What I Did for (Puppy) Love

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I need to tell you a secret, and while I know you will be shocked, I hope you will not be disappointed in me.

I was not a Broadway baby.

Yes, I started performing locally when I was 7-years-old, and I basically grew up onstage. But I wasn’t that kid who poured over Broadway legends and lore. I knew and studied all the shows I had done, and I had seen a handful of touring company productions and actual Broadway productions (like Blood Brothers starring Adrian Zmed….you know, Johnny from Grease 2). Movie musicals like Annie and Wizard of Oz and both Greases played on a loop in our house (Grease 2 more frequently, though, because my brother planned to marry Stephanie Zinone). But I wasn’t that girl who was obsessed with Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone and Liza Minnelli and…..I don’t know…..who else were they obsessed with? I knew those girls. I was not that girl. (In perhaps a cruel twist of fate, the first Broadway show I ever saw was Goodbye Girl starring Bernadette Peters, and I was mildly excited because it was the lady from The Jerk.)

So, I didn’t really start accumulating my Broadway trivia until I moved east at 18. I saw the shows, I studied the soundtracks, I took early morning trains to New York City for auditions, and I had Backstage delivered to my dorm every week, because internet wasn’t a thing yet. And before you get too excited about my wealth of Broadway knowledge, you should know that it stops at 2005 when I left New York, but I carved out exceptions for obvious gems like Legally Blonde, Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and, duh, Xanadu. (You thought I was going to say Hamilton, right? The only thing I know about Hamilton is that love is love is love is love. But did you guys SEE Xanadu? Come on. Amazing. Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, Mary Testa, Jackie freaking Hoffman in arguably her finest work. At least get the soundtrack or something.)

As a latecomer to Broadway classics and because there was no production of it while I was living in New York, I didn’t learn about A Chorus Line until later in life. More specifically, I didn’t hear the song “What I Did for Love” until I was an adult. What still gives me chills about this song is that she isn’t singing about a man. Rather than doing something for romantic love, she does it out of her love for dance. It’s about her love of a concept, not a person. (And if that’s not actually accurate, I’m ok with that. It was my takeaway.)

I watched her dance around that mirror, and I got it. I fall for concepts, too. In college my then-boyfriend and I went into the city to see Rent. And this was 1998, so it was the real Rent. This was when casting directors were still giving speeches about honoring Jonathan Larson’s character descriptions and when Scary Spice was still Scary Spice instead of Puerto Rican Mimi. This was MY Rent at a time when MY Rent meant everything to me.

After the show, my then-boyfriend looked sad. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he watched me throughout the performance and he watched my face light up in a way he had never seen. He said he realized then that I would never love him (or maybe anyone) with the intensity with which I loved musical theatre. He saw what I did for love.

And while the objects have shifted and morphed, the idea of love has never faded. But as I’m older and life is tricky and chronic illness gets heavier, it seems that now I must dance around mirrors for self-love. There are things that I must do and efforts that I must make simply for my own health.

One of those things I must do for self-love is clean living. I had to buy new skincare and makeup and cleaning supplies and preservative-free food in an effort to clean up my own act. But look, being clean and authentic and stripped down (and opening up about it) is hard, and the desire to do it isn’t consistently present. Some days I feel like wearing the skin brightening mask, and some days I feel like wearing the sleeping mask. Some days I feel like running all the errands, and some days I feel like watching all the TV. Actively engaging in the journey to health and self-love takes dedication, courage, and that awkward notion of prioritizing yourself, but it can certainly fade with mood or season or desire or self-worth. Sometimes, it just feels like a phase.

But you know what kind of love never feels like a phase? Puppy love.

On the day I brought Charlie home, he did this:

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He licked my face.

And it wasn’t just a first day thing:

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I knew this was a thing dogs do, but I didn’t know it was an all-the time thing. It was a confusing feeling; it felt like love, but it also felt like mess.

And it felt like a waste of money for me and a potentially toxic experience for him.

I spend a lot of money on skincare and makeup. Every time I apply it to my face, I assure myself that it’s worth it, because I’ll be wearing it all day (but on a day with a late start, I don’t use the “good stuff”). I see the dollar signs on my face, and to assuage that guilty feeling, I go to cuddle with my little puppy who immediately licks away what I’ve worked so hard on.

If I’m wearing a non-toxic product, I feel proud, both that I’ve taken care of myself but obviously more importantly that I’m looking out for what goes into his tiny little puppy system. And if I’m wearing Nars or Chanel or Tom Ford or YSL or Dior, I feel like a jerk face.

So, I do it for him (and also because I don’t like feeling like a jerk face). I never thought I’d enjoy puppy kisses. It’s someone’s tongue all over my face, and it’s particularly scratchy on the eyelids (and I love my Tom Ford Disco Dust eye shadow palette which just happens to be both beautiful and expensive).

But I love Charlie more than I loved Rent, so I’ve somehow grown accustomed to a tongue on my face. And I feel better about both of us when that tongue licks off Herbivore Botanicals or Goop or Kypris or Patyka or Chantecaille or Glossier or Milk Makeup, regardless of what they cost me (within reason, you guys; I have my limits). My love for him is not dependent on mood or season or energy level. I want to act in his best interest regardless of whether I feel like acting in mine. I’ll do it for him and therefore end up doing it for me by default.

So, I’ll keep working on the self-love until it comes as naturally and consistently as my love for Charlie. For now, going clean is what I did for puppy love, and Gd, I hope I get it.

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