Must Love Dogs


I didn’t want her to throw me a party.

I thought I’d slip out of town quietly.  I’d say my goodbyes, of course, but without fanfare, one at a time, on the phone, at lunch, over coffee.

The farewell party that Q. insisted she throw for me felt over the top.

It felt emotional.

Maybe it’s because there were so many people dear to me all in one place.  These were the friends I shared my best times with, and they were the friends who saw me through the worst.  They were the ones who got me through the year things turned upside down, the family who didn’t mind when I invited myself over during the seven day Hurricane Sandy power outage, the neighbor who brought me children’s Tylenol on Christmas night when one of the kids spiked a 105 degree fever, the friend who met me at the emergency room the night S. was hit by a car, the woman who took my children the day I asked my husband to leave.

I haven’t loved this year, but it needed to happen.  It’s the kind of year that you have to get through and once you get through it, you feel you’re on the other side of something big.  I wouldn’t want to repeat it, but I’ve learned from it.

Not only was the year upside down, but I was upside down.  I wasn’t that strong, grounded, centered version of myself, the one I like, the one I depend on.  I felt vulnerable.  I felt uncertain.  I wasn’t dependable nor could I be depended upon.  The Ilene who was always there for everyone else was gone, at least, temporarily.

A friend told me that when you’re going through a divorce, there are the people who run toward you and the people who run away.  There are those who’d prefer to avoid the quake, and I can’t entirely blame them. Yet, I’m grateful for those who stayed.  Forever grateful.

Everyone in the room with me on this night ran toward me.     I stand arm to arm with them, sipping Shiraz and talking about everyday things and not so every day things, while my dear ones tell me they’ll miss me through teary eyes, until I’m teary eyed myself.

I feel so loved that it hurts.

I grab D. and whisk her away to the front staircase in the foyer.  I need a moment.

“I’m doing this,” I say to D.  “Oh my God, I’m really doing this.”

I feel the cry spill onto my cheeks as I nestle my head on D.’s shoulder.

“You’re going to be fine,”   D. says.  “Just fine. You got this.”

“I thought this through. You know how much I thought this through.  But still…”

This move was by no means an impulsive decision.  I had conceived the thought back in the fall, had looked at it from all angles.  I made visits. I weighed the pros and the cons.  I had been honest with myself about the challenges.  But now that moment of change was actually here.

D. takes my hand.

“You’re gonna crush this.  You’ll make friends.  You’ll find work.  And you’ll find some hot thirty year-old boyfriend and it’s going to make all of us up here super, super jealous.”

“Thirty is way too young.”

“OK, then, thirty-two.”

“Like those two years make a difference.”

“This is pretend, Ilene, can you just enjoy it?”

I think of myself at thirty-two, the year I got married.  I was clueless about so many things.  I’m still clueless about so many things, except that now, I realize myself as such.

“OK.  What’s this thirty-two year old guy’s name?”

“Jason.”  D. says.  “No. Jack. I like Jack.  That’s a nice, strong name.”

I feel the smile on my face and the warm tingle of the wine in my throat. I’ve given myself permission to stop scrutinizing.

“I could kiss a guy named Jack,” I say.  “So long as he loves dogs.  It’s imperative that Jack love dogs.”

“Fine. Thirty-two year old Jack loves dogs.”

I miss dogs.  We haven’t fostered one since putting our house up for sale.  Once I’m settled in my own space again, there will be dogs.

As I sit there, I picture the kids and me, walking along the beach after school.  It’s our beach.  We don’t feel the need to be polite there.  I picture the runners who wave as they pass us and kids playing in the sand and a youngish guy with a dog and a Frisbee who may or may not be Jack.  That doesn’t matter as much as the fact that my feet are grounded in the sand, my heart is centered, and I’m whole.   I’m right side up. I feel like me again, finally.

Satisfied by this imaginary glimpse of my future, I get up from the stairs, and head back to the party, ready for the rest of my send off.


This post is dedicated to my soul sister, the amazing Tamara, and was inspired by her post Upside Down.  In Tamara’s fabulous words: “It’s all a bit upside down sometimes. It’s all a bit of give and take. It’s all a bit of wonder and beauty and fabulous joy. Just love.”


Must Love Dogs — 48 Comments

    • Thanks Michelle! I’ll be blogging lots about it I’m sure. And I can’t wait to tell y’all about my new dogs!

  1. You are going to be absolutely amazing. I know that it must be nerve wracking but I’m so excited for you and this next adventure. While the going away party might have felt over-the-top, I know that your friends, family and neighbors wanted a way to be able to show you how much they love and will miss you. How could they not? xox
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…All-night Walk Under the MoonlightMy Profile

    • I agree that we all needed a time and a place for goodbyes. But man, how emotional – everyone in one place. But it was so lovely. Just amazing. And thank you for your confidence my friend. Today and always. xo

  2. “I feel so loved it hurts.” That sums it up, Ilene, really. To have people who know you at your messiest and scruffiest times, and love you deeply anyway, priceless. I am waving an excited goodbye, with a huge lump in my throat and a chest so tight with joy for you I can barely stand it. It is a welcome as well, because I think we are both on our way to becoming Southern gals. I look forward to you putting your own unique stamp on being a belle! xo
    Kim recently posted…Living in the In-BetweenMy Profile

    • I LOVE that you and I are becoming southern gals more or less at the same time! The land below the mason dixon line will never be the same again! And yes, these are the friends who loved me at my messiest. What a blessing to have those kinds of people in our lives.

    • I already have some visitors lined up which is fantastic! It’s nice to live in a warm spot and one by the beach at that! And yes, I agree that we all needed time for a proper goodbye – or as I’d prefer – “see you later.” 🙂

  3. I have had moments like you describe. The decision is made, and you are following through with all your heart. But sometimes there is that “whoa!” moment when you stop and think “this is really happening.” It will be great, my friend. I love your vision of the future, with your children beside you and your feet in the sand – it sounds lovely!
    Kim recently posted…They’re Singing My SongMy Profile

    • Yes! This was my “whoa!” moment. But so long as I cling tightly to my vision of that future, and keep my feet firmly in the sand, I agree all will be fine.

  4. I have to tell you – I first saw this at 5:30 am when Des first decided it was party time. I stayed in bed with the covers over my head and sacrificed sleep to read this. It hits me even more deeply now since I’m awake. “I feel so loved that it hurts.” Oh that hits me. I feel that way on every big day – birthdays, graduations. I usually also feel a bit “I’m not worthy.” which is totally not cool.
    I love the name Jack. If Scarlet were to be a boy, it was a contender. And then we had a boy and named him Des. Who knew?!
    Thanks for the shout-out, my soul sister.
    Tamara recently posted…Guest Post: Rated “R” First Grader – What Happens When Good Kids Say Bad Words.My Profile

    • I am so glad you liked your shout out post and I am so honored that you read it early in the morning. Yes, all that love. It feels so incredible and overwhelming and maybe a little bit of not worthy-ness for me – at the very least, it’s, “Why are you all making such a fuss?”

      And the name Jack is super cool.

  5. You are fabulous, so you are going to be fabulous. I have to admit to being a little envious of you. When I went through a divorce (which feels like a different lifetime, by the way) it was in 1998. I had been a stay at home mom since 1986. (Are my age spots showing?) I had wanted it that way, and he had insisted. I lived in a tiny ‘cottage’ – what the city called it – with my four kids. I had a hard time finding a job I could actually take. Maybe I was depressed? I don’t know? I was scared and also the strongest I have ever been at the same time. I was so broke I couldn’t even file for a divorce. The only way I was getting the only money I got, child support, was because it was wrapped in a protection order. Thank God for my friend Becky, who lighted my way. Otherwise I do not know what I would have done. I know it would have been very different.

    I met a 32 year old man. Not right away, though. I married him. My life now? Unrecognizable in the best possible ways.

    You are already light years ahead of where I was.
    tammigirl recently posted…This is Why I Always Listen to My GutMy Profile

    • I never knew you were a single mom with 4 kids – and I mean, wow. How *do* you find work around the needs of 4 babies when you are alone? That’s been one of my biggest challenges up here – to put them first but still earn income – and it will be a challenge where I’m going – but with a much lower cost of living than where I am. I love hearing about where you were and where you are now and that your story gives me so much hope. And there must be something magical about that age of 32!

  6. This is so beautifully written, it just makes me want to send a big virtual hug your way. Change is hard, but in the short time I’ve followed your blog, I’ve come to know you as an incredibly strong woman who will land on her feet no matter what. Best wishes for your upcoming move. May you find just as many true friends in your new home and hopefully a dashing young thang who loves dogs!
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted…Sturdy Girl Sports Giveaway WinnerMy Profile

    • Thank you Nicole! I have loved getting to know you and I appreciate your words so. If I can make the kinds of amazing friends that I have here down there, then all will be good. And if I meet that dashing young thang who loves dogs, all will be even better!

  7. What a great post, Ilene!
    I can’t wait to follow along on your trip.
    I’ve been upside down plenty of times in my life and I know what you are talking about.
    Also – there is a formula on how young your boyfriend can be: divide your age in half and add 7. I’m almost 42, so it would be 21 plus 7 = 28… Mmmhhh, I think I would like to know more about Jack 🙂
    (Also, if you want to know how shaving the “rebel” into my head came about, I wrote the story on my blog last night).
    Kerstin @ Auer Life recently posted…The Rebel LifeMy Profile

    • Oh my! My number doesn’t even come out to 30. Way way way too young! I think that means I’ll have to stick with Jack. I will be glad to let you know more about him as I do! And your post today rocked. If Chris had a brother, I wouldn’t mind bumping into him running along the beach with his dog, either!

  8. Even though I just started reading your blog, something tells me you would be fine wherever you are. As long as you have your kids, your dog and with or without “Jack.” Get ready to start enjoying it all…
    Allie Burdick recently posted…SPA by DEXTERMy Profile

  9. It’s weird to think now, but this will be a time in your life that you will look back as one of the happiest. There will be fear, sadness, loneliness and all the other scary monsters, but you will conquer them all and have learned to embrace them all. And you will miss them when you move on to great things with Jack and open up another amazing chapter of your life! (My best friend had a vacation fling with a guy 10 years her younger when we were on a girls trip in Mexico… we laughed at how it was crazy and he was a baby and it was a vacation thing “what happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico”…she’s been married 5 years to this amazing man with 1 baby boy – and a beautiful dog.) Dream big, then go create that dream.
    Leah Davidson recently posted…Quote of the WeekMy Profile

    • That is such a great story about your friend! And I love what you say, about this being such a great time in my life. And you are so right. This is the adventure. The part where I am out there and unsettled and exploring – in all ways possible. And then the next chapter will come and I’ll be more settled and that will be great too – but to your point, I don’t want to rush this or wish it away to get to what’s next. It will all be brilliant and I am so glad that you are someone I can look to as an example of how to “do this.”

    • Thank you for your confidence Alison! And I will not only say hi to Jack for you, but I will Instagram you a photo of him walking his dog 🙂

  10. I loved this post. And when I read it, after I drafted my own post yesterday, I was struck by how much we are living lives in parallel, leaping out into the unknown, but into a place that we can be confident will be better than where we were. And we got this, you and me. We are fierce, powerful, empowered women with strong centers. We can be shaken, and things will turn upside down sometimes, but in the end, we’ll still be standing. The good-byes are hard … but …

    You’re going to be GREAT.

    • Yes, honey, yes. We can be shaken but in the end we will still be standing. I was thinking this week about how this year threw me off center in a big way, but of course it did. How could it have not? But my feet are on the ground again, and your feet are on the ground, even with the changes you’re making, and even though you’re changes are hard, I read that post today and I know that in your heart, you know you’re on the right path, as do I. xxoo

  11. Oh girl… I am SO glad I managed to sneak a peak at your beautiful and powerful words here! (Shh… don’t tell anyone I am here! I’ll feel bad I didn’t get to catch up with anyone else while I am on my “time-out”)

    Ilene…Oh Ilene…

    You, my dearest friend are a mighty warrior. YOU will persevere and prevail in every way, simply because you are YOU. Your light shines bright into my eyes and my heart from so far away, and yet I feel it’s brilliant warmth and sweet strength illuminate my heart and all those you encounter.

    I don’t worry a BIT about you. Not a bit. I am constantly in awe of your honesty and your deep insight as you continue to grow and nurture a new you- but really piecing together much of the old you too. It’s an incredible tapestry, dear love! YOU. Oh, how honored I am to call you friend.


    Call me call me call me call me… 😉
    Chris Carter recently posted…Time Out!My Profile

    • First of all, your secret is safe with me. I won’t tell a soul that you were here! Second of all, I’m so honored to call YOU a friend and I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me. I so appreciate your confidence in me and your friendship. Always. xxoo

  12. Well, mine is 39, but he’s really cute and in FANTASMIC shape, so he looks better than a 32-year-old. It took me awhile to find him, but I’m glad I did and I’m glad I waited, despite my whining on my own blog today.

    I know we haven’t talked too much about this, but I DID walk in your shoes and I’m so proud of you for taking this chance. D is right. You got this!
    Single Mom in the South recently posted…Everyone Else Gets to Go FirstMy Profile

    • I am so glad that I have women like you and Leah who have paved the way for me. I’m going to be leaning on you a lot you know. And way to go with your Fantasmic 39 year old! xo

  13. Loved this post and you continue to inspire me more and more. For my life has taken a complete change in the past five months. Where I thought my life was heading has turned into the complete opposite. While it has been scary, exciting, sad and at times lonely… I have never felt more sure and completely lost all at the same time. I am creating the life that myself and my son deserve and saying goodbye to those who hold themselves back and me. I am excited to read about your new adventures, where your journey will lead and all you discover along the way! Maybe even read about your “Jack” 😉 Thanks for sharing ~Leah~
    Leah Elizabeth Locklear recently posted…THE MOMMY CHALLENGE!My Profile

  14. Gorgeous post and so freaking inspirational. Honestly, there are times (most times it seems) that I’m frozen in fear and terrified to take whatever step I need to take to get to the future. Each time I come back here to read your stories, I’m blown away. I’m happy you made it through the other side and that you’re doing what you need to do right now. And I’m crossing my fingers for a Jack in your future too! 🙂
    Maribel recently posted…There Once Was a GirlMy Profile

    • Oh, honey, I love seeing you all over my comments today! I head to “the other side” noon tomorrow. Until then, there will be much packing and scrambling, and after, perhaps a Jack. But definitely a beach and a dog. xo

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