I was 25 when I first met Spot. The squatters on East 9th Street and Avenue D called him Magic. They called him this because he chewed all the wires in the abandoned building they lived in but never got electrocuted. I wondered if their building had electricity. They said he was 8 weeks old. He had 3 sisters they managed to find home for. But Magic, still in the dirty hand print laden Budweiser box hadn’t been so lucky. At least not yet.
At 25 I had a shaved head, not as a statement but from a bad dye job. I lived precariously in East Harlem, was performing in Macbeth at a Methodist church on West 4th, rehearsing for a Moby Dick adaptation, wrote pages and pages of colorfully erratic poetry, smoked a pack of Marlboro Reds a day, ate rice and beans for $2.00 accompanied by a 50 cent coffee for dinner. My apartment had no furniture. I worked as a barista in Gramercy Park and sometimes did the over night shift at a call messaging center in Chelsea. I lived on $5.00 a day. $15 if we hit the pub. I walked 80 blocks to work to save the $1.25 subway fare. I was by no means rooted, nor ready to be responsible for a life.
But here was that life. Curled up in a box, a ball of black silky fur, one white paw, ears that didn’t quite stand up, but didn’t lay down. His face and legs were brindle and when I picked him up he had a little pot belly and a white chest. He licked my face, moved his legs about in the air like a turtle just pulled up from the ground. The squatter with the dreadlocks showed me how to hold him appropriately. Spot and I looked at each other and in that moment I had no choice but to take him. He had made me his. And we would go on together from this point forward.
And go on we did. We made homes in East Harlem, Washington Heights, Midwood, Chinatown, Chelsea and the West Village. We would walk the Hudson River north from 155th Street up to the George Washington Bridge, passing the lighthouse painted red and white. Here he would run off leash, greeting the few fishermen we met, chasing squirrels, rolling in the unkempt grass. On the way home we would stop for hot dogs, one for Spot and I to split and another for Mike, the homeless man who rescued us from a dog attack one August afternoon. And when Spot would lay at Mike’s feet, Mike would split his hot dog with him too.
In Chinatown we would sneak into the abandoned baseball field next to the Manhattan Bridge late night after I finished my shift at the bar. The chain and lock hung just loose enough for Spot and I to squeeze through. I would sip my coffee and let him run the bases. In the darkness I could trace him by his white paw as he ran. On occasion he would chase the rats from the dug out and send me running, squealing, around the bases myself. He and our rescue cats, Mercer and Charlie, and I all slept cuddled up in my twin bed. Spot would be in the nook of my bent knees, Charlie at my chest, and Mercer curled in a ball against Spot. Even when the heat was out in January, we were never cold.
When I felt like the world was crumbling beneath me, when my heart got broken, when I was lonely or scared, dark or blue, Spot would lay his head on my lap and watch me. He would let out a deep sigh as if to tell me he understood. And as much as I saved his life that hot July day of 1998, he saved mine multiple times. Every decision I made was based upon the fact that Spot waiting for me at home. I needed to be there for him, feed him, care for him, walk him. And thus I became rooted.
Spot clearly knew I needed him too. When off leash at the beach or on the Hudson, he never went beyond 50 feet from me. He would run up and back and around me over and over. And any time he was running ahead he looked back repeatedly to make sure I was still there. It was as if he was letting me know, “hey lady, I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you.” And he was right, we belonged to one another. In those first years together, bouncing from apartment to apartment, living on nearly nothing, Spot became my best friend.
In those early days of walking for hours before I headed out for work we made a pact. That when it was time for him to go, he would do so quickly. There wouldn’t be months of drawn out agony and pain. That when it was time, it would be time, no question about it.
14 years, marriage and 2 kids later, Spot told me it was time. He had been chasing his tail just weeks before, spinning in circles and falling down once he got a hold of it, then climbing back onto his feet with pride. We had already lost Charlie and Mercer. He now had the company of Skully, a gray tabby found on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx, and Scrappy, the beagle mix found in Tennessee. Spot came to me and laid his head on my lap as Superstorm Sandy raged around us. And 2 days later, once the generators were on at the vet, I took him for his last walk. There were no questions to be asked. He hadn’t eaten or drank in 2 days. He could hardly stand up. And his eyes told me it was time. I sat with him on the floor, his head on my lap, stroking that black silky fur. I thanked him for saving my life, for making me a better person, for teaching me how to love unconditionally. I thanked him for protecting me, for loving my children, for taking me on at least 15,330 walks. I told him it was ok to go. He looked up at me, listening as he had done thousands of times before, and let out one last deep sigh.
Yesterday my husband, kids and I took a trip to visit a puppy. The people called her Angel because of the rescue circumstances. She is a shepherd/lab mix like Spot, but chocolate brown and tan with hazel eyes. He ears don’t quite stand up or lay flat. She is 16 weeks old and still a clumsy puppy. When you pick her up she licks your face and excitedly moves her legs through the air like a turtle. When we arrived at the house the foster dad was holding her, just as the squatter had held Spot. Our eyes met and she instantly made me hers. Only this time she got 4 humans, 2 cats, and another dog. And because of Spot she is getting a rooted owner, one with a family, furniture in her house, and a business to run. She’s getting the Spot approved version of me, the one he shaped and made whole. We will call her Murphy. I fully expect her to save my life a few times. And I’m looking forward to no less than 15, 330 walks. I can’t help but feel Spot would be pleased.