Matt and I had some big experiences together: exciting trips, life milestones, major career shifts. But the story of our life together, I think, is mostly made up of everyday things: those shared quirks, jokes, and silly rituals that held up the walls of our private little world. Starting every morning—no matter what—with a full-body hug. Ending fights with a round of teasing: You’re dumb. No, you’re dumb. Him sneaking up on me while I brushed my teeth and trying to scare me with horrible faces. Me pretending to be scared. Texting each other in lolcat speak: Y u no home? I can haz hugs now? Talking to the dog—always, always talking to the dog. Coming home from a night out and rushing to greet her: Hi, Amy! You’re a dog!
One of our rituals involved a photographer named Theron Humphrey. I discovered his Maddie On Things project about a year ago, and sharing these deceptively simple dog photos soon became part of our daily routine. After Matt and I sat down to dinner, I’d ask, “Are you ready for your daily Maddie?” Then I’d hand him my phone, loaded with Maddie’s latest portrait—Maddie stoically standing atop a horse, a refrigerator, a basketball hoop. He’d smile his famous MattyMolz smile, the one with the crinkled eyes and breathy chuckle; and we’d joke about how our crazy little dog would never stand for any of the things Theron asked his Maddie to do.
Our fixation with Maddie was, of course, about more than obsessing over a cute dog on the internet. It was about our shared love for animals, our shared love for photography, our shared love for our own dog, who changed us from a couple into a family. It was a frivolous way to top off a stressful day, but it was also about feeling relieved and happy that someone out there took his dog as seriously as we took ours.
Tonight, Theron and Maddie held a book signing right here in my neighborhood. I thought, wouldn’t that be fun; but, of course, it was about much more than a bookstore event. It was about gathering up enough strength to do something fun—something Matt would’ve loved—by myself. I walked the three blocks from home, telling myself, this is no big deal. I sat next to a stranger who has no idea I’m grieving my fiancé every minute of the day. I smiled. I listened to Theron talk about his adventures with his sweet-eyed, anthropomorphic little coonhound. I heard him say, “I want to live a story that I love.” I felt the tears well up. I tried to keep my composure. Then, Maddie walked up to Theron. He stopped, mid-sentence, and exclaimed, “Hi, Maddie! You’re a dog!”
I left. I wanted so badly to buy a book and tell Theron that his creativity and quiet bravery have inspired me; that his work has brought me more smiles than I can count. That I also have a dog who’s changed my life and become my most steadfast companion. But my heart was too filled with longing and appreciation and every other emotion. There were too many people.
So, Theron, if you’re reading this: Thank you.