On My Bookshelf: New Life, No Instructions

On My Bookshelf: New Life, No Instructions

Cherry red. Deep blue. When visiting New York, off-white with a thin seafoam stripe.

Whomever designs veterinary surgical tape knows that when your dog comes out of the back room, the best response is, “Ooh, how cute you look, all bandaged up!”

My dog, a red fawn Shar-pei, has always gotten a lot of attention, but now that it looks like he has a little cast on his front arm, it’s even more so. The other day, as I sat on a Manhattan bench, a woman asked if she could take his photo.

“Sure,” I said, sipping my juice.

“What happened to his leg?”

“He’s got cancer.”

“Oh … oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any disrespect,” she said, putting her smartphone back in her bag.

“It’s fine,” I said, perfectly happy for his cute mug to be photographed once again. But she wasn’t interested.

We went together, my dog and I, to Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell’s reading for her new memoir, New Life, No Instructions. I read her last book, Let’s Take the Long Way Home, the summer that my grandmother died, and I knew that this was going to be yet another year of grief and loss–and love and friendship. She writes about all of these extraordinarily well, and in combinations that you don’t normally see represented in those stick figure families on the back of minivans.

He panted a bit heavily (a common side effect from one of his meds) at moments, but it was a dog-friendly, grief-wise crowd. Caldwell petted him and thanked me for bringing him.

Hers was the first book I’ve read that expressed the nature of my connection with him, the simple-complex truth of human-canine interaction, and I told her so.

“It’s like first love,” she said.