I Killed God

Maria Bamford’s eulogy for her beloved best friend.

“Blossom’s greatest gift was a radical acceptance,” the comedian writes in her new memoir. Photo: Photo by Susan Maljan
“Blossom’s greatest gift was a radical acceptance,” the comedian writes in her new memoir. Photo: Photo by Susan Maljan

One of the hardest-working and most respected comedians of the 21st century, Maria Bamford got to the top of the world of stand-up and its associated industries the hard way: by being kind, persistent, and uncompromisingly original. Her act blends together traditional stand-up style, parodies of stand-up, performance art, and, particularly in recent years, soul-probing confessional monologuing. While often taking on the voices and personalities of relatives, friends, or enemies with uncanny precision to better discuss and rib them in bits, Bamford is also always as honest as possible. Her comedy tries to understand the harsh, cruel, or arbitrary ways in which others behave. That’s a means to an end for humor, but it’s also clearly helped Bamford try to figure out herself. In her new book, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere, Bamford fully reveals the grand story behind her mental-health journey.

In one sense, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult is the rest of the story — the setups, context, and background information that informed her comedy and onstage persona (which is clearly very close to her offstage one). Bamford is only sort of joking with that title, because this is a book about the various structured self-help groups and programs she’s employed to help achieve a healthier stasis. But, as it always winds up in Bamford’s act, the joke is on her. Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult is a nonfiction novel about a character that perplexes and frustrates her author, who fortunately has a lot of patience.

Over her five decades on the planet, Bamford has placed her faith into myriad institutions and concepts in search of answers, fitting in even though she’s very self-conscious about her quirks and being able to relax her soul for a minute. The one spot where her personal mental-striving and public-comedy tropes meet: her love of dogs — particularly old, fragile, helpless, and adorable pugs. In her memoir, Bamford aptly compares the unconditional love from a pet to having a tiny God at one’s disposal. But then dogs aren’t immortal or invincible, and Bamford experienced that in such a sudden and horrifying way that it left her with some serious emotional ramifications.

Here’s an excerpt from Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: “I Killed God (and the Circumstances Leading Up to a Breakdown).”

An Excerpt From 'Sure, I'll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere'

When I think of a God, I think of my dog, Blossom.

If you have met a pug, or any other affectionate animal, you might be able to understand its unique qualifications for being an Omnipotent Life Force. My time in Debtors Anonymous had many positive outcomes, like when, after countless hours on the phone, my DA sponsor suggest-commanded, “You have to move to a nicer neighborhood and get a dog!” My North Hollywood apartment’s pool had filled with leaves (that I swam in anyway), and the landlord — a very sweet old man with an oversize toupee — had shot himself in the head in a room facing my bedroom, so maybe it was time for a change.

Since I was doing better professionally, I was able to save up a first- and last-month deposit, and I found a dog-friendly one-bedroom in Los Feliz, a hip, walkable, centrally located area in L.A.

I took quizzes online to see what breed would be good for my personality (and vice versa). According to my need for affection and low energy level, the pug was perfect. At the time, because I hadn’t ever had a dog, I was afraid to apply at the rescue organizations. I called around to breeders and found PUGGIESRUS of Costa Mesa, then I drove to a mini-manse and sat in someone’s living room. A dirty old pug came barreling up to me, sitting right in my lap. The guy said she was two and that he wanted three hundred dollars for her. I later brought her to the vet, who said, “She’s eight years old if she’s a day, and she stinks.” Her name was Chula, but I named her Blossom, after The Powerpuff Girls.

On our first walk together in Los Feliz, her teats were distended enough that a stranger approached us and suggested a plastic surgeon. After bringing her home, hilariously, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. But a week passed, and I started doing attachment exercises (for me, not Blossom) that I had read about people doing with kids adopted from Russian orphanages. I’m not sure who the orphan was in this scenario, but the exercises included engaging in bouts of extended eye contact with Blossom — a technique called “holding” — several times a day in an effort to bond her to me and vice versa. She didn’t seem to mind, and I felt very comforted by it.

We went everywhere together. We would walk a mile to the gym and because she couldn’t make the walk back, I would carry her like a baby. I began traveling with her in a roller bag. I was not a perfect parent to Blossom. When I went on the road for work, sometimes I put her in the vet kennel for fifty dollars a night and felt bad about it; she got a few walks a day, but it was no Doggy Day Care or Camp Barkaway (seventy-five dollars a night). Though I made sure she got Greenies dental chews, Blossom got dry food. I paid for her to have eight rotted teeth removed; I got her hernia fixed. I brought Blossom as a wingman to a progressive Christian church in the neighborhood in order to try to make friends and community. (I told the priest I was an atheist and just in it for the cookies and singalongs and he said, “No problem! Glad to have you!”) Blossom attended despite the fact she was Roman Catholic. And we had to sit in the balcony as I guess some people in the congregation were “allergic” to “dogs.” The postshow after-party was held outside in a courtyard, where we both got plenty of sugary cookie crumbs.

Blossom’s greatest gift was a radical acceptance. Even if I had scary thoughts of OCD, even if I was smelly, even if I had weird black hairs on my chin, Blossom wanted to hang out with me. It’s true, she wasn’t particularly interested in comedy, but she would watch me perform for a good five seconds until she drifted off to sleep. She was the epitome of a Good Girl. If I stood too long in one place at the dog park, she would pee on me, as if to say, “This is mine.” I had never had anyone take that kind of proud ownership of me.

So when I think of a God, I think of her. Blossom the Awesome Pug embodied Lovingkindness. Her bulbous brown eyes never wavered. She had a real and present interest in everything that I did — just like a God is supposed to.

We slept face-to-face, her breathing my breath, me breathing hers.
Best Pals Forevz.

I was a bad person. And yet, she just scooted closer and leaned in. After I bought a house I couldn’t afford in 2007, we moved and added Bert, an old blind pug, to the mix. Both of them were doing fine. It was me — with two mortgages (together totaling three times what my rent had been); a successful, making-me-crazy commercial campaign; and increased inter- national touring as a stand-up — who started to get the yips.

My brain was slipping. And one day, I let Blossom down.

Bert, the new pug, had a habit of tipping over the garbage can in our kitchen while looking for chow. This could easily have been solved once and for all (and eventually was, by Scott, when he came over to the house for the first time) by putting a brick at the bottom of the garbage can. My own temporary solution, implemented one day while Bert was outside and I had to run to a voice-over audition for an hour, was to remove the ramp leading inside the house.

The house foundation was about three feet high, and so the doggie door had a ramp attached and leading down to the backyard. When I removed the ramp, Bert would be stuck in the backyard with no way to get in or get to the garbage can (which seemed like a great idea at the time). Blossom was on the inside, sans ramp, with no way of getting out (which I know now was a deadly misstep on my part).

I should simply have picked up Bert, put the garbage can on the kitchen table, and then left. But I didn’t. I kicked the ramp away from inside the house and rushed to my Very Important Voice-Over Audition. I completely forgot that Blossom was around fifteen years old and would likely wake up from her slumber in the bedroom and stumble out the dog door to the now-nonexistent ramp, thus plummeting from a three-and-a-half-foot cliff.

She died of her injuries in the hour and a half I was away. I found her stiff and lifeless body at the foot of where she fell from the doggie doorway.

Of course, it was an accident. Of course I didn’t mean to kill God. But I did. And now God was not around to tell me that I was okay, because I had inadvertently killed Her.

My friend Amy, whom I called mid-wail, got a crematorium to pick her little body up and we had a service for Blossom a week later, spreading her ashes on the lawn where she liked to poop and pouring out a forty-ounce Modelo in her honor.

As anyone who experiences a tragedy (which is everyone) knows, LIFE JUST KEEPS GOING. I hadn’t been feeling well anyway, I’d killed my dog by accident due to being out of my gourd with distraction, and then I just kept moving, working, and internet dating with light episodes of freaking out (shrieking into pillows and caterwauling in the shower).

About a week after All Meaning Left the World, I had to shoot another Christmas campaign for Target in Portland. In this showbiz enviro, I got treated like a superstar despite being the Worst Person of All Time. I did my best to participate in the acting job when I was not back at the hotel, yawp-sobbing into my hands. I tried to stop up the sound with a 10,000-thread-count feather pillow, but I’m sure some poor souls beneath the penthouse suite heard my howling.

Excerpted from Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult by Maria Bamford. Copyright © 2023 by Bamfooco, Inc.

I Killed God