It’s 8:15AM on a Wednesday morning.
I’m sitting at the kitchen table, right beside our big front window with an iced coffee, our little boring street serving as the perfect morning backdrop for some writing. Straight ahead of me, our three dogs are sleeping on the couch. I keep a watchful eye on them, one in particular.
I know that I should write now because in less than 12 hours, our lives will more than likely be completely changed. And if/when it comes, I won’t be able to write the story I want to share right now, in this moment, because my grief will take over and tell a much sadder story. But as of right now, I’ve got three girls snoring on the couch, coffee, and more composure than I had yesterday, so here we go…
Let me tell you about a beautifully complex relationship I have. Some may refer to it a “love-hate” relationship…I’d always call it a “love-I don’t particularly like you” thing. Regardless, it’s been our shtick for the last 2 and a half years and we’ve grown more than used to it. Never has a dynamic made me more grateful or more annoyed, I think, ever.
Me & a 10 and a half year old English Bulldog that hung the moon and the stars for the man who promised me forever.
Let me tell you about a girl named Stella.
Stella has been with my fiancé since Day 1. He got her with an awful ex-girlfriend down in Florida. (I’m not bitter, she’s just awful.) When they broke up, Jon pleaded for the dog. So the ex said she’d only give him 100% custody of Stella if she could take every single piece of furniture in the condo they shared with her, forks and the toilet paper roll included. Jon agreed. He then proceeded to sleep on the floor, in a dog bed beside Stella, for God knows how many days until finally his friends told him he was being pathetic and drove him to a mattress store for a bed.
From there on out, it was Jon and Stella. The very best of friends. He took her absolutely everywhere with him, off the leash, the ultimate sidekick. He never stopped dotting on her or talking about her in those few and far between times that she wasn’t right beside him. His friends knew, he family knew…this was his ride-or-die. When another major relationship came and went, leaving him down, his biggest comfort/support was Stella. There was always Stella.
When Jon got talked into moving back to Michigan 4 years ago to help his family with his father’s business, Stella set off for the adventure with him. A move from Florida to Michigan was a very tough adjustment, as you can imagine. But living solo in a rental home less than a mile from his family’s shop didn’t seem quite as depressing when he was coming home to Stella. When his old friends all had new lives and Jon didn’t feel like he quite fit in, he still had Stella. When he went on one bad Friday night date after another with a random Tinder girl, he got to come home to Stella.
That’s where I come in…
Like all great love stories, Jon and I met on Tinder.
He’d been living back in Michigan for over a year when we first met. I had been back in Michigan less than 2 weeks. (Clearly, I waste no time.)
I remember our first few dates, him talking about Stella and showing me photos. I relocated from Nashville with my 2 doggie daughters, Deliah and Delaney, so I found it adorable that here was a single guy that was so good to his dog. Around our 5th or 6th date, I took him up on his invitation to cook me dinner and went over to his house for the very first time.
The first time I met Stella kinda felt like walking into a batting cage and having the pitching machine malfunction. Let’s just say, she required a lot of attention, ha. The moment I sat down, she was pushing slobbery toys into my lap, growling like she’s a ferocious alley dog (a la the street dogs from “Secret Life of Pets”), not letting Jon come near me without standing or sitting in between us. He cooked her fillet to eat before he completed our meal of salmon. When sitting on the couch, he sat on the inside corner, putting his arm around me. Stella, who was sitting up as straight as possible on the couch directly beside me, faced us and made me feel like “personal space” was not her thing. While she was being pet with the same arm that Jon had around me, I started to develop motion sickness and requested to trade places the second half of the movie. Romantic, eh? It was right around this time that I started to put it together…this dog was not going to lay down without a fight.
A few dates later, I would soon realize that if I thought my problem was just a possessive dog, I was mistaken. My problem was also an obsessive dog owner… yes, you read that right. There is such a thing as loving your dog a little too much.
Full disclosure, a girl he had gone out with a few times before me had actually used Stella as the excuse when saying she couldn’t see him anymore. So I mean, the connection is real as is witnessing it, ha. And truth be told, I had many conversations with my family and close friends when I was describing how over-the-top amazing this new guy I’ve been seeing was but that I really didn’t think it was going to work out…because of his dog.
If I knew anything, it’s that one must never feel they have to choose between someone and their dog. If you didn’t like my Deliah or Delaney, you were out, plain & simple. (I’ve honestly broken up with dudes that yelled at/seemed annoyed by my dogs.). So I was cautious. I waited another handful of dates to bring up my concerns. When I did, he thought I was joking. What, a guy who loves his dog too much? There could be worse things, you know.
Yes, there could be worse things.
Like breaking up over a dog.
He soon understood that compromises had to be made in order to have both a happy girlfriend and a dog. Thankfully he found me worth it. And I tried SO hard those first 6 months to be patient. The hardest sacrifice was kicking Stella out of the bed. You know how when you sleep beside a little kid and it’s like they are the hands of a clock…somehow they do an entire body rotation throughout the night, kicking you in the face, vagina, and everywhere else? Well, imagine if that kid was also snoring and blowing farts in it’s sleep. Now imagine if you were sleeping next to two of them.
So yes, I was adamant about the dog-less bed.
As time went on, I’d like to tell you that Stella and I forged an inseparable bond. But not quite. When I moved my two dogs into the house, it took some adjusting. She didn’t want to eat for me. Or go for walks with me. Only for her Daddy. She was like an emotional ninja. She knew how to play it. Correction, she still knows how to play it.
I’d always laugh when I’d describe it to people, “We have a very stepmom/stepchild thing going on here. I love you but I don’t get you so let your father deal with it.”
When discussing our wedding coming up this October, I joked and said, “We should have the bridal march play and send Stella down the aisle in a veil. Everyone would lose their shit.” They would because EVERYONE that knows Jon would get it.
But unfortunately for all of us, the reality of that is very slim.
Stella fell ill on Saturday afternoon and was rushed to the emergency vet. After almost 2 full days in an oxygen chamber, being pumped with fluids and antibiotics, we were told that she would not recover. The fluid they found in the x-ray on Saturday had spread by the next day and they feared it was heart disease. She has an intestinal blockage that requires surgery, however, with this fluid around her heart, she wouldn’t survive the surgery.
Monday was one of the hardest days I can recall in recent memory. Death seemed swift and unforgiving and we weren’t prepared for any of it. The vet advised putting her down rather than putting her through the surgery.
How could this be? We just had her at the lake less than a week ago. She was playing with her sisters in the yard the day before. Jon takes her to the vet every few months for nothing more than to hear, once again, what an outstandingly healthy dog she is for her age. We feed her the best foods, she’s on heart worm medication. How is this even possible?
The vet told us the surgery would cost $3,000. We’d already paid over that to stabilize her at the emergency vet over the weekend. No one ever wants to feel like they’re putting a price-tag on their child, but the mere thought of going broke and having her die on an operating table was something I knew we couldn’t live with.
So we brought her home Monday afternoon.
It is now 11:04am.
I needed a break. I got choked up writing so I had the “brilliant idea” of rushing off in attempt to make a 10AM kickboxing class to release some of this anxiety. The moment I backed out of the drive, I saw that I had 10 minutes to get there. Then I realized that we hadn’t put our trash or recycling out, so I went back inside to bring it out to the curb. When I tried to leave again, I forgot my purse and phone on the counter. So back inside I went, only to see Stella sitting upright on the couch, waiting for me.
I beckoned her off the couch (where she’s been in a napping coma all morning) to come outside. She immediately jumped off on her own, walked to the back door, and found the nearest stick in the backyard and started chewing. It has now been almost an hour later and we are still outside. Tugging on the new toy I bought her a couple days ago. Soaking up sunshine on the little deck Jon built the other week while I was in Nashville.
The hardest thing about all of this is that some hours, she seems like she always has… a playful, toy possessive, give me all the belly rubs girl. Other times, we feel like we have to check to make sure she’s breathing.
The emotional rollercoaster of this is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
We take her to the vet this afternoon for one final x-ray and both of us have accepted what we might have to do by the end of the day.
I will say this though…no matter if this is her last day with us or whether we have more, it is a blessing. The despair we felt Monday morning after the vet told us our options compared to what I feel in this current moment are night and day. Even if it was only a few extra days, it was more time than we thought we had a few days ago and I am so incredibly thankful.
My heart truly has expanded in it’s brokenness throughout all this.
I have always loved Jon. I will always love Jon. Forever does not scare me in the least. But in the last few days, I’ve physically felt this love deepen.
What once was obnoxious is now gut-wrenchingly special. I know he’s absorbing every slobbery kiss, butt wiggle, belly rub, every compliment she gets to hear him tell her. He keeps reiterating how this dog saved him from the lowest of lows. I already know this, but I listen and nod anyway. I can relate. If I didn’t have my Deliah and Delaney when I plummeted to rock bottom time and time again years ago, I don’t know what I would have done. There was something about being able to cry to my dogs, having them in the room with me when the loneliness felt unbearable. But there was a difference between Jon and I. I’ve always had close family and friends rally around me, I’ve always a shoulder to cry on, whether I took it or not is another story. But there were times in Jon’s life where he truly only had Stella to get him through. And thankfully, she did just that.
I am forever indebted to this 70 pound, wrinkly faced, fart machine of a dog.
As sure as Jon gave her a wonderful life, she ensured that I had the best place to land when I finally found it. His love is as close to unconditional as I’ve known (from someone outside of my family, of course) and I know that is because of Stella.
In a weirdly poetic way, I feel like Stella and I have come to the ultimate understanding.
I acknowledge that she made him the loving human he is. That she brought him out of the darkest times in order to not just survive it, but be better for it. To be ready and waiting and willing for my crazy ass to walk in and change everything.
And she understands that Jon doesn’t need her to be the only thing that gets him through anymore. He has me so he’ll never be alone again. He’s in good hands.
Jon and I have both suffered some major losses and some very close calls in our short time together, but I have no doubt that this will be one of the toughest things we’ll ever go through. And for the first time, maybe ever, I understand what it’s like to truly hold someone up and love them through it. To deeply hurt for someone else. To be a rock. To be a true partner.
So I guess we can add that to the list of what Stella Robocop Drouillard has done.
She made a wife out of me.
Truce, you “angel from Heaven”.
I love you, Stella.
The luckiest Stepmom ever