In 2007, I had just moved to [Awful Town, Midwestern State] for grad school at [Program That Was Not a Good Match].

I’m not really sure why I decided to go to grad school, exactly, but it wasn’t the right reasons. It did end up changing the course of my career/life for the positive, but it was square peg/round hole at its square-peggiest back in 2007.

I was having a super hard time adjusting to the midwest after being in San Francisco, and my supervising teacher was absolutely insane. (She ended up leaving her tenured university position to become a life coach mid semester ... ?) The cat I’d brought from California was diagnosed with advanced FIV, and I was completely unmoored at the idea of losing my only long-term friend. My mental health wasn’t exactly in the greatest place before I moved, and none of these things helped much.

I’d been obsessed with the idea of getting a pug since college, and was looking at rescues casually. My graduate stipend could barely support me, though, and most of the rescue pugs were needed long-term medical care. I was terrified of the commitment and the responsibility, but even more terrified of what would happen if I couldn’t find a way to connect myself to the world I was living in.

A friend mailed me Walking in Circles Before Lying Down because there were an alarming number of parallels to my life (including the crazy life coach person). Around the same time, they made The Jane Austen Book Club into a film, which I saw at the $5 theater and promptly became obsessed with. I was having an Austen phase anyway, but one of the characters bred dogs instead of dealing with her life and I loved it.

In 2007, I really wanted a pug but couldn’t afford to maintain one and found myself killing an afternoon at a dog show, chatting idly with a lady who showed Airedales. My dad had always had them, so I was conversational, but didn’t really have any interest in living with one.

That’s how I met this ridiculous, cartoon-faced dog that had been rejected from breeding and show. Her look was right, but her temperament was wrong. She was a ditz and a klutz, and somehow we sat in the floor bonding even though I only liked little dogs and she didn’t like strangers.

I’m not sure why we were such a good fit, or how I went from daydreaming about a pug to actually taking home an Airedale all in the space of an afternoon. I’ll never really understand how the stars aligned that this woman whose business centered around making money from fancy dogs saw a dog and a person who were clearly soulmates, and sent that dog home for $1 with a contract that stipulated she be loved as a family member. But it had something to do with that movie, that book, and that dog, and my life started getting better. Not all at once, but better.

The dog died this summer and I’ve been sad and unmoored again. It’s funny how your identity can get wrapped up in things that don’t actually control your identity. You can keep being yourself without a dog, even if you loved her. It’s just lonely.

I’ve been focusing on the career stuff that’s been made possible since my life changed. And on the dog that’s left, on finding the keys to our unique relationship. She’s a wonderful dog, if a bit dramatic, and we love her. We found a new normal, and it was nice. Just different.

But I met another dog a few months ago who was a lot like the dog we lost. He wasn’t a good fit for our family at the time, but he reminded me. And I was sad again. I’ve been doing this back and forth dance with the idea of a second dog since then. The husband was on board. The dog was lined up. Everyone was ready, and I found myself balking. I’ve been worried I’m trying to replace what isn’t replaceable.

I checked into a hotel tonight, about two hours from this dog that was supposed to come live with us, but that I wanted to back away from. I checked into the hotel, and opened the drawer, and someone had left a copy of Walking in Circles in the bedside table drawer where the Bible is supposed to be.

I went to dinner, came back, put on some PJs, ignored the book that made me want to cry, and turned on the TV.

Jane Austen Book Club.

I think my dog is telling me it’s time.