When I was fifteen years old, my mom and I spent two weeks visiting my aunt in Paris. It was August, and my aunt told me that we came at the wrong time of the year, because everyone was away on vacation and there were no kids my age left in all of Paris. I discovered for myself that August was a bad time to visit because the heat is unbearable and my aunt didn’t believe in air-conditioning.
I remember noticing that there were dogs on the subway, but I don’t have a strong memory of the dogs on the streets of Paris. Maybe a lot of the French dogs were in the country for August with their owners.
A few weeks before we left for Paris, my dog, Delilah, died. And I missed her. The hope was that Paris would rejuvenate me, and Mom too. We would see the city of lights and be inspired, and hopeful. I’d spent two years learning French and being indoctrinated into the romance of Paris and cafes and the Seine and the museums. I didn’t know that I could still be depressed in Paris.
I had panic attacks. I was afraid of everything that summer: heights, food, buses. I was dizzy and sick to my stomach and anxious all the time. We found out later that my thyroid had burned out and that a lot of my symptoms were related to not having enough thyroid hormones, but at the time, I just felt awful. I was afraid to walk up the glass steps at a museum, because I could see the floor below me and I could picture myself slipping through the slatted steps to my death, like a long legged Flat Stanley. I kept trying to put my foot up on the next step. But I couldn’t do it.
It was a week and a half of that. Feeling frightened, and guilty for being such a burden, and lonely, and struggling to remember any of my two years of French.
And then we found the puppies. I thought we were just going from one flower shop to another. There are so many outdoor markets in Paris, for cheese and vegetables and flowers. But it never occurred to me there would be a row of puppy stores in the middle of it all.
Everyone in Paris seemed so aloof and sophisticated and cool and hard. And I am none of those things. All of my vulnerable, soft, lonely, hopeless feelings were rising to the surface. And then there were the puppies. And what are puppies but soft and loving and needy and vulnerable and desperate to be held and chosen and taken care of and shown attention.
I wanted to climb into the cage with the puppies and snuggle, but I was too big and the cages were too high off the ground. But I felt better. One nose kiss at a time, I started to feel better.