This week, I wrapped my arms around an acquaintance in the cleaning aisle of Target and held her as she wept. And I helped reunite a tiny dog with an ecstatic family who cried tears of relief and happiness.
In both instances, I had to wipe away tears too.
I've been fighting back melancholy since the new year and reminding myself daily that spring is but a few months away. I don't want to take photos. I don't want to write. I lay on the couch and heave big, heavy, dramatic sighs and sometimes I stifle tears that don't really come.
But twice this week, I helped and held others in crisis and felt slightly more human. It strikes me that both instances could have turned out differently.
I'm not an effusive hugger. Throwing my arms around friends or even family, let alone strangers, just doesn't come naturally to me. That is interesting because I love other people who are, envy them really. Their simultaneous confidence and vulnerability, their generosity. What gifts. And of course, I love to be on the receiving end of their hugs, especially the ones from squishy but sturdy, big-bosomed women like my Grandmother Josephine. I could get lost in that type of love but it's just not something I've ever done well except with my own children. I'm too guarded, too fearful perhaps.
So, when I ran into a woman from the neighborhood near the soap and home cleaners at Target, it didn't seem likely that we'd share a long, intimate hug. But I could tell at 'hello' that she was rattled. She told me she'd just been venting to her mother on the phone about unexpected obstacles with her new business.
"I just don't understand why people can be so mean," she said finally, her voice choked with emotion.
I'm forever aghast and saddened by the same question, I told her.
And then I walked out from behind the shopping cart and bridged the gulf between us and hugged her. And even as I was doing it, I was aware that it was entirely out of character. But she held on and cried and thanked me and I didn't want to be anywhere other than right there, with her. When I finally stepped away, I was crying too.
On my way to pick up Tobias from school yesterday, I saw a tiny dog flitting through the front yard of a nearby house. It looked like a neighbor's dog that I rescued once before after it had escaped its fenced-in backyard. When I realized it wasn't, I had a rapid-fire conversation with myself about stopping that included the observation that the dog looked skittish and difficult to get, as well as an extra glance at the clock to see that dismissal was just a few minutes away.
I'm ashamed to say that I drove on. I thought surely the dog would find its way home or someone would intervene.
I called myself all manner of insulting names when I thought about it throughout the day and especially when I saw the message on the neighborhood list serv a few hours later that the dog escaped from a mother and her children while they were visiting Del Ray.
After dinner, Kent walked through the back door in his bike gear, put down his bags and walked straight out the front door.
"I've got to go find a dog," he said.
"Oh, thank God," I shouted and blurted out the whole story to Esme, who was the only one listening at that point because Kent was already outside looking. It turns out that as he rounded the corner to home, he saw the tan-colored Chihuahua/Pug mix in a yard it obviously didn't belong in. He stopped to help the dog but when he got closer, she bolted through a slit in the fence.
I quickly called the phone number in the email and asked the dog's name -- Gigi.
"I have six kids and they're heartbroken," Gigi's mom, Julie, said. "I'll be right there."
Kent walked up one street yelling Gigi's name and I walked up the other. But there was no sign of her, so we walked home. When Julie showed up outside the house, she pulled her two-and-half-year-old from her minivan, positioned him on her hip, and we headed out again while Kent went inside to get our four to bed.
Julie lives in Arlington. She'd stopped at Elmo's at 10 a.m. and didn't realize Gigi was missing until she got home. She's such a tiny, slip of a dog -- and lightning fast too -- and she obviously just hightailed it out an open door without being seen.
By nightfall, Julie had given Gigi up for gone.
I walked up the hill and ran into a neighbor who was standing on her porch. She went inside to grab dog snacks and headed out for her own search after I rounded the top of the hill. I heard Julie calling Gigi's name frantically from the street next to mine. When she went silent, I stopped, hopeful she found Gigi. But then she resumed the chant again and I carried on.
I went down a third street, then headed out along Commonwealth Avenue. At the end of the block, I was shocked to see Gigi in the center of a corner lot. I called her name and she darted for the fence. "No!" I yelled. "I've found your Mama." I don't know whether she stopped because she realized I might actually have something useful to tell her or whether the slits in this fence were too narrow for her head, but she backed up from the fence and walked to the center of the lawn.
I didn't dare move an inch closer, just stood on the sidewalk and tried to sweet talk her. My hands were shaking as I called Julie who was several blocks away. She didn't know the neighborhood -- and it was dark -- so I couldn't figure out where she was at first or how to direct her to me.
"Just follow the runners," I said.
There were packs of runners from a local running club out training last night and Julie ran beside two of them -- a mother of six with a baby on her hip, running toward me in the dark.
"Your Mommy's coming," I told Gigi who was comfortable enough by that time to drop to her belly in the grass.
"Gigi! Gigi, baby!" When Gigi heard Julie, she sat erect, one paw lifted from the ground and her ears perked in the most impossibly adorable way. She ran to her family and jumped in Julie's arms and well, you can understand why I cried.
On the walk back, Julie gushed about our neighborhood and the people she met in the street who helped. "People in Arlington are nice," she said. "But they wouldn't send out search parties like this."
"Your neighborhood's great," she told my neighbor up the street, the one with the dog snacks, as we stood outside my house. "It is," my neighbor said and smiled. Sometimes it is just like a hug.