Continuing the wonderful story written by Anne Schroeder.
Part One of MY SEASON FOR MARBLES was posted last Monday.
It ended, “Eventually, dogs and fear became synonymous.”
MY SEASON FOR MARBLES
My husband’s experiences were quite the opposite. He sees dogs as best friends, deserving of carpet privileges and store-bought dog food. He communicates on a level that I can’t begin to fathom. He is a petter of strays while I hunker behind him, phobic and repelled.
The first time he introduced me to his beloved Pug, Rastus, it greeted me with a doleful glare, lifted its leg and sent a yellow stream down my bare leg and into my new penny loafers. I was holding Steve’s hand that day and Rastus knew he was about to be replaced. I’m afraid I took it personally. Rastus was never my best friend—although I barely had a chance to know him. He died of a heart attack three months after we married—victim of an innocuous medical term that I am convinced meant a broken heart. For years I carried a secret suspicion that I had killed Rastus by diverting his master’s attention. For every morning and evening of Rastus’s life, Steve had walked him, tossed balls, showered him with attention and love.
Then we married and moved into a student duplex that didn’t allow pets, and Rastus stayed behind. Newlywed bliss was too great a temptation; like Puff the Magic Dragon, Jackie Paper came no more.
Steve’s inconsolable grief didn’t ease my conscience. We lived dog-less for the next five years. Coincidentally or not, this period was filled with more travel, adventure and spontaneity than the sum of the years that followed. Finally, we bought our first home and Steve began planning for another dog. Soon after I became pregnant we drove to a kennel to pick out a light-colored, female Golden Retriever puppy.
Saree arrived at the onset of my morning sickness. Through the winter she slept in a little wooden kennel box in the kitchen. Because Steve was working a nighttime shift that put him in bed at 3:00 a.m., it became my job to clean the dog mess, to feed and water and exercise her in the mornings before I got myself and my daughter off to school and work. The memory of those months remains: bracing myself for assorted puppy odors in the closed kitchen while munching on a saltine cracker. Some mornings the cracker wasn’t enough.
I will forever associate the smell of dog with nausea; aversion therapy gone haywire. Some women never eat bananas again after morning sickness. Some never touch liver or bacon—but I could live without these. For some reason, with me it’s not puppy smell, it’s grownup doggie body odor. Go figure!
It’s not like I’m a Dog Nazi. I babysit my kids’ dogs when they take vacations. I’m not an ogre—I try not to make dogs my “issue.” I even smile and buy dog toys to have on hand for visitors.
Saree was Steve’s dog, a replacement for Rastus, a buddy to keep him company during a hectic period of our lives when we worked crossover schedules and didn’t see much of each other. I raised our daughters, Steve raised Saree. Sometimes I wanted to scream at him for his priorities. If memory serves, sometimes I did.
Saree lived for fourteen years and accompanied us on three moves. As she became older she became prone to diabetic seizures. In the era before serious pet pharmaceuticals, doggie chiropractic and plastic surgery, the vet’s best advice was to add a bit of sugar in her drinking water. Our four-year-old son used to follow his daddy around and try to copy everything Daddy did. One evening, while his dad was at work he noticed Saree trembling. Half an hour later I found the empty sugar bag and Saree limp and trembling on the patio.
An emergency call to the vet, a bottle of Ipecac, frantic calls to Steve at work—all in vain. In the end, Saree waited for Steve to return from work to die with her head in his lap.
Steve mourned while I carried Saree’s body to the SPCA for cremation, provided comfort, assuaged our son’s guilt, cleaned remnants of an aging, house-bound dog from my home—and felt a secret elation at Steve’s decision not to replace Saree right away.
Buck came to us three months later, the victim of a friend’s divorce. The friend was moving from a ranch into an apartment and Buck would be miserable. Steve and he had become great friends because Steve drove by the ranch everyday and would stop and pet him. He claimed he was invested in Buck, but the truth was, he was head over heels in love—enough even to excuse Buck for being a male, after he had vowed never to have anything that peed on a tire. But fate had chosen them for each other.
Buck was a ten-month-old, a chewer of Olympic talent with a rare eye for beauty. My prized, white-wool throw rug was his first trophy. What he didn’t manage to chew up he destroyed with his thick, wagging tail. (To say he was a happy dog was to underestimate his enthusiasm.) My personality was not as playful. He was thrust on me while our house was listed for sale and I found myself picking up after a four-year-old and his canine equivalent. Every time the phone rang and a realtor wanted to bring clients by, I would go into meltdown.
I remember going to the movies about this time and glaring at the screen while my husband screamed with laughter. I sat through “Turner and Hootch” with arms folded, while my blood pressure threatened to blow out my eardrums. I didn’t know it was a comedy until I saw it on TV last year. Bad period in my life.
In Buck’s defense, either his chewing subsided as he matured or he had already destroyed everything I loved. But it was hard not to view him as a spoiler. I argued that he needed to be neutered, but Steve valued his spirit. He reminded me that it was his dog. He lived with us for ten years, uncomplaining, unfailingly happy to see us, matured by an unrequited love for the Golden Retriever who came into heat every six months in an unassailable enclosure up the road.
Buck’s tendency to work the neighborhood was his ultimate undoing. Eventually the druggie roommate of a neighbor poisoned him for repeated raids on his dog’s feeding dish. By then he was scarred, limping from a difference of opinion with a moving car, had his ear chewed from a fight. He was a seasoned scrapper with a heart of gold. Of all the dogs we owned, he lived life on his own terms.
The third and final installment will be tomorrow.