There comes a time in every successful sitcom when new characters arrive, and long-running storylines reach their conclusions. Alphabet City’s season of transitions came in 2001. A few months after Juan Pablo became more than just an occasional guest star in my life, Angela announced that for work reasons she was moving back to Texas. The proclamation took me by surprise as I assumed that my longtime friend would always be by my side. After all, she was the Phyllis to my Mary.
I organized an emotional send-off for Angela that included some star-studded cameos from Katie Couric and The Pope courtesy of a trip to the newly opened Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square. Over a waxy wheelchair bound Christopher Reeves, Angela reassured me about her departure.
“You’ll be fine. You’ve come a long way since we fought those Power Rangers to get that apartment. Now it’s time to clear space for Juan Pablo,” Angela said.
“It’s a little early for us to even think about living together,” I replied.
“Trust me, I can tell you two are meant for each other. Even Winnie likes him. And she’s the most important one.”
As usual, Angela was right. Soon after she moved out, Juan Pablo moved in as a permanent fixture on the Alphabet City set—much faster than I expected. The tragic events of 9/11 sent the city into a tailspin, and closed down Juan Pablo’s apartment in Wall Street. The day after the tragedy, he and I hiked in a daze from the East Village to the tip of Manhattan to retrieve some of his personal effects. We waded through soot and debris, and weary first responders gave us surgical masks to limit our exposure to the toxic dust. We transported on our backs whatever clothes we could carry, and never looked back. In the aftermath of that cataclysmic event, we were glad to have each other, and Winnie was happy to have another companion in the house.
That Thanksgiving, as Juan Pablo and I got ready for bed after all our guests had departed, another character transition began. Winnie was acting abnormal—she was refusing to move from the couch and take up her spot in our bed. I was worried, and Juan Pablo tried calming my nerves.
“Maybe she’s lethargic from eating too much turkey,” he said.
“Who fed her turkey?”
“Everyone! She begs at the table constantly. You’re over-reacting.”
“I’m her parent. I know when something’s wrong.”
The next day, I rushed Winnie to our trumpet playing Argentine vet Doc Moscovich—think facial expressions of Sid Caesar with the comic accent of Desi Arnaz. He laughed at my poultry suspicions.
“She’s not sick from eating turkey! That’s crazy. Where do you come up with these things?”
His mocking tone always calmed me. But I immediately tensed when he came and sat next to me. This was serious.
“I must tell you, Winnie is very sick. Her blood work shows she has a kidney problem.”
“From eating chocolate?”
“No, no, no. It doesn’t matter how. Now listen to me. The kidney problem will get worse. You can give her daily fluids. That will help for a while.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that with the fluids, you’ll have several more good months. You will know when it’s her time.”
My heart was pounding. I held a trembling Winnie close, hoping she wasn’t listening. Doc Moscovich gave me a hug, and trained me to properly administer an IV with life saving saline solution. I decided to cancel my normal out-of-town holiday plans because the searing pain in my heart told me this would be the last time Winnie and I would ring in the New Year together.
Some time after Valentine’s Day, after her infusion, Winnie was begging to go on a walk. She hadn’t been so energized in months, and despite my concerns for her health, I couldn’t refuse her request. I hooked on her harness and we stepped out onto the streets of the East Village.
As we walked, I remembered back six years earlier when Winnie and I had just arrived in the Big Apple. Her puppy tranquilizer drugs had worn off and she was begging to explore the mean streets of the East Village. I wasn’t entirely sure how she would react to the sidewalks of the city. She was a foofy Texas dog through and through, used to open spaces and grass for peeing. I had no need to worry. That day, Winnie sassed her tail and acted like she was invited to every party along the street—the hipster card shop, Turkish pharmacy, Puerto Rican liquor store, and Korean Dry Cleaners.
Six years later, I realized we had been out for an hour and so far no pee. We ambled back towards our house, passing what was labeled a community garden, but looked more like an abandoned lot with junk piled high into a sculpture. Winnie sniffed her way up to the precarious exhibit—made from discarded stuffed animals, used furniture, Coke cans and Christmas ornaments. She bent her back legs and let it flow—adding her own yellow paint to the collective art installation. She looked back at me pleased with herself—it was the first smile from her in a long time. She had lived a good life, and left her mark on the East Village.
When we got home, I told Juan Pablo it was time.
“I can’t put her through this anymore. I love her too much.”
“And she loves you,” he said.
“I just never knew it would be so soon. She’s only 11. I assumed it would be years before I had to go through this. But I guess it’s not fair any more. I need to let her go.”
The last week of March, the three of us took our final journey together through the streets of the East Village. As I held Winnie close to my heart, she stared at me lovingly with her round black eyes and looked relieved. Doc Moscovich gave her one final shot. Juan Pablo hugged me as I rocked Winnie back and forth. She effortlessly slipped away—so peaceful and content.
“I love you little goose,” I whispered.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Juan Pablo told me.
Saying goodbye to Winnie wounded my heart so deeply I wasn’t sure I would recover. Just keep busy, I told myself. Keep moving. I told Juan Pablo that I needed to be by myself, and wandered the streets of Manhattan thinking about how much Winnie had touched my life. To date, she had been the longest relationship of my adult life, just barely edging out Angela, having acquired both of them in college. My heart felt empty where once her unconditional love had resided.
When I got home, Juan Pablo had packed away all of Winnie’s effects, and I had to pack myself. I was leaving the next day for three weeks in Australia producing another television show for the magazine. The work was a welcome distraction from my grief. I reached in my nightstand for my sleeping pills and grabbed Winnie’s puppy tranquilizers by mistake. She wouldn’t need these anymore, but maybe I did.
Stay tuned for Part 2.