What real love feels like

When I fell in love with my husband in college, I was overwhelmed with that feeling. How could I love someone that much?! And then years later, we brought Reiko home. The moment I held her, I knew that for her, I would throw Abhinav under the bus without a second’s thought. When I was around 8 months pregnant, Reiko had a little fever. I kept waking up through the night to check on her. My mom, who was visiting us at that time found it quite amusing. She wondered how much more crazy I would get with the baby. Honestly, I wasn’t too different.

Around 6 years ago, I went through a really hard time. Battling depression and anxiety and not knowing how to deal with it. For almost more than an year nobody knew about it except my therapist. And, I think Reiko. She would just know when I was struggling. She would appear magically next to me and lean on to me in that classic Great Dane style. Letting me hold her and sob my eyes out. She didn’t ask for explanations, she didn’t care if my feelings or my reactions were valid. She just loved me. The mornings I couldn’t get out of bed, she would be standing there next to me, not asking for food or for a walk. Just stand there for me, by my side, nuzzling upto me and letting me know I wasn’t all by myself. And that’s what’s so incredible about dogs. It’s not the love you feel for them, it’s the love they give you.

In 2017, Reiko got cancer. It progressed too quickly and we were absolutely helpless. She had been hobbling a bit and when we took her to the vet, we expected it to be some minor paw injury. She was put through a battery of tests and after 4 days I got a call from the doctor. I was at work and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I heard the diagnosis but refused to accept the prognosis. The next few weeks were about innumerable researches and visits to Vets. By the the time the month ended, Reiko was in a lot of pain. Her right front leg was almost detached from her shoulder joint. I can’t even imagine what she was going through. But, she would still try to run and greet me every evening I came back from work. She would still want to climb the stairs to go meet my parents who live upstairs. She would still try to jump up and play with my son when he got back from school. Not because she had to, but because that’s all she knew. She knew she was happy with her family and cared only about that. All the research led me nowhere. This is India, not the kind of medical facilities available for animals as the blogs I was reading; all set abroad. At my last visit to the Vet, he asked me to let go. He told me that Reiko wouldn’t care about her pain till she got to be with us. That’s how dogs are. In their life we take precedence, not them. They put us above them and would go through any amount of pain that they have to. It was upto me to release her from that. I knew if I kept her around any longer it would be for my selfish love.

I felt like a murderer taking that call. I lay on the floor, holding her lifeless body close to me, screaming and crying. My best friend was visiting me at the same time. Nobody, including her or my closest family had ever seen me in that condition. The despair and sense of loss was not something I had felt before. I have lost people in my life. But most were at the end of their journey, like my grandparents or I was at an age when that loss didn’t really hurt me. Also, I am someone who holds onto or ignores pain till it becomes unbearable. But with Reiko, It was unbearable from the first moment on. I had cried the first night when we had got her home. Why? Because I failed to hear her little puppy cries calling for me from the other room for around 30 odd seconds. I wondered if I was a bad mother and cried a big chunk of that evening. My husband consoled and laughed at me that whole time. So imagine, what I felt knowing I had lost her forever.

We got Hela home exactly 20 days after Reiko’s passing. I didn’t want her. I wasn’t ready. I was still in a lot of pain with the absence of Reiko. But we had security concerns and so she was home. For a month, I went through the usual motions of feeding her, taking care of all her needs but absolutely unable to love her. But how do you not love somebody called Hela, who truly behaved like the queen of Hell. If Reiko was what I had needed at that stage of my life, that gentle love and unconditional support, Hela definitely was something I needed at this stage of my life. Full of mischief, exuberance and absolutely emotive. Even if I was mostly away for work her first year, she slowly turned into my pet. Well, all the pets at our house have identified me as their master. With Hela, it went one step further. She wouldn’t listen to Abhinav or care much for what he or others wanted. It still is like that.

Hela had gone missing earlier this year. It was 20 days of sheer hell. You can read all about that at https://deepikarao.in/2019/05/04/lost-and-found/

If I thought losing Reiko was unbearable, this was a pain I had no way to deal with. I was already in a very bad place emotionally. I was back into therapy and this was a huge blow. Luckily we found her and after a few months she slowly got back to her happy old self. She is still 2, so behaves like a puppy, but I know and can see her personality. She is my class clown and that fiercely loyal friend who doesn’t care what the rest of the world has to say. She loves you and that’s all she cares about. I know, every dog/pet love their family unconditionally. But if you have pets, you know how each of them have their own distinctive personalities. Hela is friendly and playful but hates crowds. So parties or gatherings at home are pretty stressful. Till a couple of days ago, I looked at her as this being who brought this beam of sunshine into my life. If Reiko supported me by standing by my side and being gentle, Hela can do so by being her goofy self and keeping me in splits and demanding love in her unique way.

I had gone out last weekend and had had a few drinks. 2 or 3. Alcohol worsens my anxiety. Either I stick to one drink or drink enough to lose my mind. Anywhere else between these ranges leads to severe anxiety attack which last for atleast 15-24 hours. So, this was one of those nights. I wasn’t able to sleep and was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram feed and stories (Curse of our generation). One wrong tap and I was in someone’s account/stories I don’t follow or have any interest to. I came across people and pictures I avoid, and this made my anxiety worse. So I am sitting on the bed frantically going through the coping mechanisms taught by my therapist, trying to remember all the guided meditation techniques. Struggling hard to slow down that racing heart, that nervous breathing and those spasms, absolutely oblivious to what’s happening around me. And then suddenly, I feel something cold on my arm. I open my eyes and look at Hela, nuzzling upto me and staring at me with those gorgeous eyes. Next moment she raises up and hugs and cuddles me. She isn’t allowed on the bed so she just has her front paws (and sneakily half of her body) holding onto me. I can feel myself calming down and I am so overwhelmed with the gratitude I felt for having her in my life. It’s 1 in the night. She usually sleeps out cold at this time, but she somehow knew I needed that support. As soon as I feel better, she just gets off and goes to her bed. A bed that is an antique chair she has taken over. 🙂

People say pets behave like their owners. And somewhere I would agree with that. Irrespective of their breed’s personalities or training, each of my dog has turned out to be this ever hyper, crazy, super energetic madhouse. Qualities my friends accuse me of having. But, I would be an absolutely pretentious fool if I believed that their ability to love so unconditionally and selflessly comes from me. I probably learnt that from them.

I have known love. In a lot of different forms. But, if I ever wondered what real and true love felt like, I don’t have to think hard. This is what it feels like.

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