter and he was finding it hard to breathe.
We ran to the car and drove to the emergency vet centre where we spent the next two and a half hours. After Hugo was examined I held him while Frankie spoke to the vet. He snuggled into me and opened his big brown eyes slightly, looking at me like he was pleading for help. I felt waves of panic rising from deep within.
"Please don't let him die." I prayed to no one in particular. "Please don't do that to Frankie."
Noticing the panicked look on my face, the vet tried to soothe my nerves. "It's ok mum. It's a virus but he'll be ok. He's got the two of you looking after him."
Unable to hold it together any longer, Frankie promptly burst into tears. She cuddled Hugo's frail little body all the way home, tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.
"It's ok. We're here. We love you." she kept saying as she kissed his tiny head.
Seeing Frankie so vulnerable and little Hugo so fragile broke my heart open and all of my protective feelings flooded out. This was supposed to be the moment when Frankie's dream came true. Not the moment when she got yet another lesson in heartbreak and loss.
Back at home we cuddled Hugo on the sofa, watching him sleep and waiting for signs of recovery. Somewhere near sunrise I woke to find him chewing contentedly on my shirt buttons. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes and excitedly licked my face. Instead of feeling alarmed at the dog saliva on my skin, I felt relief that our little guy was ok. Feelings of love washed over me as I kissed his smooshy little face.
As I sat there cuddling my little man and watching my beautiful girlfriend sleep, I was struck by how peaceful I felt. Tears filled my eyes as I realised that Frankie wasn't the only one who had waited a long time for this. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was really part of a family. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was home.
First published on www.lotl.com