I could write volumes about why my best friend, Gina, is one of the most wonderful people ever. Volumes. And I don’t just say nice things about her because she knows way too much about all of the insane things I’ve done in my life. (Though flattery can never hurt, right?) I could wax poetic (which I have a habit of doing), but I won’t. I’ll simply say that she is an amazing woman who inspires me every day and tell you how it started.
In 2003, Gina and her 11-year old daughter came to pick me up for a fun day out. They were a little early, so I wasn’t quite ready. I left them in the living room to entertain themselves while I showered. While I was showering, I heard fierce barking – and a lot of it. It was Niko. I quickly covered myself and ran to the living room to find Gina and her daughter huddled in the corner of an over-sized chair. Gina was protectively covering her daughter while not moving and managing to keep an eye on Niko who was all but on the chair barking at them. Rocky was right there too, barking as if he was saying, “Yeah, what he said!” I was horrified and shrieked, “NIKO!!!” Niko immediately stopped barking and wagged his tail while looking at me. I was dumbfounded. Gina and her daughter uncurled themselves from the chair and looked at me with fear still in their eyes. I apologized profusely and made Niko and Rocky stay with me while I finished getting ready.
Gina, her daughter, and I went on to have a good day, even sharing a few nervous laughs about the events of that morning. (In fact, we chuckle about it from time to time even to this day!) A lot of people I know – family members included – would have distanced themselves from me after that incident, but not Gina. A few months later when I was in the midst of (another) cross-country move, she welcomed Niko, Rocky, and me to stay at her house – with her two children, cat, and husband. She never hesitated. And when, during that stay, Niko and Rocky made complete asses of themselves, she didn’t judge. She didn’t get upset. She just calmly helped me manage the chaos.
(For the record: I seriously doubt Niko would have ever done anything to Gina or her daughter because he was, in fact, a pansy. That being said, it was still an unsettling experience. He never acted that way towards them [or anyone else] again.)
Every year that my boys were alive, their Auntie G sent them birthday presents and Christmas presents (apparently the squeakier, the better). Niko and Rocky LOVED getting packages from her!! When she came to visit, she always brought the boys special “cookies” and didn’t complain when Rocky had pooters or Niko hounded her to throw the ball. She was firm but kind when she reprimanded Rocky for “accosting” her leg. Again – most people I know would’ve stopped associating with me or would’ve judged me. Not Gina.
She understood that these boys were my family; they were all I had. She never once said, “They’re just dogs.” In fact, she would often say, “Sure, they’re dogs, but those are your boys. They’re family.” When Niko was diagnosed with cancer, she was the first one I called. Though she had lost her brother and father to cancer only a few years before, she never belittled me for feeling the way I did. She answered my questions and held my hand though it all. When they were sick, she would tell me to give them hugs from Auntie G, which I did. (It was amazing – those hugs always seemed to make them act as though they felt better.)
When Niko and Rocky passed, she sent flowers and cards and called frequently to check on me. She helped me cope with those devastating losses and, again, never once said, “They’re just dogs.” She accepted not only me with my many, many flaws, but she accepted and loved my boys. She did from day one. It was an honest and unconditional love. It was (and still is) absolutely beautiful. And that is why Gina is my best friend and why everyone needs an Auntie G.
The boys LOVED getting packages from Auntie G! (below)