A Celebration for Henry

It was last December, which now feels like a century ago. 

We were in the aftermath of the pandemic, back when nothing made sense. I received a call from a family friend I hadn’t talked to in awhile.

“Hey, still want that puppy?”

For context, a year prior, the December before, actually, I had been promised a puppy from this family friend’s litter, only to have that litter be full of still-borns.

The news was disappointing. It was sad. Made more so because we knew the mother of the litter (she would come and spend time at our house, each of us kidnapping Sam so we could have an overnight snuggle buddy).

Suffice to say after that December I gave up any hope of getting a dog—a dream I had imagined since Portland, since I was nineteen. I took the still-borns as a sign from the universe: it’s not the right time.

And it wasn’t. 

It wasn’t.

When I picked up the phone and the question came, now a year later, I was suddenly filled with doubts: Is this the right time? Do I really want that responsibility? Am I sure I’m ready for it? I said yes because I could not very well say no. But even when I said yes, I wasn’t sure. Even then I was filled with fear, and worry.

I picked the name Henry because it’s an old name, and I like old things. I bought a painting during that same time and the painter’s name was William Henry Harlock. I took this as being significant because my middle name is William, and Henry was this gentleman’s middle name (I have yet to find a use for Harlock, but give it time). I was also reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Naturally, I had to take “James” as well.

All this to say that I had the name almost instantly—I knew my boy would be a Henry. We (my brother-in-law and I) flew out to Portland Maine on a wintry February, me with my chosen name, already referring to the “it” or “he” or “him” as Henry. We were met with icy winds and a small snow-dappled town that looked a dream; everything during that time was, I suppose.

The anticipation was intense: How would we pick our puppies? How would we decide who’s whose? Only two puppies to choose from: not a huge margin for error….

We were sent a picture; this picture:

“Which do you feel is Henry?” my sister asked me.

“The one sitting up, with the big ears,” I responded, after considering the picture for a moment.

Despite this feigned decisiveness, we still didn’t know. How could we know? We decided we couldn’t decide; not until we were there, in person.

We arrived at the small little cottage, where the musty smell of babes sleeping in cramped corners filled the warmed air. I set my bag down. From the other room came a shuffling flurry of excitement, my heart pounding in my chest all the while. And then, I saw them: only paws, flappy ears, and puppy breath; wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. They clambered towards us sniffing, licking, bumping, sneezing, tumbling and turning. Two black shapes, before indiscernible from one another; two new brothers meeting two new brothers. I knew Henry’s name from the start; I like to think he knew mine, too. I say I picked Henry, but in truth Henry picked me.

They were cute, those puppies. Trouble is, puppies are easy to lose track of. In the chaos of the puppies running about, I had completely forgotten my bag, which I had set haphazardly down onto the floor behind me. Turning around, I found the puppy I now know as my boy, sniffing my bag, laying on it as if it were his own, as if to say “Hey, where have you been?” like he does every time I come home.

I knew then that this was the one, that this small little shape I was looking at was Henry.

The flights back were a whirlwind: Matt and I rushing through airport terminals with two baby puppies, neither of whom particularly preferred being stuffed into small carriers. (Can you blame them?) Many memorable moments during that trek back, but the one that strikes me the most was when I forgot my bag (a bag containing my insulin, my pump supplies, essentially everything I need to survive) on the plane, having forgotten it in favor of finding a place for Henry to go potty. I didn’t need anyone to say it for me to know things had changed, that priorities were different: I was a dad now, and I had a son to take care of.

Henry grew quickly, as all puppies do. Small paws turned to big paws, bushy tail to brandished whip. I found in Henry everything I had dreamed of—and I do mean that. He’s been my best friend, my baby boy, my comfort blanket. 

And today, he turns one. 

I imagine for him things lately have been very different, probably a bit scary, if I’m honest. The summer brought with it a new partner—something else to fall in love with. I suppose he and I both did.

Katie was the perfect person at the perfect time. When I first went to meet her I took Henry, because of course I wanted to share this part of my life, this everything of it (also doesn’t hurt to take a cute dog to meet a cute girl). She became for Henry a doting mother, at times stern (something she realized was necessary with how naughty my boy can be), but always happy, always filled with life, and joy, and love. It was a dream, that summer. I remember that time as being like the first part of Little Women, as being bathed in golden light. We took Henry places I never would have taken him on my own. We dared to dream with my little boy. And it was amazing. It was everything I could have asked for.

But, just as with kids, when you go through something, so too do they. Henry has seen me broken down, sobbing and clutching myself, a juddering mess of emotions. He’s seen me angry—frightfully so. He’s seen me at my worst, at the literal bottom of whatever chasm this life has. He’s seen me. He’s seen me.

This season has brought with it many changes, many unforeseen shifts that have been frightening for me to live through and experience, and undoubtedly terrifying for my sweet boy to witness. As a parent, you always hope to be your best, to leave the impression that everything is under control, and all is safe. But, truth be told, things haven’t been safe. It’s been a mess, honestly. All of it has. But Henry has been there through it all. He’s been a person to cuddle when I was alone. He’s been a comfort blanket when I was cold. He’s been laughter, he’s been happiness. He’s been responsibility. He’s been life; you’ll find he is full of it.

And so today, I celebrate his. I hope to see him live a long, long happy one; I hope I can provide it. I hope I’m able to be there for him as he has been for me.

Brave. My boy is so very brave. And loved. Deeply, deeply loved.

Happy Birthday, Henry James.

I simply adore you. 

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