Just the two of us

 Photograph courtesy of Philip Angell.

Photograph courtesy of Philip Angell.

I was walking Juniper around the block today and it occurred to me that it is her birthday tomorrow. She will be four years old. Every year her birthday comes around and I usually only remember after the occasion and feel horribly guilty about forgetting, so it feels strange to now be sitting in bed writing this, knowing that in 10 minutes it will be her birthday.

It's difficult to believe that we are already four years into her life. Actually, I was quite alarmed when I thought about it in terms of dog years, and realised that it really is quite a lot. According to my online research, if Juniper was a human she would be in her early to mid thirties - that's the same age as me.

Well that certainly puts a new spin on our relationship. Is it okay to continue trying to communicate with her in baby language? Maybe I should start talking to her like she's a peer now? I mean, next year she'll be a lot older than me!

I was trying to think about what we could do to celebrate this year. I really wanted to take her back to Hastings for the day so that we could have a proper country walk, through proper woodland, and then head back down towards the beach from the cliff top and watch the sea, whilst sharing a sausage near the old fishing boats like we used to. But it seems like a long way to go when the weather isn't very inviting. Besides, I'm not sure how I would feel going back there on a day as sentimental as Juniper's Birthday.

You see, earlier on our walk, I was also thinking about how when I think of Juni, even though she's my dog, and she lives with me, and I have full responsibility of her, I can't help but feel like she's "our dog". Mine and my ex's that is. We have been split up now for a little over a year but because of Juniper I think I will always feel like he is still part of us, like we are, or were, a little family.

It's difficult not to feel a connection to someone who has shared the experience I suppose of bringing up a living being. I know that Juniper is only a dog, but I do believe that she is essentially what kept my ex and I together for so long when we perhaps weren't right for each other and should have let go a lot sooner. In a way she was a distraction from all of the things that didn't work between us. I do feel sad that we aren't able to share Juniper anymore though. And when my ex left I remember being overwhelmed with the feeling that maybe I wouldn't be enough for her by myself.

The truth is that when my ex left, he left me with a best friend, and I was in good hands (or paws). Juniper looked after me. She made sure I got out of the house, and walked, and saw the sea every day. At first it was difficult and I recall sometimes hardly being able to put one foot in front of the other. But eventually I found that I wasn't just leaving the house to walk the dog (or be walked by the dog), I was leaving the house to see what colour the sea would be that day. The wonderful thing about living in Hastings was that changing hue of the vast ocean was a constant reminder that there is always something new and beautiful to get up for and experience. Having a dog to experience life with has just been a wonderful bonus.

I was on the bus last weekend coming home from work and a lady approached me and Juniper. She said that she had seen us a few times travelling together on the bus, and that she thought the relationship we had was lovely. It surprised me that we would be noticed in a city as busy and anonymous as London. I always feel like we are in our own little bubble, my dog and I, jumping on and off of buses, her sitting neatly tucked by my feet or hopping up onto my lap when it is busy, weaving through crowds, invisible and dodging people. Sometimes I forget that perhaps it is an unusual sight, me and my dog. It's easy to take it for granted, a relationship that just works, two beings that fit together like yin and yang.

The relationship between my dog and I feels so natural. We are like partners in crime and everything feels right when she is with me. She is always by my side - even when I don't realise it. Except when I am upset. She doesn't like it when I cry and she will quickly disappear, and come back when I pull myself together. It's a small reminder that when you spend your time being unhappy, the good things slip out of sight. Juniper is definitely one of the good things in my life.

Luckily my cat Fig is quite the opposite and sticks to me like velcro when I am feeling emotional. It's difficult to focus on your sadness when the cat is sticking his bum in your face!

I am not sure what we will do to mark the occasion tomorrow. It doesn't really matter what we do to celebrate Juniper's birthday though, as long as we are together, and I have some cheese in my pocket. I don't think we will go back to Hastings, because I don't want to feel sad on a day that is meant to be about celebration. There is no reason to feel sad now that Juni is the same age as me, I don't have to feel guilty that something is missing in her life. I am all she needs.

My ex was useful though - he could take beautiful spontaneous photographs of me and Juni enjoying life together. I do miss those, I don't have very many. Maybe we'll meet another photographer who will document our love story - mine and Juni's love story that is.

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Thank you for your support
Zara M.