My boyfriend and I are in my queen-sized bed on a rainy September morning.
It’s an almost perfect domestic scene—like something right out of a Maxwell House ad. We are in a cuddle puddle, arms and legs around each other, my chin tucked right under his so I can feel his breath on my face. This is less about carnal desire than it is about canines. At our feet rest two dogs: one very small, one an 85-pound snoring beast who has just come in from the rain and smells like a dozen moldy bananas. My boyfriend and I have been forced into intimacy.
Even with the beast stench and the fur and the close corners, I take a moment to breathe it in.
I haven’t had too many moments like this in my life. There have been many men that I’ve fallen asleep with, but they are always awoken by my phone alarm, after which I shake them vigorously and tell them I have to go the gym—tell them to get their things and go.
This, with him and the dogs and the rain, is a snooze button moment.
Then the sound of a collar bell and snapping and snarling and the gnashing of teeth. Buttons, a 15-pound shih tzu mix, and Garbo, the big cranky mutt, are all of a sudden about to kill each other. They went from a comatose state to full on Cujo warfare. My boyfriend restrains Garbo and almost loses a finger. I try to hold the Buttons, who, though small, is the Mike Tyson of dogfights. That bitch doesn’t play fair, a result of her time on the streets before she was adopted.
I can and will blame Buttons because she isn’t mine. I’m not a small dog person, as anyone who has seen me attempt to walk Garbo in the morning can testify. She pulls me into the middle of the street and into bushes. She forces me on short, intense runs to capture squirrels and frighten yuppies on their morning runs. At least once a week, a passerby will ask, “Are you walking her or is she walking you?”
Yes, every morning my dog takes me for a walk and I pick up her sh*t and serve her a plate of organic lamb dogfood with a dash of olive oil (to prevent furballs) and scratch her belly while she closes her eyes and lets her tongue fall out the side of her mouth. I’ve been Garbo’s master and slave for eight wonderful years.
Before her, I barely knew what 6 a.m. looked like. I may have opened the curtain to peer out at the darkness. Then I’d roll over and go back to sleep for three or four hours. Now I wake up early to a hint of sunrise and the sound of the dog chewing on her tail and whining for food and a walk. Resistance is futile. I have no choice but to obey.
Garbo changed more than just my slacker schedule. Everything is covered in her husky-like fur: clothes, furniture, yoga mats, and the floorboards of my car. I find her hair in between the bristles of my toothbrush and in the inner lining of my wallet. I was drying my hair the other day and found a very thick grey hair. I began to question my mortality and the lasting power of my hair dye until I realized it was just Garbo’s fur. I have a prohibitively expensive European vacuum cleaner that can barely keep up with her coat.
She is a prolific shedder, but she’s also the most loyal friend a single gal could ever hope to have.
When it comes to dating, Garbo has impeccable instincts. I’ve had years of therapy to find and listen to my inner voice. I’ll meet a man and think, he drinks too much and he never asks me about myself and he slid the check over to me and I think I like him! Garbo isn’t that easy, though. She doesn’t care if he likes Woody Allen films or worships David Lee Roth (I can’t believe he has a vinyl copy of 1984, too!). She takes one look at a fellow and knows, with impregnable certainty, that this man is just another damn fool.
Woe to the man who tries to get into my pants and my home against Garbo’s approval. She will growl and pace the house like a tiger in a cage.
I once dated a man who I was growing fond of, in spite of the fact that he took a book out of my hand and told me that “reading bored him.” The guy was as dumb as a bag of rocks, but I let it slide due to my loneliness and lack of hope. Garbo, however, hated him. The hair on the back of her neck stood up whenever he walked into the room. She chewed on her paws until they bled in his presence.
I tried to ignore her the way I ignored my friends when they said he wasn’t right for me. This sort of worked until he told me that he hated my dog. That she smelled bad. That he didn’t want her around him. That she scared him.
He had a right to be scared—I’ll give him that. But the thing about a woman who likes big dogs is that she usually likes a man who would never admit to being afraid of them.
I’m not asking for Steve McQueen, here. Just someone who doesn’t hold his nose and cower in fear when she offers her head to pet. Squealers, ninnys, and those concerned with fur-free clothing need not apply. Get a roller and don’t wear black and grow a pair, please. Or, I can point you to the door as I did with that poor, empty-skulled suitor.
Garbo liked Ashby, my current boyfriend, instantly. The feeling was mutual. He wasted no time sprawling out on, what has become, her sofa. He let her lick his face and put his forearm into her mouth to delicately chew on.
He strolls into work with a husky carpet on his black work uniform without complaint. He gives up precious bed-space to sleep like spoons with my beast.
What she didn’t know upon meeting him, was that this man she was beginning to fall for came with a small problem: Buttons.
The day I met Ashby, he told me that he had to walk his dog. Thank Shiva, I thought. A man who isn’t afraid of canines. A real man. A strong man. Then I saw her—15 pounds of dirty blonde hair in a neon-pink animal print harness. Not exactly the black lab that I saw my fantasy man hiking the mountains with.
Contrary to that first meeting, I discovered Buttons has the spunk and courage of a dog 10 times her size. I’ve seen her put the smack down on an unsuspecting pitbull at the park. This is one dog that knows her size, but doesn’t give a f*ck. She is as scrappy as they come and twice as spoiled.
For the first few months, my boyfriend begged for a sit-down between our dogs. We were always running back and forth between our homes to let one of them out. He would have to wake up early to race to Buttons’s side and beg for forgiveness. If left alone for a night, Garbo was inconsolable, even with the offer of rawhides and a long walk. Ashby and I were all peas and carrots and engaged in nauseatingly cute make-out sessions . The dogs, however, were literally throwing up.
I feared that Buttons and Garbo wouldn’t get along. I had all kinds of scenarios in my head—Garbo eating Buttons, Buttons stealing Garbo’s food, vet bills, pet cemeteries—all of which my boyfriend thought were insane.
They’ll work it out or they won’t, he kept saying. But it has to happen, eventually.
Two months in, they finally did. It took a lot of yogic breathing and a beer to relax me that day. While I was an anxious mess, the dogs seemed to tolerate each other. They sniffed butts and Buttons chased Garbo and Garbo ran until she collapsed in the yard in a lazy, panting pile. That was it. No carnage or tearful dog burials.
Buttons and Garbo have continued in this manner for many months. They are not buddies, but prisoners in the same cell who’ve gotten used to taking a piss in front of each other. Garbo is intimidated by Buttons’s spunk. Buttons is cautious of Garbo’s hulking size and seems to know that she is, if she makes a wrong move, merely a snack. There has been a bit of moping on both sides, but nothing that can’t be smoothed over with bacon and a walk.
There are the occasional scuffles. Most of them involve the bed. To my boyfriend and I, the bed is a sacred space where we tell our stories and well—you know. To the dogs, it is the place where one is crowned alpha. If one dog is in the bed, the other takes the floor. One gets out of bed, the other, who has been sulkily waiting, grabs her spot with a look of triumph. This happens three or four times a night while Ashby and I sleep.
My boyfriend and I are only six months into this relationship. The bloom is still very much on our rose. We have put past heartbreaks behind us in this temporary technicolor phase. The dogs, however, certainly remember the revolving door of boyfriends and girlfriends past. We know that these old lovers are gone for a reason. We humans have therapy and comedy and long talks ’til dawn with friends to help us move forward.
The dogs remember the break-ups—when the sheets don’t smell the same and we hold tighter to them at night. Garbo was fascinated by my ex-boyfriend’s shoes—the way they smelled of popcorn and sweat. I used to find her sniffing in the morning before our walk with a look of pure exaltation. When he was gone, she’d still walk to the spot where he put his shoes before going to bed. The look on her face?
What the hell did you do to this one?
Ashby and I can suspend disbelief for a few more months if we’re lucky. We can rationalize that this relationship is different from the others. Stronger. More stable.
Garbo and Buttons don’t have that ability. For them, we are temporary. They wait for tears, fighting, and the missing pair of sweaty shoes. They wait to get their spots on the bed back—for our arms around only them. Can we assure them that this is forever? That they better get used to it?
No, my precious yogis. No. We must live in the present and not hope or project too much into the future. We must, like the dogs, save a space for ourselves and hold fast to our most precious boundaries. They are the ones who carry the memories of past loves with them when we choose not to.
Take a walk. Eat some bacon (or facon). Take up an entire bed.
Editor: Brianna Bemel