The Nervous Breakdown, Pt. II: Philip

posted in: Sicky 62
Not Philip, but what a good boy. Photo: Wikipedia.



It’s time for The PaperGirl Sunday Evening Post. Tonight, the continuation of the grim story I began last week. Descend into torment with me, won’t you?

But first: It was staggering to see the amount of love shown to me and the identification so many readers had with the first installment of the story. Many PaperGirl readers have experienced a major depressive episode, themselves. Many more have loved ones or friends who have. Nearly everyone is acquainted with depression somehow. How, exactly, can there still be a stigma around getting therapy or getting on (the right) meds to treat mental illness? Help me understand.

There were five events that combined to cause my nervous breakdown. The only way to illustrate the full misery is to illustrate the full misery piece by piece. When you’re having a nervous breakdown, time makes no sense — but let’s go chronologically, anyway.

It started with Philip.

If you don’t know about a little dog named Philip Larkin, click the “Philip Larkin” category tab over on the right hand side and you’ll see all the posts I’ve written about him. The story of Philip is long and it is about to get longer.

About nine months ago, a PaperGirl reader put me in contact with a Maltipoo breeder in Arkansas. This breeder was kind, certified, transparent, and above all, ethical. Filling out my Puppy Application took at least an hour to complete. I detailed the dog of my dreams, signed an agreement to be a good dog owner, and sent all that off with a not-insignificant deposit check. I was approved and put on the waiting list. The breeder said that two of her mama dogs whelp particularly small dogs, so this meant Philip’s mom would be either Ginger or Elsa.

“I think Ginger will probably have puppies toward the end of summer,” the breeder said. “You’ll be the first to know!”

But neither dog gave birth; the summer was too hot, the breeder said. No problem, I told her: I can wait. I had waited this long, hadn’t I? Besides, so much had been put in motion. Finding the breeder, getting on the waitlist, sending the deposit … Philip Larkin was getting more real every day. Soon, I wouldn’t feel so alone all the time. Soon, he would wriggle and roll and pounce on me and lick my nose with his tiny pink tongue … I’m comin’, Philip, I thought. We got this.

In November, the breeder emailed me that Ginger had given birth. There were five puppies in the litter: four girls … and one boy. This was it. That was Philip. I got the email while on a Quiltfolk trip and when I read about Ginger and the puppies to the girls in the car, we all screamed and freaked out and I flapped my hands and cried. Everyone hugged. Philip wasn’t just my dog at that point; we all wanted him.

When the breeder asked me if I’d like to see pictures of Philip as he grew, I told her that I would like that very much. It would be around eight weeks before he could come home, and this was the perfect amount of time to get things in order. I immediately began all the legwork for my petition. It hadn’t made sense to do all the stuff it before that, since a) I didn’t know if there would be a dog with this breeder; b) what if the dog wasn’t the right one, etc.; and c) I had looked at Illinois law and knew all the pieces I needed to proceed to get my companion pet in a no-dog building. I was ready for this paperwork.

The breeder sent pictures of Philip at about six weeks. He was exquisite. Downy and sweet. His dark eyes had that new puppy, sleepy, bleary look; he still had so much growing to do! His belly was pink and I liked to think I saw a lil’ milk gut.

Toward the end of November, I handed my building manager my 26-page petition, asking for permission to obtain Philip. This petition did not have to be 26 pages but like I was going to screw this up? Hell no. That slipcovered binder had a table of contents, a cover letter, letters from my doctors, a packet of resources (e.g., vets in the area, boarding outfits, etc.), information about the breed, information from the breeder, and all the blog posts I had written about my future pet, printed off. I wanted to make sure that my condo board understood this was not an impulse thing, that getting my small, hypo-allergenic dog was something I had been longing for and planning for for at least two years. I was following the rules. I was doing the work. I was going above and beyond.

On Black Friday, I bought a dog bed. On Cyber Monday, I bought a treat jar. At night, I actually fell asleep thinking of my dog. I had been feeling so poorly over the past couple months with bathroom stuff and it was a happy place I went to in my head.

On December 6th, I got a certified, one-page letter from my building’s attorneys retained by my building that under no circumstances would I be allowed to obtain a dog for the purposes of emotional support. Unless I had a service animal license, the answer was no. Adding to the shock, the lawyer wrote that the blog posts I included in my packet showed that I had tried to get my blog readers to give me tips on how to game the system. I am still not sure what blog posts she was reading, but I guess lawyers are real busy and stuff. She just got mixed up.

My heart got shot.

That’s how it felt. Someone pulled out heavy gun, placed the barrel flush to my breast, and shot me through my heart. For a few moments, I sat there at my table. I guess it was like in the movies when a gangster is playing cards or something, and he gets shot, right there at the table, and he’s still for a moment before he topples over. I looked down at the letter in my hands. I read it again. Then I put the letter on the table. And I began to cry.

That’s how the breakdown began. It began when my dog died.

Next week: The Breakup.

I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying: Philip Larkin!

posted in: Family, Philip Larkin 23
Can you tell I'm crying? I'm crying. Photo: Sophie Lucido Johnson.
Can you tell I’m crying? I’m crying. Photo: Sophie Lucido Johnson.


I spent a good deal of the day recuperating, which was smart. Then, late in the afternoon, motivated by a number of deep-seated needs, I put on my sandals and my favorite blue- and white-striped shirt and ventured north to a pet store. A tiny puppy pet store. 

I went to pet little puppies. Remember Philip Larkin? Me, too.

I’ve been researching. A lot. I’ve been emailing breeders across the state, breeders all the way into Iowa, looking for people who are handling these lil’ pups right. I have been combing the Midwest for highly-rated, respectable breeders who safely and humanely breed Teacup Maltipoos. Because Philip Larkin is my dream dog. I dream of Philip Larkin a lot right now. I even have a YouTube playlist with videos of the kind of puppy I love. I watched those videos last night! It’s getting intense.

Please know that I understand why some may raise an eyebrow at my “designer dog” desires. Some good people will surely press me to consider a rescue animal instead of what’s considered a “boutique” dog. I get it, absolutely. I’ve been thinking about a dog for some time, now, as you may know. Those who support and participate in rescue animal adoption are people I respect very much and admire very much. The rescue pet owners I know — including Sophie and my sister Rebecca and Dave, my older sister’s roommate (aka, my “brother-from-another-mother” who is a legit Broadway star!) are people I respect and admire for their animal rescue efforts and rescue animal success stories. I love them and I have loved/currently love their pets.

For me, though, there’s a specific breed that will work for my life right now. It has to do with health needs, work, my travel demands, and my living space, all of which impact the animal’s quality of life and the owner’s life, too. The way I figure, whether it’s an adoption or a purchase, a person who really, really wants a lil’ pup really, really wants to give that pup a loving home, an not everyone’s path is the same. If I sound defensive it’s because I am: There are dogs that need homes but who I can’t adopt right now for a lot of real reasons. Just because that’s true doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it. I looked at the sweetest dogs today and they cost money to take home; rescue animals would give anything to be taken home tonight. I don’t know what to do with those emotions. I don’t.

What I know is that when Sophie walked into the place, I had been petting this particular puppy for about 10 minutes and had started to cry because I loved that little creature so much. Soph walked up to the petting area and when she said, “Mary! Hi!”, I looked up and my face was all wet. (Can you tell in the picture? It’s a little like this one, in which I am also crying and also Sophie took it so what’s up with that, Sophie??) Everyone in the puppy-petting area looked at me, a crying weirdo, and I felt silly but also not silly at all. The place was basically women petting puppies; I think they got it.

There’s a lot more prep to do if I want to really have a doggie; there’s a lot more research to do and money put aside. But the venture out today, the move from video to real-life puppy was a big deal. I petted three puppies. They all broke my heart in the best way.

A Jolly Good Fellow.

posted in: Day In The Life, Travel 0
A Dachshund. Photo: Rainer Spickmann, 2005.
Dachshund. Photo: Rainer Spickmann, 2005.

You spend lots of time in air travel, you’re bound to amass air travel stories. I’ve promised this blog will never be about one thing, but I’d better watch it or it will become Paper(Airplane)Girl before our very eyes. Unfortunately, the plane-related tale tonight is hardly as lighthearted as yesterday’s baby-on-a-crime-spree.

Our flight from Midway landed safely at LaGuardia last night. A delay at the jetway meant that everyone had to sit tight for a few minutes. I’m sitting in my aisle seat and suddenly I hear a barking dog. Not a real dog; I was hearing the sound effect of a dog. The barking was coming from a cell phone — it was the phone’s ringer.

The phone was inside the pants pocket of stout businessman of about fifty. He was standing in the aisle, his belt buckle too close to my head. His hand brushed my shoulder as he stuck it into his pocket to get at the phone. It was 8:30pm and folks were quiet and tired and everyone was hearing this barking dog.

“The bitch is calling,” he said with a chortle and silenced the ringer.

It was clear as a bell, or a gunshot: His wife was calling.

He had set his ringer to sound a barking dog when his wife called him and he thought this was so clever that he’d toss it out to a plane-full of people for our amusement, too. Sure enough, several men around the man sniggered.

She could be awful. Yesterday might’ve been the worst day of his life. Maybe “bitch” is a term of endearment for those two. You don’t know what goes on between two people. But I was coming in to town with a lot of questions, confusions, hopes, and fears about what comes next in life and his “joke” seemed so needlessly mean. We’ve all been cruel, me included. It’s nothing to be proud of. You can try to curtail that stuff, improve. Anyone can try to do better.

No special ringers.

In Lieu of My Tirade Against Hollywood, Ladies + Gentlemen, Scrabble.

posted in: Family, Paean 3

For the past hour I have been working on the post I wanted to post this morning. It’s turning into quite a beast of an essay and it’s simply not ready for prime-time. It’s about Hollywood and how I can’t take it anymore.

Since I can’t post something half-baked but I hate missing a day — and because I’m bone-weary tired and need to introduce my head to a pillow for once in my life for heaven’s sake — I’ve decided to share a picture of Scrabble, my mother’s miniature Golden Doodle.

Scrabble is a dog that looks like a lamb, behaves like four-year-old child (curious, adorable, infuriating), and is named after a board game. She can fetch a quilt, shake hands, and has lots of work to do in the evenings: she has to run around the yard and bark for 20 minutes.

“Scrabble’s doing her barking work,” my mother will say, loading the dishwasher.

Scrabble loves me and I love Scrabble. This photo was taken at about six in the morning last month when I was home in Iowa filming TV. She sleeps downstairs, but when she wakes up in the morning, she’ll bolt all the way upstairs to my childhood bedroom and dive-bomb my head in order to cuddle me. She is not allowed to lick my face; she licks my face anyway.

Scrabble, if you were able to send emails for me or finish my blog post — or fact-check it at the very least, Scrabble! — you’d be even more precious to me than you already are. But I suppose your being a dog confers special qualities that cancel out your human shortcomings. So it’s a wash.

Goodnight, Miss Muddy Paws, wherever you are in the Iowa house tonight.

BONUS: I never do it, but you’ll see why this is worth an outside link. Watch Scrabble fetch her quilt for my Mom.

Meet Philip Larkin.

posted in: Art, Philip Larkin 3
Philip Larkin
My little puppy. Photo: Me.


I found a photograph of a little doggie at a flea market. Wanna see him? Okay, here he is:

I got him for $25 dollars. As you can see, he was irresistible. The cock of the head, the sparkly eyes. He had to be mine. I thought for a second he might’ve been that famous 1930’s Hollywood dog, Asta. But he’s not. He’s just a little dog. What’s neat is that his picture was taken by a Chicago photography studio that no longer exists, somewhere up north. The name was stamped on the back. Abbot Photography, I think?

I spared no expense with the frame. I went to a trusted frame shop and did him right. I feel like I rescued him, which of course makes him “a rescue.” Now he’s home. He’s warm and dry, beloved and safe. Safe in the home of a woman who really needs him.

I named him after my favorite poet: Philip Larkin.