Non-buyer’s remorse

 

Dictionary.com defines buyer’s remorse as a feeling of regret experienced after making a purchase, typically one regarded as unnecessary or extravagant.

I do not suffer from this. I suffer from non-buyer’s remorse.

apartment-719984_640Take, for example, that brownstone in a then run-down section of this borough no one ever went to…Brooklyn, I think it was called. The entire house was intact and original, and you’d have to gut it in order to break it into apartments, so the asking price was a hundred grand. This was back in the early 90s, when a certain couple had nothing but love and debt and a skinny cat. A hundred grand might as well have been a million zillion dollars. “We’ll regret this,” said I to my husband, and I made good on that promise. To this day, I remind McIrish that we could’ve owned an entire brownstone in bleeping Brooklyn. Not that we could’ve done anything about that, but when has that ever stopped a wife from bringing up the past?

Seventeen houses on Cape Cod. They were all fixers uppers that would require several years of indentured servitude by McIrish, but guess how much those babies are worth now? A lot.

That sweet little boat in someone’s yard that may have been free. But we don’t live on the water! But we have no boaterly skills! Even so, we could’ve had a cute little boat. For free. I could’ve driven it around some lake or other body of water and not caught fish, as is my hobby. But no. We left it there.

kitten-3422770_640The six black kittens at the cat palace shelter in Pennsylvania. Don’t lecture me about being a pet hoarder! They were adorable! Huck remains determined to reject me. I could’ve had six of my own cats who loved me. I could have.

Any number of perfect articles of clothing that I talked myself out of. “Do I really need it, though?” I like to ask myself. “No. Good for you, Higgins!” Then, a month later, I need it. I realize that my black sweater has been eaten by moths, and my white shirt is stained, and I have nothing to wear to the event that starts in 20 minutes. “Damn it, Higgins!” I say to myself. “Don’t be such a tightwad next time!”

The mysterious paste I got that one time at TJ Maxx. Oh, don’t judge. It’s my favorite grocery store, and never shall I forget the time I did indeed take a chance on the green Thai sauce that took my tuna noodle dinner from disgusting to amazing. I only bought the one jar. There were no jars left the next time I went, nor in any other time since then. I’ll never forget you, green Thai sauce. Someday, I hope we’ll meet again.

bike-1245904_640The bicycle with the couch-like seat and low cross bar in Tiffany blue that was being practically given away by a bike shop at the end of the season. “But I have a bike!” I told myself, fondling the blue bike’s handlebars. Yeah. I do. I rode it today, and boy, does my butt feel it. And every time I swing my leg over my bike’s cross bar and nearly fall, I curse myself for not getting that blue bike, which, in addition to being much more attractive than my muddy gray bike, was kinder for people with balance issues.

Ah, well. The next time I come across a brownstone full of black kittens with a blue bike parked in front of it, you can bet I’m jumping all over that.

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A Day in the Life of an Author

 

I’ve been writing a lot this week. Oh, sure, be happy about that, you wretches! Do you want to hear what it’s really like? You do?

Ass ache. Yes, yes, you know you’re supposed to get up and stretch every hour and all that. You don’t. There is no time when you’re really engrossed in a book. Time does not exist. The timer may go off, and you may not hear it. Or you forgot to set it, because you’re cranking out pages or staring at the screen, lost in thought. Whatever the case, your ass hurts, but you ignore it.

waterDehydration. Sure, you poured yourself a big glass of water. It’s still in the kitchen, where you left it, and you just got settled down to work. Your cat is sleeping on your legs, and it’s an honor, and you don’t want to disturb him, plus you’re in the middle of a really good paragraph. It’s only water. Who really needs water? You have room temperature coffee that tastes like death. You’ll be fine.

Filthy eyeglasses. You’ve only been looking at the screen 18 inches in front of you, so it doesn’t register that there are thumbprints and eyelashes and flecks of toothpaste from that time you remembered to brush your teeth. It’s fine. Who needs to see, right?

Hunger. You just want to get to work. You’ll eat in a little while, you tell yourself. Hours pass. Your stomach growls for half an hour, then gives up. Finally, you stagger to the kitchen, blood sugar crashing, lightheaded from a lack of water and nutrition, and eat everything in the fridge.

tshirtThe cold, cold world. Or maybe it’s hot. You’ve forgotten what season it is. You take the dog for a walk. Whoops, you’re still in your pajamas and sarcastic t-shirt. Your hair is…oh. Eesh. You pretend to be normal and wave to the neighbors, who keep a cautious distance. That’s fine. You need to get back to work, anyway. It’s been fifteen minutes. Where has the day gone? Panicked, you return to your chair.

Stomachache. Remember that “lunch”? should’ve planned more carefully. Maybe eating the whole box of mac and cheese, plus chips and salsa, plus that giant spoonful of ice cream, plus another coffee was a bad idea. (Hint: it was.) You endure. You could eat a Tums, but they’re in the bathroom, and the cat is on your legs again.

soggybrainSoggybrain. This is an undiagnosed writerly condition caused by overthinking the problems of fictional people. There are so many of them! Dozens in this book, thousands in your body of work, and why are they all so complicated and angsty? You become unable to finish or start a sentence; you just start talking in the middle. Your spouse or children question the randomness of your statements, which sound like “a better sister because Dad” or “always had liar so can’t.” They sigh, wearily accepting you. Defeated, you must take a nap.

Coma Naps. Soggybrain cannot take anymore. You slept poorly last night (was it last night?), so you flop into bed and sleep. This is no power nap. This is a coma. It is not restful as much as a baseball bat to the head.

Time confusion. You wake up. What day is it? What hour? What season? Does it really matter?

Binge-watching. You’ve been writing for many, many hours. You don’t smell so good. Your hair is sticky. It’s time for…Netflix! Hooray for the many shows that don’t remind you of your book! Glow Up! Hoarders! This Old House! Something with lots of murders in it! Netflix pops in to ask you if you’re still watching. You are. Stop judging, Netflix! It’s been a day, okay?

higgins hairVery late bedtime. Is it 2 a.m. already? That nap really screwed you up. Should you go to bed, or should you watch one more episode and maybe finish that ice cream? You finish the ice cream. You go to bed and have vivid dreams and thrash around.

Repetition. Hey. It’s a living. Besides, ass-ache and soggybrain and dehydration aside, there’s nothing better.

Have a great week, gang!

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New school shoes

katydidEver since I was a kid, there’s been a melancholy associated with the month of August. Here in New England, around this time, the katydids start with their distinctive call: three buzzes, a pause, three buzzes. As a kid, these bugs alerted me to the fact that summer vacation was ending.

In June, I wouldn’t even think of the end of summer—two and a half months of freedom, of playing outside, seeing cousins, going to Cape Cod, reading whatever I wanted. We’d
play in the woods, make forts, ride my horse. My sister and I would sit on the edge of the feed barrels in the barn and talk as we slid our bare feet in the cracked corn or slippery oats. Andy, our barn cat, might make an appearance. The goat would mill about, and the horse would swish away flies with her tail. Our feet were perpetually dirty, the sign of a life well lived.

barefootAnd then those katydids would start at night, and we were reminded that summer was winding down. Our mom would schedule a trip to Sears, where we’d get most of our back-to-school clothes: corduroys and sweaters, shirts with big collars, stiff new school shoes. In fact, that’s what those katydids seemed to say to me: “New school shoes. New school shoes.”

I’d reassure myself that summer was still flush, that I wouldn’t have to go back till September, and that I should put school out of my mind. But I also had to clean out my bureau, pass the clothes that no longer fit to my sister or cousins. Melancholy suffused on the air as thick as the August humidity.

Before my kids were school-age, I loved this time of year. Older kids would have to go back to school; I’d hear the hiss of the brakes on the school bus as the drivers practiced their routes, and I’d be smug with the knowledge that I’d have this time with my little ones. We’d go to the much less crowded Cape in September, not having to worry about making a left hand turn onto Route 6. No lines at Arnold’s or Ben & Jerry’s. Free parking at the beaches.

school busWhen it came time for my kids to go to school, it would take weeks for me to adjust to their absence. I would be excited for them, eager to hear their stories and watch them learn and grow. I’d remind myself that it was my job to raise them, not to keep them. I never wanted to be that mom who mourned that her children were growing. Still, I had an annual period of adjustment: the first half of September felt empty and strange until my writer’s brain kicked into gear. Digger, our first dog, would perk up exactly on time to go to the bottom of our long driveway and meet the bus. Autumn, the most beautiful season in New England, would seep into the leaves and cooler air.

flannery & declanThis year, the Princess starts working as an RN in a couple of weeks. After nineteen years of school, college and graduate school, she has a the career of her dreams. This is the first year in two decades when some form of school hasn’t been on her horizon.

Tomorrow, Dearest Son goes back to college for his senior year. We went shopping for his stuff the other day; he graciously lets me come on this annual pilgrimage, though he’s more than capable of driving himself and paying on his own. As we stood in line at Target, I said, “This is the last time we’ll be getting you back-to-school stuff.”

“Aw,” he said kindly. “Thank you for everything.” We hugged to the amusement of the check-out clerk.

Those dang katydids. They get me every year.

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How’d you break your wrist, Higgins?

In an attempt to broaden my horizons and have more hobbies that don’t involve eating popcorn, I recently decided to return to horseback riding. The first time I rode a horse, I was four years old . The horse’s name was Thunderhead and what a magnificent name that was. The horse-girl magic happened , as it so often does, and I was in love.

jennyFor the next seven years, I took lessons and campaigned my father to buy me a horse. This involved many foot rubs, many cards, many snuggles, until, on my 11th birthday, I got Jenny. She was a half broke Appaloosa mare, way too much horse for a kid, but I didn’t care. Jenny could jump any fence, which she proved by escaping from her field and running sometimes miles from home. She had a special preference for our down the street neighbors magnificent green lawn. Many were the times when I was paged in high school by Sister Mary: “Kristan Higgins, come to the office. Your horse is out again.”

Jenny stayed with us until her death 20 years ago. My horseback riding became limited to National Park trips. But I missed real horseback riding and the special way a person interacts with nature that way. I missed the squeak of a leather saddle and the comforting snuffles and snorts and smells of the horse,. And so I sought out a situation in which a horse needed some love and exercise.

Which brings us to Wednesday.

gracieI had met Gracie, a beautiful bay mare with a white blaze. We had meaningful eye contact and blew gently on each other, and she whickered when she saw me, sensing my adoration. I made an arrangement with her owner, and on Wednesday, I went to the farm for my first ride. Before one can ride a horse, one must first bond with her, so I spent an hour grooming Gracie and talking to her and telling her how beautiful she was . I gave her treats and leaned against her and scratched her itchy spots. Then I put her saddle and bridle on and lead her up to the paddock.

There in I found the problem. Gracie is 17 hands, which means she is wicked tall in the horse world. Not being used to a western saddle, I was having a little trouble getting my foot up into the stirrup. Finally, I did, only to have my boot slip out . With one foot in the air and the other on the ground I hopped backward, fell, and heard a noise I hope never to hear again in my life. It’s bad, I thought.

Gracie looked at me with her big compassionate brown eyes. I looked at her, stood up, and draped myself over the fence so I wouldn’t pass out. Well, shit, I thought. You broke your wrist, Higgins. Being a veteran of broken bones, it was easy to recognize that special, hellish pain.

However, this was my first time at the farm, and I did not wish to make a bad impression on the owners. This is always the first thought of a Catholic…It’s my fault, and I’m sorry. So I took a few yoga breaths, patted Gracie, who had come to stand next to me in concern, and led her back to the barn. I tried to take the saddle off , quickly learned that my right hand would not help and did it one handed like a total badass. Then I put Gracie in her stall, gave her a snack, and called my husband, who did not pick up. This is often the case in times of emergency. I called my son instead, and said, “You and Dad need to come get me. I just broke my wrist.”

the cutenessThen, because it was hot, I sat in my car. I called the bookstore where I was supposed to sign books and told them I was on the way to the ER instead. I called my friend and cancelled our plans for that evening. En route to the ER, I called Gracie’s owner and apologized for not putting the tack away as neatly as I would have ordinarily, and also for breaking my wrist. She was extraordinarily nice. Horse lovers usually are.

And so, I get to spend the next five weeks in a sweaty cast. I am learning the dictation feature on my computer and how to shampoo one handed. I will have a new scar from where the surgeon had to put in a plate.

I can’t wait to get back to Gracie.

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The Golden Hour

IMG_2698The other night, as my daughter and I watched the sky deepening toward sunset, I said to her, “Look at the light! I call this the golden hour.”

She laughed and said, “I think everyone calls it that, Mommy.”

“Oh,” said I. “I thought it was a Cape Cod thing.”

“Nope.” She smiled fondly at me.

We sipped our cocktails and resumed reading.

91D11811-D766-4D0B-A852-A49CA81482D1We had such a magical time together, floating on rafts at a kettle pond, cooking for each other, attempting to back down a dirt road when we went a bit too far in house ogling (I couldn’t do it, and we had to change places so she could get us out). We laughed a lot, mostly at each other and ourselves.

My kids were blessed with a prescient grandfather—my dad, who bought this house in the 1970s, when real estate was cheap up here, and a half-finished, rather ordinary house on the Cape was affordable for a middle-class family. All their lives, we’ve come here. We know now that the house is extraordinary, because it’s ours, keeper of our best memories.

We do the same things year after year—Higgins and Gull Ponds, Nauset Light Beach, sunsets on the bay side. We ride bikes and eat seafood and hang our perpetually damp towels on the line. We go to the strange and charming little shops—Botanica, Buddha Bob’s, Vintage in Vogue. We read, sometimes a book a day.

IMG_6378On Friday, Dearest Son came up to join us for a couple days. I made the kids dinner— “Are we having eggs?” Dearest asked, and we laughed so much, since my cooking is a rare thing. (They were then dazzled when I made something rather delicious and interesting.) We watched a movie. Played with Princess’s cat and scolded her for attacking the screens.

Yesterday, we went to the bay side, to the beach where someday my ashes will be spread. Into the cold, clear water we went, shrieking a little (except for Dearest, who is dignified and brave). The Princess plotted her survival should a shark attack us, and I reassured them both that I would offer myself up so that they would live. After we were sufficiently cooled, we went back to shore and resumed reading.

A while later, the Princess wanted to go back in. I did not, being a one-and-done type when it comes to the beach. So Dearest went with her, and I sat in my little rusting beach chair and watched my babies, now 24 and 21, playing in the water with each other as they have all their lives. Their voices floated across the air to me. I could see my son towing my daughter, saw them splash each other, heard his deep voice as he made her laugh.

flannery & declanThere are not a lot of moments when life is perfect. These times are fraught with violence, distress, fear, anger, as time too often is. I’m not the most confident person in the world, and I battle anxiety about being good enough, doing enough good. I worry about our planet, our society, my children’s health, my husband’s safety.

But for this moment, watching my grown children play in the water, best friends still after all these years, life was perfect, and I was smart enough to know it. I drank in that golden hour and appreciated my greatest gifts in life: Flannery and Declan, my beloveds, my darlings, my good, good kids.

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In times of trouble

It is very odd to be promoting a book this summer. Everything is so different: COVID-19 has taken 110,000 lives in the U.S. alone and continues to slither through the country. We’ve watched in horror as yet another innocent black person is killed by a police officer. We watch or attend the peaceful protests in solidarity, then look on in horror as looting and rioting starts. We see innocent people being hurt. We struggle with the inability to tell the good cops from the bad, and the fear that arises from that.

My book release feels very insignificant in this moment.

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A duke, A lady and a BabyAnd yet, in the past few months, I’ve heard from a record number of readers, telling me my books have been their key to sanity. I know exactly what they mean. Farrah Rochon, Kennedy Ryan, Sonali Dev, Kwana Jackson, Robyn Carr, Priscilla Oliveras, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Caro Carson, Vanessa Riley…they’ve all saved me this winter and spring. They’re my heroes. They gave me books of people in trouble, of people scarred with loss and grief and fear, who rose up and took a stand. Whether it was a quiet, personal journey or a confrontation of a bigger issue, their characters walked the walk. They stood by their beliefs and got to a better place, a place where love and safety and happiness thrive.

These books have been my self care, a resting place for my heartsick, worried soul, an example of what we can achieve when we believe.

9780593199855ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW is, as my editor put it, the story of everyone’s family. You’ll see yourself somewhere in Barb, John, Juliet and Sadie, or in Janet, Mickey, Arwen and Noah. They’re all going through heartache, and they’re all going to be okay. Better than okay. They’re going to be better than ever.

I hope you’ll read my book (and the authors I mention above). I hope your souls and your hearts and minds will be soothed by the hours you spend reading. I hope they’ll give you the respite you need to face another day, week, month, year. I hope ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW—and The Boyfriend Project, Queen Move, Real Men Knit, Recipe for Persuasion and all the others— will make you believe, as I do, that better days are ahead.

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St.-Jude-LogoIf you buy ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW this week, my cut of your purchase goes to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, so a little goodness will come out of your purchase.

You’re in my heart, readers and friends. Take good care of yourselves.

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Life and Yearning in the Big City

 

big city lightsSadie Frost, one of the characters in ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW, is partly me. All my characters are in the sense that they came from my imagination, but Sadie and I have something in common—an awe of what I can only call Success in the City.

Growing up in Connecticut, New York was (and is) the ultimate measure of cool. Connecticut can be a lovely place to live, filled with pretty towns and abundant farmland. But it’s not cool.

orchardWhen we were little, our parents would take us to NYC for a day, and it was so different and amazing. We’d see kids our own age walking down the street, often alone, and be amazed at their confidence, their knowledge of all those streets. How could we be the same age, and yet so different? They had life skills I still lack, growing up in the beautiful countryside as I did.

Sadie goes to school in New York, and wants to become an artist, the kind who shows in SoHo and is recognized in sleek restaurants. She looks around at the in crowd and wonders, same as I did (and do)—how did they pull it off? How do they afford to live in those buildings, or buy a dress that costs $4000 (more than ten times what my wedding dress cost)? What do they do for a living?

brownstoneI married a New Yorker—McIrish was living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn when I first met him, then Chelsea, then Greenpoint, so ahead of the wave. He knew which subways to take. He had a black leather jacket, oh, hell yes, he did. But his sweetness (and poverty, let’s be honest) made him a normal person. Not one of those New Yorkers.

The first time I went to meet my agent, I got to the city two hours early. I walked up Sixth Avenue and made sure I knew which building was hers. Then I went across the street to the Hilton and hid in the second floor ladies room, sitting on a stool in front of the mirror, telling myself I had an agent for a book, and I belonged here. It didn’t work. I was still shaking when I met Maria, still in awe. I still am, let’s be honest.

A couple of years ago, I left Harlequin, my first publisher, to work with Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House, the biggest publisher in the world. It was a thrilling, terrifying and momentous career move, even written up in Publisher Weekly.

champagneOnce again, I took the train into the city. This time, I knew where to go and didn’t need two hours of self-affirmation. The executive team took Maria and me out to lunch at a beautiful restaurant, and the head honcho ordered champagne and oysters, and we had a wonderful, fun meal. As I walked back, I passed a little Irish pub called the Pig and Whistle. My dad and one his friends used to go there, way back when. I thought about my father, gone so many years, and said to myself, “Hey, Dad. Check this out. Your little girl is a successful author, and her publisher just took her out for a champagne lunch.”

9780593199855It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t, to be honest. Even in middle age, I’m still a kid from a farm town in a little state, still wondering how on earth people make it in the big city and
what it would be like to live in that posh apartment building or townhouse. I still can’t bring myself to buy shoes or clothes or jewelry that could feed a family for a week or a month or a year. I wouldn’t want to.

Sadie—and my younger self—find out what success really means. It’s being yourself—your best self—working hard and taking care of the people you love. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Don’t forget that preorders benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and if you buy two copies, you can get a free short story. Details at www.kristanhiggins.com/always-the-last-to-know. Thank you, gang!

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Real Life Confessions From Lockdown

 

You know, we’re all doing our best, I like to think, except for those who are doing actual harm and being idiots during this pandemic. Most of us are doing our best, right? I’m social distancing, looking out for friends and family who might be lonely, donating to some good causes. I’m also doing the following.

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The deliciousness!

Eating Reese’s peanut butter chips for dessert. Or dinner. For years, I chastised Dearest Son on stealing these chips from the baking cupboard and would tape notes to the bag: “Do not eat these, thief!” or “I know it was you, Declan,” said in my best Michael Corleone accent. Then, however, I discovered the sheer joy of eating them not in a brownie, but just in a bowl. They’re tiny and delicious and I regret nothing. I have apologized to Dearest and thanked him for introducing me to the joys of Reese’s peanut butter chips. “It’s good,” he said, “because they’re too sweet so you don’t eat that many.” I didn’t understand what he meant, but he’s a good kid just the same.

Renewed my vows to ice cream. Sure, my beloved doctor told me I had “hereditary high cholesterol” (thanks a lot, Dad). And sure, I started using fat-free half-and-half (what the hell is in that stuff, anyway?). I also gave up ice cream in what can only be described as an act of heroism. No more. Uh-uh. If I’m going to get COVID and be hospitalized and maybe intubated and possibly die, I want my last meal to be fat-full, thank you very much.

pillows-820149_640

I’m yawning just looking at this picture.

Napping. A lot. After getting ten hours of sleep. Is it self-care? Is it depression? Am I mentally exhausted by global stress? I don’t know. What I do know is I love sleeping. I love napping especially. I take all the throw pillows off the bed, create a fake husband out of the to reflect my body heat back to me, pull the shades, pile on the blankies, call Luther and Huckleberry and leap into bed with a smile on my face and a podcast on my phone. Within minutes, I am asleep. Does this affect my nighttime sleep? Not at all. We all have our gifts, and sleeping is mine.

All pasta, all the time. I don’t like cooking for myself. Sure, I’ll make a cocktail with seven ingredients, muddling herbs, twisting lemon rind like a boss. But cooking bores me. I can, however, boil water. Ten minutes and three ingredients later, dinner is served—linguine with olive oil, pepper and parmesan. My version of mac and cheese.

bar-1076996_640

Me. (Oh, please, of course it’s not.)

Did I mention cocktails? The days are long, the sun doesn’t set till after eight, and so I have plenty of time to coat a glass with the smoke of burnt rosemary (I’m serious) and add a few dashes of lavender oil to a gin and tonic. McIrish and I both love to engage in mixology, but let’s face it. I’m better at it than he is. (Suck it up, honey.)

Watch reality TV. Oh, Higgins, you were so superior all those years, saying you didn’t watch The Bachelor or Real Housewives. Who’s addicted to Married at First Sight, though, huh? I am! I love that show! I have shed tears of joy over that show. I have yelled at the TV. I don’t know who I am anymore.

Well, there it is, gang. We’re doing what we can to allay our fears and anxieties. Now go watch something trashy and eat some ice cream. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Be safe. Be happy.

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Aqua Notes

 

aqua notesA few years ago, a friend sent me a gift: Aqua Notes—a waterproof notepad you can stick in your shower via suction cups, and a special pencil. She said that since the best book ideas strike in the shower, I could write them down.

Well, that turned out to be false. The Aqua Notepad has never been used for a book idea. Instead, McIrish and I use them to write sappy notes to each other. I draw cartoons of dogs, cats, bunnies, Santa. We wish each other well and thank each other sometimes— “Great job finishing your book, honeybun!” he might write. “Thanks for taking care of my mom’s driveway!” I’ve said.

We loved the Aqua Notes, so we started buying new notepads after we used up that first one. Now we have five or six stored in a keepsake box. It’s a sweet little documentation of our marriage.

One time, McIrish wrote “Thanks for the great shag!” The kids saw that one and were suitably horrified that their parents were still at it. McIrish and I felt quite smug. I had a girls weekend and forgot to take it down before letting my friend take a shower in my bathroom, and she wrote “Joss was here!” together againwhich made me laugh so hard. Our cleaning lady has never commented on it, bless her.

I drew a picture of Willow with angel wings after she died. Before I went to the Cape, I drew a picture of a shark off the coast of Cape Cod with my assurance that I would try not to be eaten. McIrish doesn’t usually draw, and his handwriting is so terrible that sometimes I have trouble deciphering what he says, but it’s always more or less the same. Have a great day! Love you! Glad you’re home!

If I were ever to write a book on how to have a happy marriage, I’d include Aqua Notes, I think. A small way to show your partner your love and appreciation. A way to horrify your kids, which is just a bonus. A marking of the ordinary days, when you had enough time to draw a cartoon just to entertain your sweetheart and let them know you don’t take them for granted.

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Willow

babywillowThe first time we saw her, she trotted over to us, the heart-shaped mark on her chest—the reason we chose her—pure white against her black fur. Her tail wagged, as if she knew we were hers. She was right.

What we didn’t know was that Willow had been traumatized somehow in the first twelve weeks of her life. She was terrified of people, men especially…except for McIrish. She loved the four of us, she loved my mom, and that was it. Otherwise, she hid, peed in terror and trembled.

declan and baby willowBut at home, she was joyful. That’s the only word for it. Joyful. Every day began with a race around our five acres, barking at nothing, the speed of her border collie heritage evident as she pivoted and herded whatever was at hand…children, leaves, tennis balls, birds. As a puppy, she refused our cat’s haughty rejection and won him over by her constant delight in him. Eventually, they’d snuggled together, and Huck would rub his head against her chin.

willow&squickenThe kids adored her, of course. She was the family’s dog. Every day, she came with me as I drove the Princess to school. She came to pick up Dearest after cross country. We trained her to roll over, stay, catch a treat. She never quite mastered “come,” but if I said, “Do you want to sleep on Mommy’s bed?” she’d bolt in from the dark and wait to be hoisted onto the mattress. She knew the words “Cape Cod,” “ride,” “cookie, as well as the kids’ names. She loved Dearest Son and slept on his bed; she loved the Princess as her sister.

As she got older, she started to trust people more. First Shaunee, then Jen, then Stacia, for whom she had a soft spot. When we adopted Luther, she took him under her paw…Luther, who was afraid of other dogs, loved all people, and Willow, who was afraid of people, learned that she was missing out on pets if she kept her distance.

imagejpeg_0When the Princess brought her boyfriend home, all six-foot-four of him, Willow hid. It was a magical day a good year later when she allowed him to pet her with his foot, and eventually, with his hand. She and Luther shared a mat at night, as Luther was needy.

Willow loved my mom and knew where the treats were kept; every time she went in Mom’s house, she sat in front of the pantry door, waiting as my mom insisted she never gave our dogs treats.

When the twins from next door came over, she herded them, barked at them, jumped into the trailer to protect them as we played Sea Monster vs. Pirate. She loved our front porch and sleeping in dirt. She didn’t mind baths, and she was so silky and shiny afterward that we couldn’t resist petting her even more than usual.

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Willow loved swimming; she’d break through the invisible fence and jump into the pool, barking in delight. Same at the ocean, where she’d take her own leash in her mouth and run into the water, no matter what time of year.

When McIrish was at the firehouse, Willow slept on the bed with me, a perfect lady curled up near my icy-cold feet. Such a comfort to feel her there, all forty pounds of her.

The cancer came fast and hard. We only had three weeks from diagnosis to death. But in those three weeks, our love for her was shown even more. She came to the Cape for her last few good days, running once again into the water, charming a toddler, wagging and sniffing and sleeping on my bed. I had the comfort of having my beloved dog next to me during the pandemic, the only living creature I could cuddle without reservation. Those four days were among the happiest of her life. Long walks along the ocean, the trails of Cape Cod, the occasional swim, rolling in the sand.

She took a turn for the worse the fifth day, and our fears were realized. A week after she had come to see me, we had to say our final goodbyes—The Princess visited her to say goodbye. On the final day, when her breathing had changed and her ribs could be felt, we called Dr. Kumar. Dearest Son, her beloved, carried her in, and the three of us said goodbye.

Oh, the heartache of losing such a pure love! The beauty in a good death, the sorrow of losing a friend who has walked you through a decade of life. The mourning, the tears, the gratitude. From the moment we adopt a puppy or kitten, this day is on the horizon, that dreaded fact that we will, in most cases, outlive our beloved pet.

And yet, as I write this, I picture Willow barking at the waves, trotting on the beach, snuggled on my bed, offering her tummy for a scratch.

She was such a good dog. We were so lucky to be her family. As Will Rogers said, “If dogs don’t go to heaven, I want to go where they are.” I know she’ll be waiting.

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