I’m lying in bed as rays of sun stream through my window. The weather app says it’s 40 degrees outside and feels like 36, but I wouldn’t know. My sheets are stained with last night’s tears and yesterday’s coffee. Instagram just told me I’ve been caught up for the tenth time today.
My dad recommended that I let in some natural light. My therapist recommended Prozac and a meditation app. My mom recommended that I should try to do something around the house for once. My brother recommended that I shut the fuck up.
There’s a knock at the door that sounds more like a scratch. I lazily open the door a bit. I look down and Spencer is there, head cocked slightly to the right.
“What are you doing here?”
We stare at each other for a very long second, like he’s asking my permission. Spencer hasn’t come up to my room since he peed on my carpet, and I yelled. He prefers lounging with my sister because she hides snacks in her drawers and under her bed.
Then suddenly, he pushes the door open with his head and leaps onto my bed. My mind launches into a familiar panicked state. Who knows where those paws have been? He nuzzles into my blanket on the edge of my bed and finds peace. His back moves up and down with his breath. He stares at me. I don’t have the heart to shoo him away.
My family adopted Spencer when I was a senior in high school. I think he was supposed to teach my little brothers responsibility or something. When he arrived, I was simultaneously amused and annoyed. He was cute—no denying that—but he ran around the house, pissing and shitting and jumping and scratching on everything in sight.
Spencer is shichon, a Shih Tzu–Bichon Frise mix. He has caramel and white fur, always perfectly groomed. He hovers low to the ground and is about a foot and a half long. He’s good looking and small—the quintessential New York pet.
In the following years—as I left the house to go to my gap year, college, and study abroad—Spencer became an anecdote, a fun fact at best. Most people didn’t even know I had a dog. I had no pictures on my phone, and I wouldn’t talk about him with my friends in the personified way that dog people do.
As Spencer matured, he lost a lot of the initial hyperactivity he had when he was a puppy. I resented the way that he lounged around our house being fed, walked, and cleaned by others. I was always out and about, shuttling from activity to activity, coming up with tasks to keep myself busy. Gaps in my schedule meant that I had to be alone with my thoughts—the worst possible outcome. I didn’t understand lazy creatures like Spencer. And I didn’t understand why we had one in my house.
In March, I became the lazy creature I feared. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t be busy. Thankfully, I had my family around me, so I wasn’t alone—but I was still lonely. Being sedentary doesn’t suit me. Without distractions from my anxious brain, it’s easy for me to get sucked into endless ruminations. March was the first time those ruminations kept me from getting out of bed for most of the day.
When lockdown dampened everyone’s mood, only Spencer’s mood seemed lighter. I could sense that he relished the company of everyone. Strangely, I found myself craving the positive energy of his presence.
Depression feels like a weighted blanket that is nearly impossible to shake off. It can feel strangely comforting at times, yet always deeply unsettling. Rather than wallow under the blanket with me, Spencer was able to lift it for small moments throughout the day.
When Spencer came to my room and nuzzled into my bed, I noticed how even his laziness contrasted with mine. I was lying in bed because I thought there was no reason to get out of it. Spencer lay down next to me because he felt relaxed in my company. We weren’t touching, but it felt like the kind of calm I get with a long hug from someone I love.
Spencer and I never became inseparable, but we grew closer. His presence soothes me. He’ll sit under my desk while I work from home, next to me during Skype therapy sessions, and on my lap while watching movies. Spencer doesn’t judge me for not being productive. He doesn’t evaluate my performance. He doesn’t criticize my appearance or get annoyed by my anxious ruminations. So long as I rub his stomach and sneak him some challah bread once in a while, he’ll be my friend.
He makes me smile—the way he pitter patters around the house looking for dirty socks to chew. Or how he steals dirty underwear from my sister’s hamper and brings it into the kitchen like a trophy. I love how he’s easily amused by the mundane—a stick, a ball, or a patch of sunlight.
The qualities that I initially resented in Spencer were really qualities that I envied. He’s easily amused, relaxed, and content with life indoors. When he’s around me, I feel more comfortable being still. I don’t think I’ll ever get to his level, but I love being with him while I try.