Don’t get me wrong. I really love things. My closet is very crowded, and I have a lot of music and art, too. But if I had a fire and lost all of this stuff, I honestly don’t know how bummed out I would be. I don’t want to sound like I don’t need material things, because I definitely do. But the one thing I wake up next to, that I couldn’t imagine living without, isn’t an object at all. It’s a dog.
Her name is Little, and she’s very small. She has beautiful blond hair and little black eyes that look like marbles… If I had to describe her personality, I’d say she’s kind of like what I keep searching for in a therapist: An older woman who’s just kind of like, “Tell me all of your problems,” as I sit down on her lap and she gently pats me on the head.
Little isn’t my first dog. I grew up with dogs, but when I was sixteen I moved out of my parents’ house, and for a long time I was pretty much moving every year. I think that’s pretty common actually. Even when I was in New Brunswick, it’s a college town, and people are coming and going all the time.
It’s not a “destination city,” but New Brunswick isn’t cheap, and having a pet with six roommates isn’t really cool. If one of your roommates moves out of your house, you have to replace them or you can’t afford the rent, and then you’ll have to move out of the house yourself.
The other thing that kept me from having a dog is that most of my adult life I’ve been touring. But in 2015 I was hanging out in Philadelphia a lot because our drummer Jarrett lives here, and I started singing in a no wave band called Bad Canoes, which was made up of two of my friends from Rutgers who lived in Philadelphia, and the coolest person I’ve ever met—this woman named Dawn Riddle—who’s the drummer.
I’m very much a recluse, and besides being fun and fulfilling Bad Canoes got me going out and spending time with other people. Dawn mentioned that her best friend Meghan had a house around the block and they were looking for a roommate.
Meghan had found Little wandering on the streets. She must have belonged to someone because she’s a little cute fluffy dog, like the kind Paris Hilton use to carry around in her purse circa 1999.
But since nobody claimed Little, she became Meghan’s dog. As soon as I met Little I fell in love with her, and also with Meghan—friendship love—because she’s the best person. There are now five of us living together in the house, including Little. I love her so much I even have a tattoo of her on my leg:
Until Little came into my life, I didn’t realize how much I missed having a pet or a home.
In some ways, when I’m traveling is when I feel the most at ease, like I have a purpose. I wake up, I eat, I talk about the show, and then I drive for however many hours to get there. And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t get that affirmation, and all those good feelings when I’m performing. After the show I go to bed and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
The problem is that when I get home from touring I often have a lot of trouble readjusting. Everyone around me is working and going to bed at normal hours. They know how to spend their days and manage their downtime. I may have a lot to do when I’m home, but it’s hard to feel like I’m doing anything without the same kind of direct feedback. It’s also hard to move from being around people 24/7 to being alone for days at a stretch.
It’s so nice to come home to Little after I’ve been away because she doesn’t understand time, or what’s normal. If I’m up at 4 a.m. because I can’t sleep, and I feel listless and alone, she’ll be there with me. She likes laps more than walks. And sleep, too. We have a lot in common.
Little has also taught me to value moments and companionship more than “success” or material things. I know she’s just a dog, but I enjoy hanging out with her so much. Don’t get me wrong. I have wonderful friends, and a great family, and I do miss them when I’m away. But Little is what holds everything together for me. Once Jarrett and I were waiting for Meghan and Little to pick me up at the airport, and he said to me, “You know the only reason you live in Philadelphia is because of Little.”
Wanted/Needed/Loved: Musicians and the Stuff They Can’t Live Without is an illustrated column where musicians share the stories behind meaningful objects. As told to Allyson McCabe and illustrated by Esme Blegvad.
Marissa Paternoster is an artist, singer, and ace guitarist, lauded as the seventy-seventh greatest guitarist of all time by Spin Magazine. She is perhaps best known for her work with New Brunswick, New Jersey-based punk luminaries Screaming Females. Active since 2005, the band’s seventh studio album All At Once is due out February 23 on Don Giovanni Records, and they are also currently on tour.