There are stories you never want to write. The ones that become irrevocably true once the ink leaves your pen.
This is one of those stories.
Max lived a good life. He walked every day until he couldn’t.
That’s how he told me it was time for him to go.
When Max came into my life I did not understand the magic he would sprinkle over every part of my existence. His devotion to me was unmatched. In his younger years, though already ten when he became our family member, he would wait at the base of the stairs as I ran up and down completing the endless daily tasks of motherhood. Once he felt certain of my location and pause in movement, with Herculean effort he’d heave his stout little body up the stairs to find me and keep watch. I don’t know what exactly he was watching for but it seemed important.
As the center of his universe I did not take this lightly. I gave him as much as he gave me. Until he couldn’t give anymore, and he was tired, and his old body said enough is enough.
From the outside, the story of Max and me seems simple.
Dog meets girl.
Dog devotes life to girl.
Best friends for life.
From the inside the story reaches deeper. Max came into my world with precise timing. I was dealing with the crushing loss of my mom, raising two rambunctious boys, and supporting Mad Dog’s corporate aspirations. I was barely holding myself together and in swooped Max. He did not care how my anxiety sometimes froze me in place. He didn’t mind how I looked, if I showered, and if my writing got published. He didn’t care if my boys were on the honor roll, if I took awesome vacations, or if my house was organized. He taught me that I am enough as is. On the days I didn’t believe him, it did not phase him.
He loved me anyway.
The love he gave me was so perfect and true it has me questioning everything. We are taught by the world we must earn love through striving, pushing ourselves, winning at everything, and looking a certain, standardized way. Even if we somehow achieve this ephemeral perfection, its temporary nature has us immediately turning our attention to the next outside-of-ourselves goal.
I don’t want to live like that. I want to choose goals that speak to my heart. The kind that inspire me and fulfill me as I move through them. I want to cultivate a fluid state of being and allow the process of becoming to light the way. I want passion and purpose to rise up from within and carry me through all the twists and turns of life.
Losing Max is a twist I knew was coming, but I wasn’t ready. We are never ready to lose something we love. It rips us apart at the seams and feels overwhelming and irreparable. And yet, underneath the surface of this gaping Ewok-shaped hole, the true-ness within me holds me steady.This is the part of me that Max loved the most.
This is where I will find my joy again.
Above all else, I want to make Max proud.
The best and only way to do this is remember each and every day no matter what, I already have.
Now you know the girl had a happy ending. She found true love and had two, awesome little Buckeyes. But, there’s more to the story.
Before there was the Buckeye, there was just the girl. She was a quiet girl. She grew up tucked away in the cornfields of Illinois in an unassuming one-story house on an unassuming tree-lined street. This quiet girl loved her Mom dearly. When the girl would arrive home from school she would find her Mom watching the Cubs on WGN. At first the girl didn’t think much of baseball, but she thought much of her Mom. Over time, she was slowly indoctrinated with a die-hard love of the Cubs. It was in her genes passed all the way down from her Grandmother. You can’t fight genes.
The girl’s bond with her Mother, and remember, they already were quite close, grew stronger over a shared love of the Cubs. The Cubs were often uninspiring to watch and even though the girl and her Mom cringed each time Harry Caray slurred his way through a seventh inning stretch, they were faithful to their team. Of course, there were moments of glory. The ’84 Cubs stirred hope in their hearts and while this season brought great joy and this amazing song- Men in Blue– it ended in heartbreak as practically every Cubs’ season does since the dawn of time (boo Padres!).
So, how exactly does the Buckeye factor into all of this? Turns out, he was not much of baseball guy (growing up, soccer was more his thing), but attending college on the far, far north side of Chicago lends an easy transition to Cub fandom. The girl suspected initially his fandom was less about the baseball and more about the ever-available and free-flowing beer of the Friendly Confines’ bleachers. No matter, he was a Buckeye who grew to appreciate the Cubs.
And, that’s how they met. The girl, her Mom, her Aunt and Cousin all travelled to Navy Pier to go on a Cubs’ charity dinner cruise. There, they got to meet their favorite players (yes, the girl still has a soft spot for Mark Grace), and there, the Buckeye was. He was seated at the table next to them. He was with friends and the girl didn’t notice him at first. However, SEVERAL other girls noticed the Buckeye (the girl didn’t find this out ’til much, much later).
To her credit, the Cousin recognized the Buckeye appeared to be without a date. Being that she knew the girl was very, very single, encouraged the girl to talk to him. Initially, the girl did not agree to talk to the Buckeye as she was skeptical of all men, but since she was giddy at having schmoozed with so many handsome Cub players, she reluctantly agreed. He offered to take her to Wrigley Field and watch a game from the bleachers. She had never watched a game from the bleachers and as a die-hard fan, this offer was extremely tempting.
It took a couple weeks, but eventually, the girl and the Buckeye set up a date. The girl wasn’t very nervous as she had all but given up on love. She was just happy to get a free ticket to watch her Cubbies in person (she was also extremely poor at the time). She took the bus from her northside neighborhood and met the Buckeye at his apartment on Sheffield. Yes! He actually lived across the street from Wrigley. Wow! Maybe this Buckeye was something special.
The girl didn’t know it, but she pretty much fell in love with the Buckeye right off the bat. As we know, the Buckeye was a lot slower in this regard. A. LOT. So began their up and down romantic history which included countless bleacher games at Wrigley Field. It wasn’t always a fairy tale, but it turned out amazing in the end (the relationship, NOT the Cubs’ season).
Once they were married and raising their boys Buckeye, they still followed the Cubs closely. However, soon after starting their family, tragedy struck. The girl’s Mom got sick and passed away so suddenly, it crumbled the girl’s world completely.
The girl’s heart was shattered into a million pieces. She didn’t understand how just when her little Buckeyes were getting more awesome every day, that her Mom wouldn’t see them grow up. She wouldn’t be there to call when the girl didn’t know if she was mothering them correctly. She wouldn’t be there to laugh with, or cry with.
The girl was lost.
Six years later, the girl was still a little bit lost without her Mom to anchor her. And, during those six years of grief, the girl couldn’t bear to watch the Cubs and not just because they were terrible (as they usually were), but because watching them without her Mom was too deeply painful. It hurt her soul to watch them.
The girl was pretty sure she would never love baseball again. She focused on her little Buckeye family and let the Cubs drift slowly away from her.
Somehow, the Buckeye sensed under all her hurt, that the girl still loved baseball. This baseball season he made a decision. He would get the girl access to all the Cubs’ games on TV and download an MLB app on her phone (which is awesomely addicting). The girl doesn’t know how he knew she was ready, but she was. The brokeness of her heart, while not quite fully healed, had scarred over enough that it made watching the Cubs bearable. Actually, she had healed enough that she was excited to watch them play. Hearing the crack of the bat, watching a perfectly executed double play and hearing the fans of Wrigley cheer made her happy once again. She couldn’t believe it. And, to add to her happiness, her two little Buckeyes have shown the beginnings of their own Cubs’ genes emerging. Finally, she could share something with them that was unique to her. It was amazing-ness.
Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, but it makes it possible to live life anew. While the girl will never share a Cubs’ World Series victory with her Mom (or with anyone for that matter given the Cubs’ history), she can at least remember she really does love baseball. She really does love her Buckeye and she really does love her boys.
And, she really was the most blessed daughter to have had a Mom as special as the one she was given.