Years ago I had a friend who was in therapy. She told me that her therapist had given her the following advice; first, get a plant. When you can keep it alive and thriving for more than six months, get yourself a pet. If you can maintain its health and happiness and nobody reports you to the RSPCA for abandonment or worse, then think about having a relationship with a human being.
I wish I had taken notice of this when my marriage broke up. My husband and I had kept a few pot plants in the house, and one by one they withered and died as I nursed my shattered soul over too much wine, immersing myself in a pool of misery which was akin to swimming through mud for the first few months. There wasn’t much room for being green fingered. At the same time, I was attempting to look after our dog, Mowgli, and here is a story in itself.
My ex husband walked out on me and my little girl when she was just four, on Valentine’s Day and the day after I had fallen down the stairs (not drunk for once in my life!) and broken my foot, causing an impressive metatarsal shatter that was similar to one David Beckham had around the time, or so I was excitedly told by the football fanatic doctor who x-rayed me.
We had acquired a puppy just six months previously, a wonderful ball of energy who was so extraordinarily full of love and joy, whilst simultaneously being utterly devoid of sense, the ability to be trained and even the merest hint of a brain. Given the timing of the marriage split (February), the roads were covered in sheet ice, snow lay around in piles of exhaust-fume blackened sludge, and temperatures were not particularly kind.
The dog had boundless energy and could have easily handled a couple of ten mile walks in the morning, followed by a quick swim across the English Channel and back again in time for his kibble. My daughter was small and had short four-year-old’s legs and not the slightest inclination to walk further than to the corner shop and back for sweets. I had a pot on my leg and was on crutches. You might say we were in something of a pickle.
We muddled by though, gratefully accepting the help of wonderful friends and family, taking the dog out wherever possible and throwing balls for him in the field at the bottom of the road in order to tire him out, trying to remain sanguine when he ate our coats and shoes, biting my lip and fighting back the tears when I would hobble home on my crutches to find yet another piece of expensive furniture that he had ripped apart in a fit of pique at being left on his own for longer than half an hour. One time, he managed to open the kitchen cupboard under the sink and pull out its entire contents; scores of plastic bags were shredded and strewn around the floor, intermingled with two supersize sack’s worth of dog kibble which he had opened with his teeth, bottles of detergents and washing up liquid had been chewed and spilt all over the wooden floor, mixing with the other debris to create a sloppy, slippy, horrendous mess that took me hours to clean up.
After six months, I gave the dog to a re-homing place nearby. He was only one year old, and I knew that if a dog lover with more time and energy on their hands than I had at the time, took him on, they would be able to build him up to become a fine adult dog. He just needed patience and time and lots of long walks – three things that I was not able to provide him with at the time. After parting with my beloved puppy, I should have taken the hint; relationships with humans were never going to work for me whilst I was in that place. I had such a longing, however, to rebuild my family, to find a replacement Dad for the one who had buggered off with somebody else that I wasn’t as discerning as I might have been in my choice of boyfriends.
I remember at the time simply craving a family unit, and it coloured my vision. With hindsight I should have just waited until Mr. Right (who is currently asleep upstairs) came along and swept me off in a cloud of happiness. Could have, would have, should have. And I hope, Mowgli, that wherever you found yourself, you had a happy life and understood that we loved you so much. I really, truly, wish that I had kept you and rebuffed humans (in the boyfriend sense) for a while. I wish I could have made you in to the dog that you should have been. I’m sorry.