Kenya made space in my heart for love. Before her, there was only me and vague words. We think about hearts being a specific size or shape. In fact, they are intentionally flexible by design. They have a purpose. They hold space within us. We condition them to extend our lives. If you’ve loved unconditionally, you understand why this organ is kept in a vulnerable bone-cage at our core. The brain is locked down. The skull is solid with holes for your senses. The organized filters through which our mind processes the data of life. It is a shield to keep things away from the delicate tissue of the brain. The smallest bump or bruise to our grey-matter can be fatal. The heart is built for living. We are constantly trying to push it beyond its limits. Its shield is open in places. Intentionally reckless and challenging. There are holes and chambers for rushing into and out of. The heart intends to beat and be beaten. It rattles and rails against its enclosure. It pulls and pushes the essence of us. It provides the tides for the oceans within. Before Kenya, there was no tide within me. She was the missing moon.
I never wanted a dog. T did, it was on The List, right after “Move-in Together” and just before “Get Married.” So, he went and got a puppy. He gifted it to me so we could share the experience. The only living things you should gift are plants and yeast. Life cannot be given. It can be lived. It can be shared. It can be ended. Life belongs to those who live. You cannot gift it. Sativa, the gift-dog, was part of T’s life plan. Like all living things, the dog didn’t follow the plan, it was busy being a puppy. The gift-dog chewed his favorite shoes, his wallet, the couch, the book titled “Don’t Shoot the Dog.” T considered the gift-dog as mine so I was to blame. I was not consistent with the training. Sativa ate the book before I could read it. You can’t control the lives or actions of others, even if you love them. Sativa was his own being. I respected his boundaries and put my shoes and important things where he couldn’t reach them. Kenya did the same. She held him accountable for his behavior when she witnessed it. She encouraged delinquency when needed. We gave each other space. This worked for us.
My “I’m-leaving-thanks-for-the-life-experience” note was in the Birkenstocks I’d given T for his Birthday. After Sativa chewed his pair to unrecognizable pieces in March, he almost took him to the pound. This life he’d gifted to me was disposable. Ironic when you consider I was only allowed 3 squares of TP, “For the environment!” T was big on keeping score for the environment. He weaponized gift giving by adding an ‘experience’ to every gift. T’s gift for my 22nd birthday was a trip to his college friend’s wedding. I was gifted the experience of being quiet and looking pretty in Texas. On T’s birthday, I had to work but when I got home I woke him up and gave him the shoes. The guilt that flashed in his eyes told me he’d already been sleeping with who ever she was. We experienced irreconcilable differences after that. It was leaving Kenya that broke me. She was not on any list but once I knew her, I loved her. My heart was flooded with her. I didn’t know what to do with that but I could not stay and I could not take her. She would be fine without me. I would not. I made it work with T for two more years.
Kenya chose me. All of me. From my cold toes to morning-breath to three-day-old still-wet hair, she never shied away. She was always a yes to adventure or staying in. Kenya never told me to smile and was always game for a good cry or howling. She preferred howling outside and never missed an opportunity to indulge in her primal, canid urges. She never missed an opportunity to run. I’m a terrible runner, so I gave her space to run. She always came back when I called, in her own time. We spent hours howling at each other in the forests and across the deserts of the southwest. Almost as many hours as we spent gently humming to each other or singing along with the radio. Kenya learned to sing from the whales off the California coast. She was a terrible swimmer so she sang whale songs. I always came back to shore, in my own time. She made sacrifices to stay with me as well. Sativa ran off the spring T and I finally called it quits. Kenya went into witness-protection. I hid her from him. I did it for me. I did it for the stretchmarks on my heart. In the fall, Kenya and I started over and were together as much as possible. Sometimes life’s a bitch and sometimes bitches need to reclaim their lives.
Kenya had been abandoned on a beach near Del Mar. She had a name tag and hungry eyes. She came into my life like the evening tide, slowly and inevitably. She shaped my heart. I was in the waves with T. I didn’t realize it was time to leave until all our stuff was wet. I wasn’t mad. You can’t be mad at the tide anymore than you can hold a grudge with the sun for setting. The tide was in, your stuff is wet, the sun has set. This is Kenya. Life is forever better. You don’t think about the tide receding. You don’t consider the tide may never come in again. You just become accustomed to the musty smell of wet dog and the sound of contented sighs from the foot of your bed. You cannot plan a rescue but if you’re lucky you find you are a part of one.
Desiree Ducharme is a writer. Her semi-voluntary, health-adjacent sabbatical has ended. She has returned to full time employment at Powell’s City of Books in a dragon-adjacent capacity. She resumed her previous schedule of imagining nonsense while on public transportation, which is less populated yet somehow more post-apocalypse-y than it was in March. She spends her days verbally and non-verbally asking people to fix their masks and step back. She longs for a day where she can complain about her “buyer’s wing” being sore. So, fix your mask and step back. Read more words at her website desireeducharme.com.