A Walk in a Park

Yesterday, loneliness took up some space in my life . It had stayed from the day before, an uninvited, surprising weekend guest from this life of widowhood. Weekends are like that for me, sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes. Maybe it is for many people. Weeks are taken up by the day-to-day which sends me into a winddown by night time. But weekends? When time is a luxury and serves as a blaring reminder the once was of couplehood is gone, well, even after over two years, sometimes, I still feel the pangs of being alone, without Peter. But by Sunday, I wanted loneliness gone, and I decided to be rude to it. I looked at Barkley and told him, we’re going to a dog park.

Barkley is not the best with bigger dogs. He becomes aggressive to them out of fear. He’ll bite the air around him, make noise of snorts and growls, and shake – boy does he shake. I don’t take him to many dog parks for these very reasons. I’ve actually only taken him to about three. In my search yesterday for dog parks, I chose one that has a small dog area. Barkley is much better with smaller ones. After purchasing and printing out my day pass because I am a rule-follower thanks to my years of Catholic education and the fear of hell, I put on Barkley’s harness, put him in the car, buckled him up, and headed out. On the way, I started my warning conversation.

Me: Now Barkley, I need you to behave, okay? No dog is out to get you. They don’t even know you. I know because of your time on the streets you are possessive of space, and yes, a little defensive, but I promise you, I will be there for you. I am your person. You have protected me from my own sadness and alerted me of people at the door and around our house. I owe you, okay? If an all-that Chihuahua gets snippy with you, or a pug bullies you, or even a cute Dachshund turns on a dime and gets into your face, I’ll be there. I promise.

Barkley looks away and out the window.

Me: I know. It’s frightening. I get it. It’s hard for me to do something new too, especially see new people. Some of them might be the same as their dogs, you know? People say owners have personalities like their dogs. Or is it the other way around? Hmm. Doesn’t matter. It can be true. Take us for instance. You’re like a cat dog. Sure, you have some common traits of a dog like begging for scrapes, follow me around in loyalty, even play fetch for two seconds. But then there is your inner cat. You lay on the back of the couch, you won’t come when I call you, you jump on my lap and ask for pets when you feel like it, and you are temperamental.

Barkley sighs out a breath.

Me: Oh, you know you are, and that’s okay. I didn’t want a needy dog. Probably because I don’t do needy. At least, I never want to be needy. That’s why I have a hard time asking for help, or inviting myself places. I am like your cat side. I mean, I don’t lounge on the tops of couches. I’m too old. It’d be funny if I did. I am independent though. don’t ask for much. I do march to the beat of my own drum, not caring what anyone else hears. And I have your dog side. I get bored easy by the redundant like playing fetch. I do like food and I am fiercely loyal. Asking anyone in my life. So, I guess, Barkley it’s why we clicked right away. We understood each other.

Barkley, although tethered by a short leash, is still able to put his paws on the counsel and looks at me.

Me: Yep, meeting new people will be hard. It’s also hard for me to put myself out there too, especially when the comfort of Peter is gone, right? When he was alive, if I didn’t click with someone, or felt rejected, I had Peter to be my soft place to land. Now? It’s all me, right? It sometimes makes things a little scarier, a little lonelier. I mean, nothing says you’re on your own like an empty house on a weekend, right? But, you know, like you and your stray self, I’m a scraper. I don’t stay down too long. I figure out how to improve my mood, even if it’s a walk in this dog park.

Barkley looks down as if in thought, then goes to the window. He barks at a biker when we stop at a light.

Me: We’re almost there, Mr. BA. Hey. Let’s go in with the positive. We will be fine. It’ll be nice to walk, even in 90 degrees weather. It’ll be nice to get some exercise. Seeing people will be good for me, and sniffing new butts will be good for you. We are stepping out of our comfort zone and that’s exciting. I mean, I could stay in, wallow, think about the world going on around me, or I can join in. We can join in. What do you say?

Barkley’s body contorts itself into an excitable donut with a wagging tail as we pull into a parking spot of the dog park and other dogs walk by my car.

Me: Good! I like to see your excitement. Oh, but please, Barkley, be good, don’t be grumpy, don’t be scared, and above all else, don’t be mean. We’ll do this together, you and I. Okay, here we go.

Barkley takes off for the dog park as soon as I unclip him and open the door. My yells of his name are ignored as he goes into the gated area. He seems to know where the less intimidating dogs for him are playing. He stands at the entry to the small dog portion of the park. When I open the gate and Barkley goes in, a tiny dog greets him with a butt sniff. Barkley turns on her, but not in aggression, more in surprise. I explain to the owner that Barkley hasn’t been to dog parks often since I rescued him a year and half ago. With my chest out, I also to onto to explain Barkley is independent. The woman explains her dog loves everyone, and if on que, the dog comes up to me, and lays on her back for belly rubs. I oblige.

We continue to talk about our dogs as we watch them do a circle dance of butt sniffing. The woman brags her dog sits outside on a chair next to her without a leash. I tell her how cool that is and I can’t imagine Barkley just chilling next to me outside. Digging up something, I counter with my own brag of Barkley laying on the back of the couch. I know the brags aren’t even. I can tell she does too, by the look in her yes. She doesn’t say anything in response. At least she’s kind enough to let it go. Eventually, Barkley plays a game of chase with the tiny dog, even play bows a few time. Then, as quickly as Barkley started to play, he ends it, and moves down a path with the tiny dog trotting behind. We, their two owners, follow, talking, giving glimpses into our lives, our careers, our dogs.

When we are done, when Barkley is done, he stands panting by the exit gate. I say my good-byes. There is talk between the woman and I about meeting again, soon. I’m not sure if we will ever again, or maybe we will. I just know we are both interested, perhaps both lonely on this Sunday afternoon, and it felt good to converse.

I give Barkley some water when we get back to the car. I buckle him up and drive off, a little lighter.

Me: That wasn’t so bad, was it? She was interesting and her dog was adorable. It felt good to be out of the house and no longer in my head. I’m glad we did it…together. Thanks, Barkley Avenue.

Barkley lets out a big yawn, places his face on his paws and dozes off, the ride rocking his body to sleep.

Me: Agree. An afternoon of newness and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone has been exhausted. Go to sleep. We’ll be home soon.