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I have this thing about giving my heart away.

I’m so shy, so reserved, so hesitant to intrude on someone’s space. I make friends s-l-o-w-l-y. And then keep them forever. Once I fall, it’s all over, and it’s all I can do to hang on. Losing that connection means losing the bit of my heart they’ve claimed. I guess I’m easily hurt. And yet, I keep giving that heart away.

Many, many years ago, I began s-l-o-w-l-y building a friendship with Meg. Chats at work in the library became lovely Thai lunches which evolved into pitchers of beer and karaoke. And one day I realized that this woman shared my brain.

There’s no other way to describe it. We just “got” each other. What we built in those months and years as we transitioned out of college, into marriages, grad schools, divorces, heartbreaks–it’s one of those indefinable once-in-a-lifetime-you’re-lucky kindred spirit kinds of friendships. She is the person who knows everything about me and loves me anyway. She is the person I would move mountains for.

She is the friend who once sent me that down bathrobe.

And for the last 11 years we have lived at least 1000 miles apart. I last saw her, last hugged her, at her wedding seven years ago. Oh, that ache. The ache of that distance is like a phantom pain from an amputation. It hurts, that part that is no longer there.

Two weeks ago Meg lost her dear, wonderful beagle Gertie. I knew Gert. I loved Gert. I had a hand in bringing Gert and Meg together. And, having lost my soul dog four years ago, I knew that hurt. The grief I felt when Moxie died was a vacuum that threatened to suck in and destroy everything in my world. That grief had now descended on Meg. My Meg.

All that week I thought of her. I cried for her. I remembered Gertie. And in doing so, I remembered Moxie. The thing about loving things is that it hurts. It hurts good at first, and then it hurts like hell later. All those hurts jumbled together in my brain and my heart, and in living that week through Meg’s heart, I relived Moxie’s death. I cried.

At the end of the week I went to evaluate a dog who was being surrendered to GSP Rescue of New England due to a change in his owner’s living situation. On the drive over I talked to my mom about Gertie, about Meg, about Moxie. There was more crying. Gert had always despised Moxie.

“I like to think that somewhere, she’s taking advantage of this opportunity to snarl at him,” I said, sniffling.

My mother made it through the door before I did, and spoke firmly: “You can not fall in love with this dog.” Then Prince stuck his big huge head around her and nuzzled up to me as though we’d always known each other. And indeed, we must have, for Prince is more like Moxie–in looks, temperament, and mannerisms–than I had imagined possible.

“It’s too late,” I said, through a fresh rush of tears. We sat on the floor together and snuggled, his big head and soft ears fitting into my lap like interlocking puzzle pieces. It was as though, with all the dog energy I’d been sending into the cosmos all week, I had somehow conjured him, Moxie’s doppelgänger.

Four days later, Prince came to live with us. In some ways, it is like living with a ghost. I find dried bubbles of dog slobber on the table and counters, evidence of his “surfing.” He groans when Andrew rubs his ears a certain way. He wants to be with me all the time. And yet, we’re all enjoying discovering the bits of Prince that are his alone–like the way he likes to roll on his back in the chair and watch us all, upside down, and the way he lets my little boy love him–hard. Even Rigby is beginning to believe that this interloper might not be all bad.

And I’ve given my heart, yet again. I know that this means that sometime in the future I will bleed, it will hurt like hell, and I will walk around like an open wound. That good hurt, the loving things hurt? It’s too powerful to withstand. We need that commune with other souls, which I guess is why we return again and again to the beings who hold the power to destroy us. It is why we hold our children and send them into the world, why we lay ourselves bare in front of our pets, why we struggle through long distance separations. We must love each other, or die.

Meg is still crying for Gert. As far as my experience proves, she probably always will. But she has opened her heart again, to another rescue beagle needing love. And I’m pretty sure that when that wave of love for Ellla hits, it will knock her over and suck her in. That seems to be the way of it.

I think of Meg every single morning these days. You see, this new dog likes to get up early. And as soon as he’s up, he needs to do his business. This Mama, who is not a morning person, feels slightly less than loving at those moments. Mornings are still cold up here, even in March.

That down bathrobe? It’s been seeing some heavy use lately. It’s warm, too. Love is like that.