Being an expat can sometimes suck. Fortunately, I had my dog Pinch to see me through.
I’m a Canadian who has lived in France for seven years. I’d never planned on making my life here, but a handsome French cop threw a wrench into my plans. We met in France just after I arrived, fell in love, and got married — all within nine months. I told my parents I wasn’t moving back to Canada, and started a new life here with my husband, Max.
Three years after we were married, I finally had the space, time, and money to adopt a dog. Getting my Miniature Pinscher/Dachshund mix, Pinch, coincided with my husband leaving to attend a police boarding school more than 300 kilometers away from our home. He was only able to come home for weekend visits twice per month for a whole year, and having a dog to take care of was a way for me to feel less lonely and depressed.
At that time I was working at a job I hated, living in a small farming village with no friends with only my parents-in-law nearby. I was homesick and nostalgic for the family, friends, and job opportunities I had left in Canada. I tried to put on a brave face as my husband packed his bags to head off to school four hours away, but inside I was wondering how and if I could manage to keep it together.
Thankfully, I had Pinch. My life became taking care of him and making him happy. He gave me something to focus on while distracting me from the dark cloud that had settled in over my head. His presence in my life was making it possible for me to cope with the stress of my job and the loneliness at my husband being gone. I started to think that everything would be fine and that the year without Max would be tolerable, after all.
And then I was hit by a Mack truck. Literally.
Two months after Max had left, I was driving to work on a busy, three-lane highway when an 18-wheeler blindsided me. He was trying to merge into my lane, and by the time I figured out that he couldn’t see my tiny, European wind-up car, it was too late. He slammed into the driver’s side of my car and sent it somersaulting across the highway.
As I sat in a pile of broken glass and what was left of my little Renault, my first thought was: Am I alive? Followed by: If I’m not, what will happen to Pinch? And then I remembered that I had almost brought Pinch to work with me that day, and the thought made me throw up once I had crawled through the shattered passenger side window and out onto the road.
Besides some ugly bruises and muscle aches, I was physically all right, even though the police, EMTs, and witnesses to the accident couldn’t understand why. My car was totaled, it hadn’t deployed any airbags, and I’m five-foot-three and weigh about 90 pounds. There’s no way I should have walked away from the crash, but I did.
I went home that evening full of painkillers and Xanax, and resolved to just give up and go back to Canada. I was so fed up with everything in my life –- the homesickness, my horrible job, my absent husband (not his fault, but I wasn’t thinking straight), the language barrier, and the fact that I believed France was literally trying to kill me. I wanted out — out of my job, out of my marriage, out of this expat life.
But I had Pinch. He didn’t understand why I was so hurt and upset, but he tried his best to make me feel better. He licked away my tears, made me get up and take him out when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball on the floor, and he snuggled up against me for comfort when my brain wouldn’t stop replaying the accident over and over.
I decided to put Pinch’s happiness before my own and stay in France. I felt guilty for even considering taking him away from the routine, the home, and the doggy friends he had always known. He was thriving in the life that I had made for him, and I didn’t want to suddenly change everything and cause him any undue suffering or anxiety.
And so I stayed in France, when everyone in Canada was telling me to come home. Max will understand, they said. He knows you aren’t happy there. But Pinch was happy, and I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to him in the belly of a plane, or that he might not ever be as settled in his Canadian life as he was here. I looked into Pinch’s soft brown eyes, pushed all thoughts of moving to Canada away, and set to work finding my own happiness again.
I put Pinch’s well-being before my own and stayed in France after my accident, and you know what? Things did get better. The shock and stress of the accident started to fade with time, and I realized that running from my problems wouldn’t have solved anything. I loved my husband with all my heart and I still do, and I’m so thankful that Pinch was there, and that he (however indirectly) made me hang around a little longer –- long enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When I wanted to run from my life and the people in it, Pinch reminded me not to be selfish. I saw the car accident as a sign, and I started working through a lot of the things that were bothering me in my life at the time. I’m happy to say that I’m still here four years later, still married, and still crediting my love for Pinch with making me face it all head on.
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