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It was three a.m. when I admitted defeat.
The unholy sounds reverberating from my living room would have driven a lesser woman to murder, the ache in my shoulder yielded to no painkiller and the guttural sounds of a cat yaking a hairball began again, in what must be a new feline record.
I wanted to sleep, but death was beginning to look appealing. At least no one would disturb me.
“Oh gosh!” The cry came from the living room.
My mother-in-law, who was “sleeping” next to my father-in-law on the pullout sofa, objected to our dog Starla stepping on her. Starla isn’t allowed on the bed, but tell that to the in-laws. I say my mother-in-law was, “sleeping,” because no human should be able to sleep next to my father-in-law as he snores.
I marveled that she hadn’t smothered him with a pillow.
His sleep apnea outmatched the earbuds I used to pipe restful music into my ears. I thought fondly back to bedtime when I fancied they would help.
It was also at bedtime that my cat Seti horked up his first hairball. Something otherworldly, possibly demonic was taking place in my cat’s intestines. He was working on his fifth (or was it his sixth?) hairball of the evening. I thought I should probably call Guinness, but couldn’t muster the will.
I sat on the side of the bed and listened to my father-in-law snore. I briefly considered smothering my father-in-law on my mother-in-law’s behalf. I’m pretty sure she would thank me.
I would thank me if I were her.
Suddenly, my husband Brian began to snore as well. Like a pack of wild dogs, they called to each other, father and son, snorting from across the house.
I eyed Brian with venom. I may not be able to smother my father-in-law, but my spouse was near at hand.
Instead, I shuffled to the bathroom and took more ibuprofen for the pain in my shoulder. It started after my workout at the gym. You try to do something good for yourself, and you’re punished with a pinched nerve. I chased the ibuprofen with Benadryl in the hopes it would make me sleep.
Dear God, let it make me sleep!
I took a deep breath and mustered the will to try to sleep again. Surely, the medicine and a renewed attempt with my earbuds on full volume would help. Feeling more positive, I headed for bed.
As I returned to my bedroom, I stepped on something wet. Hairball squished between my toes.
I sighed. Death, where are you when I need you?
“Have you seen Mermaid and Boppy?” my sister asked me. Her voice was strained, her hair frazzled and there were tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Code red, code red!” the voice inside my head screamed.
Her daughter Nicole’s favorite plush toy Mermaid and blankie Boppy were missing, and only Nicole knew how long she would last before erupting in a volcano of tears, spraying the hapless, surrounding villagers (us) with her wrath.
I froze. I knew the screaming fit of horror that awaited my poor eardrums if Mermaid and Boppy weren’t located immediately.
Nicole received Mermaid as a first birthday present. They’ve been inseparable ever since, well, inseparable if you don’t count the numerous times Mermaid was lost.
Her dejection at an earlier loss of Mermaid was so great that her parents purchased a second Mermaid, which my niece dubbed ‘Nuther Mermaid. When both Mermaid and ‘Nuther Mermaid were tragically misplaced, a cousin purchased a third plush mermaid which Nicole then named Stacy Mermaid after our cousin.
Over the years, ‘Nuther Mermaid and Stacy Mermaid met their natural ends, which were not dissimilar to the ending of many of our dog Starla’s toys: threads frayed, seams opened and fillings spilled out. The remains were secreted to trash bins hidden away from small, sad eyes.
Our mother hurried to us. “Have you found them?” she asked in a tense whisper so Nicole wouldn’t hear. “Start looking, both of you,” she urged us.
My sister flung pillows from the couch. My mother dumped the toy box and filtered through its contents. I edged toward the door. I’ve seen my niece when her toys are missing. More importantly, I’ve heard my niece when her toys are missing, and I didn’t want to experience the sequel.
My mother spied me. “Don’t even think about it,” she snapped.
My sister shot me a hateful look.
“What?” I asked sheepishly.
“What kind of aunt are you?” Mom scolded.
“One who values her eardrums,” I muttered, but I moved to help them search and secretly, I hoped that if I didn’t find the missing toys, I’d find a set of earplugs.
Ground searches, candlelight vigils and prayer services ensued for the missing.
I wadded up Kleenex and stuffed my ears.
Finally, our prayers were answered. Mermaid was discovered wrapped snugly in Boppy inside a toy refrigerator where her “mother” Nicole had placed her for a nap.
Few things can bring a child to her knees like the loss of her favorite toy, and few things can bring grown adults to a frenzied, panicked search like the impending threat of a child’s eruption.
I abandoned my work and drove to a nearby café for a fix, questioning as I drove, my place in this world and my purpose in life. My morning was that bad!
My favorite café recently installed a drive-through. I’ve been skeptical about using it. How can I get the full café experience without smelling the coffee and seeing the bagels toasting? I decided to risk it on that morning. It wasn’t as if my day could get much worse.
I pulled to the speaker and placed my order. “I’d like a chocolate chip bagel to go please.” I paused realizing my mistake. “Of course it’s to go,” I corrected myself. “I’m in the drive-through. That was a stupid thing to say. Sorry about that.”
The voice from the speaker ignored my rambling apology, and politely asked me to pull forward.
When I arrived at the window, I was greeted exuberantly, enthusiastically, zealously by a woman with a short bob and a big smile.
“That was great,” she effervesced! “You made our entire morning.”
“What do you mean?” I was confused, too absorbed in my own wallowing to realize that I’d done something funny.
I rarely miss when I’m being funny. Don’t believe me? Ask my husband Brian.
“You are the only person whose ever said ‘to go’ in the drive-through and caught themselves! We loved it!” One of her coworkers grinned at me over her shoulder.
I laughed. “I guess I’m just used to ordering at the counter and needing to specify,” I told her.
“Do you want a cup of coffee on the house or something? You made our day and we want to do something for you!”
“No thank you,” I laughed.
“Are you sure?” she pressed. She was serious about how much they’d enjoyed my ordering flub.
I waved her off. “It’s enough to know I made someone’s day.”
I paid for my bagel and reached for the bag. She passed me two bags. I blinked, confused again. In one bag was my bagel. In the other was a chocolate cookie.
I thanked her, and the drive-through team waved goodbye as I pulled away.
I looked at my cookie and fought down a sob. My place in the world is the same as it’s always been: to make people laugh.
I just needed a little chocolate to remind me.
My husband Brian wouldn’t notice the house was dirty unless the laundry rose up and smothered him.
I, on the other hand, am constantly on alert for the slightest disturbance in what I fondly pretend is our dirt-free household. Wielding spray bottles of cleanser, I stalk the house, hunting my quarry: germs and their allies: messes, clutter and general chaos.
I can spot a speck of dust at thirty paces. Disorder quivers in fear when I approach.
I don’t believe so much in killing germs as I do in punishing them for being germs in the first place. Sure, they die, but they die slowly in my house.
The disparity between my love of cleanliness and my husband’s abject oblivion to even the greatest of messes is, as you might imagine, sometimes the cause of marital discord.
He and the dog blissfully track mud in through the back door onto the clean white tiles of the laundry room. (Whoever installed white tile by a back door should be treated more severely than germs, but I digress.)
I feel my pulse rise and the vein in my right eye begin to throb when I spot it.
“Who did this,” I demand pointing at the muddy paw prints and size 9 men’s shoe tracks.
Brian shrugs. Innocent. Clueless.
The dog is smarter. She knows a trap when she smells one. She slinks from the room and hides on her bed.
I toss a rag at Brian. “Get it up, please. I spent the morning vacuuming and mopping in here. It’s literally, literally, been clean for less than an hour.”
He shrugs and complies. If it were still our first year of marriage, he might have put up a mild protest, but years of living together have taught him the futility of arguing with me when it comes to dirt.
Ironically, and this is the part that drives me craziest, at work he’s painfully organized. He runs an optical laboratory, which requires daily cleaning; and he’s adamant that if his staff shirks their cleaning duties, they’re being disrespectful to him.
Every time he returns home from a day’s work and complains that so-and-so didn’t clean the edger properly, I feel the vein in my right eye throb. I breath deep and take out my aggression on some hapless nearby germ.
I return to the laundry room later that day with a load of laundry and see the feeble “cleaning” job Brian did on the mud by the backdoor. I fantasize about laundry smothering him and wonder if a jury would convict me.
For the first time in my adult life, I managed not to sob like a three-year-old who’s just dropped her ice cream when I confronted the truth: after two trips to the beach, multiple trips to the pool and general wear and tear; it was time to replace my swimsuit.
Feeling like a big girl for not crying, I treated myself to a piece of chocolate. Then I set aside a morning to visit a local retail store so I could shop for a new bikini.
I entered the store full of false hope and optimism – optimism I expected to be quashed when I entered the dressing room.
I strolled through the store and looked for the swimwear department. After circling the store three times with no success, I asked an employee for guidance.
“Swimwear is done for the season,” she said in a voice that implied my question was at once the dumbest, most boring question she’d been asked in her entire retail career.
“What do you mean it’s done for the season?” I asked confused.
“I mean,” she replied irritably, “that we have no swimsuits for sale.”
“But it’s July,” I replied dumbfounded.
“Right, so it’s time for back to school,” she said. It was obvious she hoped I’d go away. She was in for a disappointment.
“Kids don’t go back to school for six weeks,” I protested.
“Still,” her tone became ever crisper, “it’s time for them to get ready. Perhaps you want something new for fall?” She tried to redirect me.
It is a tactic I know well. I use it with my pets and my spouse daily. I had no intention of allowing her to use it on an expert like myself.
“No,” I replied. “I want something new for the pool.”
She steered me toward a rack. “This lovely sweater, perhaps?”
“Sweater?” I repeated incredulously. “It’s ninety-five degrees out! It won’t be sweater weather here for four more months if we have an early fall! What do I need a sweater for?”
“So you’ll be ready for back to school,” she replied curtly.
Irritably, I gave her sarcastic thanks, left the store and did my shopping online. Later, I reflected, that if America’s students worked as hard at their studies as retail stores do in selling them back to school gear, our nation’s students would be first in the world.
“I wish our dog was as well behaved as yours.” I heard this statement many times on a recent family vacation.
My husband and I, his parents, his sister and her husband all rented a beach house together; and we all brought our dogs. There were five dogs in total ranging in size from a nine-pound terrier mix to a hundred and ten pound German shepherd.
It was … an experience.
Our dog, a three-year-old pointer mix named Starla, is a model canine. She walks nicely on a leash, she is housebroken and Brian almost has her trained to fetch beer. She’s easy to travel with and a pleasure to be around.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Though Starla is eager to please, she has energy that makes that pink bunny in the battery commercials look sluggish. I’ve seen her swim for hours only to return home and fetch her toys like she was fresh off a good night’s sleep.
To help her be a polite, pleasant dog, I began training her when she was twelve weeks old. I’ve always had a knack with animals, and I spent fourteen years working as a professional pet sitter. In my time, I learned how to quickly, patiently coerce dogs with no training to cooperate with me.
In a way, Starla being adopted by me was a bit like a kid who has a teacher for a parent. The poor pooch gets away with nothing.
Often, Brian’s father, an avid dog lover, has scolded me for being too strict with her. He prefers a more lackadaisical approach to dog ownership; namely, his dogs can do whatever they want.
Which brings me back to our recent vacation.
We might have been relaxing, but I saw no reason to allow Starla to forget that there are rules and boundaries. If I told her to stay and she got up, I’d correct her. If she bolted out of an open door before being invited, I’d correct her. If she begged for people food, became overly hyper or pulled on the leash during a walk, I’d correct her.
Each time, a family member was on hand to say, “She’s fine, Nora. Leave her alone.” Followed almost immediately (and with no trace of irony) by, “I wish our dog was as well behaved as yours.”
Naturally, I ignored them and corrected my dog as I saw fit.
So while my family members cleaned up German shepherd-sized accidents, I smiled and scratched Starla’s ears. They may not like the rules I make for my dog, but they do seem to like the results!