I happen to be a die-hard rom-com fan. Witty banter and dramatic third-act fights are the soundtrack to my Saturday nights, fireside glow illuminating my figure as I'm curled up on the couch wishing I was Kate Hudson or Jennifer Lopez. If I am trying to pose as an intellectual, I might grab one of the many romance novels from my bookshelf and read it while sipping tea, eating up tales bubbling over the rim with cliches and tropes.
But amongst all the scenes and pages, characters and stereotypes, all too often I see men and women swearing off of love after a single relationship ends sourly. They ignore the humorous sidekick who is trying to set them up with the hot CEO or mysterious barista, explaining how love isn't worth it and you only end up in pain.
Twelve-year-old Genevieve chewed my popcorn obliviously, not even catching the dialogue, only ogling the fashion. Fourteen year-old me would yell at the TV, telling the characters to get over themselves and stop being so dramatic. And sixteen year-old Genevieve would sit, a single piece of popcorn between my fingers, trying to understand why the characters would sacrifice years (or what could be a life time of happiness) to save a few weeks of heartbreak. The math just didn't add up and that seeming plot hole always bothered me.
As much as it bothered me, though, I was wise enough to know I never wanted to understand. And now, standing on the other side of that mystery, it's a phenomenon I wish I could return to not understanding. At the recent loss of my dog, Patron, I instantly - even days before she passed - knew why those characters were so afraid of heartbreak.
Now, you're probably like: "Genevieve, wrong blog. This is supposed to be about military life, not romance and pets." Well, as per usual, let's usher in a quick story.
Buckle up, we're time traveling to 2008 where a young Genevieve is preparing for the first deployment of her dad in which she'll actually remember. There's duffel bags and flashes of camo, increased attendance at church, and more time spent with Laurie at daycare. Did I grasp the situation in its entirety, understanding what was about to go on? No, five-year-olds rarely do. But I knew Daddy was going away for a while and I wouldn't see him for a really long time.
I needed a sidekick like all the other Disney princesses, Mom and Dad explained. Rapunzel had Pascal and Ariel had Flounder. So, I got Patron.
Patron was rescued from Fort Hood, Texas and could be characterized for escaping out the front door when my little brother would throw it open on his way to school. She loved tug-a-war and licking peanut butter coated spoons, and sleeping in my bed - specifically on my pillow, curling up generously so that my head could lay on the tiniest corner of it.
While my dad was gone, Patron stayed by my side. She became like a giant, hyper-teddy bear and with her company, Dad's deployment was a little less scarier. And as anyone who has gone through a deployment knows, any comfort or aid in the situation helps tremendously.
Patron slept in that position above my head through my dad's deployment and grade school, throughout middle school, and nearly all eight semesters of high school. I woke up on every birthday to her hogging my pillow and fell asleep in every new room with her at my head. There was typically dog hair stuck on the tape of moving boxes, and while my brother and I raced through new houses to pick rooms, Patron always beat us up the stairs, claiming which one she - and consequently I - would stay in. She championed mountain-backed backyards and fenced in dogparks, open Texas fields and cramped neighborhoods. She went wherever her military life took her. She probably saw more of the country in her short fourteen years than most adult humans do. And through every step of it, she always concluded the night cuddled up in my bed.
Military life is a rich experience, but lacks continuity. We adapt and fill those gaps with traditions and family, and Patron was my embodiment of home, my constant from age five to eighteen.
When I said goodbye to Patron this afternoon, it was like every goodbye to friends, house fading in the rearview mirror, walking away from a favorite playground, knowing I'll never eat at that restaurant, counting down the days until Dad comes home, and the unease of every new situation hit me and exploded, knocking me to my knees in the office of the veterinarian's office. And on that drive home, driving through streets I'd known for a record-breaking five years, for the first time in my memory, I truly felt without a home.
I thought at 18 years of military life, and approaching graduation, I had mastered military life. I thought I had navigated through the complexities of home and identity and was impervious to goodbyes. I was blind to the common threads throughout my life, those who appear in every chapter, no matter where on the map it occurs. I had accepted that my life, as beautiful and colorful and wonderful as it's been, simply lacked continuity.
But, sitting in the backseat and running my fingers through Patron's coat just twenty minutes earlier, I relived those early days at Fort Hood when Patron watched over us when Dad was away. I remembered the way leaves crunched under my boots as I gripped Patron's leash tightly and was pulled through Charlottesville, pretending we were adventurers. I fell in love with hiking as Patron did and the mountains of Fort Carson became our favorite place (I'd like to believe they remained her favorite until she met West Point). In Kansas, Patron rediscovered her love of escaping out the front door and would dash through fields, weaving in and out of hay-bails as my brother and I chased, laughing as we hollered her name. She went back to Texas and then to New York, where she traded in her love for running from home to making West Point feel more like home to cadets. She snuggled up next to countless kids, never failing to bring a smile to a face. I take peace in knowing her final years were spent as a proclaimed "therapy dog," known in the community for snuggles and comfort.
Patron shared every PCS with us and engraved herself in our story, becoming one of the few continuities in my military life.
The next time I'm watching a romcom and that stubborn CEO is refusing to date, I'll save my judgement, for now I understand the fear regarding heartbreak. I've said far too many goodbyes in my life, and yet the sentiment to my beloved pet may forever be the worst. But, having known the love and support of Patron and being lucky enough to have it for thirteen years, I know this pain is only following a connection I wouldn't trade the world for. Patron entered my life when Dad was gone and I needed someone to help ward off nightmares, walking with Mom to drop me off at school and being the first face I saw when the day was done. And she left me as I began packing up my room for college, many feet taller and ready to take on the world. I didn't go through military life alone and my support system is endless, but Patron was there every step of the way. Patron got me through the tough years of my life and when I was finally ready to bloom and go off on my own, she knew it was her time to do the same.
Being military teens, we're not unfamiliar with the image and application of dog tags. We know their primary use and have become acquainted with their symbolism in the military life. But it's now as I'm typing this piece that my eye keeps catching on Patron's ruby red dog tag sitting on my desk without its owner. Losing a pet is never easy and it's been agreed that the pain matches that of losing a human family member. But - and I'm not here to compare pain - when a military teen loses a pet, they are losing more than a best friend and family member, but one of the few threads that wove through their unique lives. Pain is pain and it hurts uniquely in everyone; but in this, we feel it in yet another different way.
If you're reading this next to a pet now, reach out and give them a snuggle. And if you're away from home and/or not near your pet, remember to give them an extra pet for me.