Yesterday I found a chihuahua in the middle of Noriega Street. I pulled over and stuck my arms out to oncoming cars. “Get out of the street,” I said to the tiny collarless dog. “Shoo!” She looked well-fed and slightly perplexed. Why am I in the middle of the street, she wanted to ask. How did I get here?
I had just returned from MacDowell, an artists’ residency in New Hampshire. For nearly a month, I was in a small town, in the middle of a forest, between Black Lives Matter signage and pro-Trump banners. At my first dinner, I sat next to a jazz saxophonist and a visual artist working on a large-scale project with tree branches and sequins. Everyone seemed magical. How did I get here?
“Get out of the street,” I repeated to the chihuahua as I chased her to the sidewalk. She wouldn’t let me come close, but also didn’t run away, so we just stared at each other as buses whizzed past. I had left everything in my car, including my phone. I sat down on the sidewalk. The dog cocked her head. Is this human lost?
At MacDowell I played ping-pong with a British playwright who wore all black and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. When she laughed, it was like seeing a photograph come to life. I miss her and the other artists. After working all day in isolation, we would pop up at dusk, like misguided sunflowers, drink red wine, and share our small wins and less small insecurities.
“Excuse me. Do you know this dog?” A woman with pale skin, brown sunglasses, and dyed jet-black hair walked past with two mid-sized poodles. The woman shook her head but sprang into action. She handed me her dogs’ leashes and crouched down to offer the chihuahua a treat. Soon, when the dog was in my arms, the woman removed her sunglasses and said, “Let’s go to my house and call Animal Care and Control. I’ll make you coffee.” She looked like Fran Lebowitz.
Her house was filled to the brim with green. Plants hanging from the ceiling and cascading over bookshelves, green leather couch, green plush chairs. Newspapers were stacked on a wooden chair in the corner, and the round dining table was covered in a green oil cloth and piles of sorted coupons. I held the chihuahua on my lap and sipped coffee out of a green and white mug. “I think I’ll call her Nora,” I said. “For Noriega Street.” The woman told me she thought we were meant to meet each other. I agreed because I was in her house and didn’t want to be unpleasant.
I’ve met so many new people over the past month. The pandemic had stolen the joy of serendipity, and then going through cancer treatments kept me on the couch for most of 2021. Entering this stranger’s house felt like a victory. And being at MacDowell was like coming out of hibernation.
The dog’s owner had been contacted and was on her way. I heard a loud noise and must have looked startled because the woman shared that her husband lives downstairs. “We are financially divorced, but I can’t kick him out.” She said he didn’t help with the dogs, the cooking, not even the bathroom remodel, “don’t get me started.” She said she doesn’t tell many people this, but she was in a near-death car accident that completely changed her outlook. “In my next life, I’m not going to marry someone who has Asperger’s and is also narcissistic.”
The doorbell rang and I had to say goodbye to the chihuahua. Handing her over, I told the owner I had been calling her Nora. “You’re close,” she said, kissing her dog’s head. “Her name is Cora.”
We are all lost. The dogs, the artists, the narcissists in basements. And if we’re lucky, we find each other.