Laughter Through Tears & a Little White Dog

This isn't a story about a dog. Not really.

It's Tuesday, a warm June afternoon and I'm sitting alone in my living room. Criss-cross-applesauce in the recliner, dreading the phone call I know is coming. Finally it rings, and reading my aunt's name on the screen, I answer. "You have bad news."

"Depends on how you look at it," she says, crying.

And then I'm sobbing, large shaking cries that actually make noise. Cries that give the "boo hoo's" their creed. I hold myself and rock, in a fashion done only by those who are truly devastated.

When I'm finished, my husband, daughter, and I head to my uncle's house. But first we stop to pick up our new dog Marshall from the groomer. My cousins Kristie and Ryan have flown in and plan to stay with us, and Kristie is allergic. So although he was groomed two weeks ago when we brought him home, I dropped Marshall off again, this time at the major pet store in town because nowhere else had a last-minute opening. I run in, pay the teenage boy, not bothering to scoop the dog into the carrier. Marshall is a quiet, calm, 5-year-old maltese. My almost-two-year-old daughter adores him and as he sniffs her and settles down, we start the 30-minute drive.

When we arrive, everything is a blur. I walk Marshall on his leash in the yard, and he snaps at a neighbor's dog. So unlike him. He's one of those tail-between-his-legs kind of dogs. I carry him inside, assured there will be no problems. We know he's house-trained, after all, and besides, Megan has her dog Oreo. Everything blurs again, a haze of bodies and food and I walk in Megan's room. Stare at all the Disney memorabilia, Hannah Montana posters.

And then I focus again, because Marshall is hiking a leg to a chair. "No, no, no, no, NO!" I moan, as women swoop down around me to clean it up. "He's never done this." I try to explain as I usher him outside. "He never even lifts his leg." Then he runs down the front steps, and I freeze.

"This isn't our dog," I tell my husband. "Marshall doesn't know how to go down steps." But he thinks I'm crazy. "This isn't our dog," I say again to Kristie. I'm gearing up for my opening argument when I get a good look at Marshall's backside and I've got proof. Two of 'em. "This dog has balls! He has balls. This isn't my dog!"

I call the pet store, and teenage boy answers. "Hi...yes... I picked up my dog Marshall earlier. Did you, by chance, happen to have two white Maltese dogs there at the same time?"

Long pause. "Yes."

"And that you gave me the wrong one?" Another long pause.

"Crap," I hear him mutter. "Somehow both their collars were taken off so I just guessed at which one was which. I'll call the other owners. Can you bring him back now?"

By this time everyone's had a good laugh, even my uncle. Kristie and I arrange to make the dog-swap while our husbands head home. Another 30-minute drive to the pet store, and I trade in "Imposter Marshall" for the real deal. Plus a certificate for two free grooming sessions. "Real Marshall" gets free reign of the backseat, as well, and stands at attention while we make our way out of the parking lot.

But as soon as I'm sandwiched between two cars at the stoplight: he lets loose. That's right. Right in the middle of the backseat, Marshall is peeing. And peeing. And peeing.

And peeing. He just keeps going, and Kristie and I are shrieking and trying to stop him without getting wet, and he still won't stop, and I can't pull over because I'm sitting at this darn light that always takes too long to change.

We're laughing. Doubled-over, split-your-side laughing that'll make our abs hurt later. Laughing, and laughing, and laughing. And it feels so good.

We make it home, clean up the backseat, settle down on the back porch with large glasses of red wine. Somehow we make it through the next few days… few weeks… years…

And here we are today. June 2. Suddenly it's two years since "Imposter Marshall." Two years since Megan died. "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," says Dolly Parton's character Truvy, in that famous scene from Steel Magnolias. I can't say that I agree. But sometimes when we've reached our daily quota of pain, relief comes. Sometimes in the form of a urinating dog, but still… it comes.

This isn't a story about a dog. It's a story about the worst day of my life. Two years ago today. I could've written about Megan, that's true. But instead I chose to tell a story that would've made her laugh.

A story that makes me laugh. Through my tears.

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