Saturday, December 11, 2010

Steppin' Up

When I met Sam he was recently widowed. His son was in college back in Rhode Island and his daughter was a junior in high school. And, oh yeah, he had a dog. I easily moved into the role of step-mom to Tom and Kristen, long before Sam and I were actually married. During Kristen's senior year of college I planned, and then accompanied them on a college visit trip up and down the East coast. I went to ballet recitals and choir concerts - parents' meetings and banquets. There was one evening at an Honor Society banquet that I sat in tears listening to Kristen play the piano and kept thinking that it wasn't right that her mom could not be there - I was humbled to sit in her place and then I was overwhelmed with her presence. It was as if this woman I had never known was telling me that it was ok to be there representing her. The feeling was so powerful and I knew that Susan knew that her kids were going to be loved.

And all the time there was Rocky, the overly-large Corgi.
Rocky had been Susan's constant companion as her brain cancer progressed and in the last weeks he spent his days and nights laying full-body length along Susan's side in bed. Rocky was 4 when I came into his life. For a long time I was competition for him. Sam referred to us as "litter mates," in Rocky's mind. In bed, Rocky would get between us and use his legs to push against Sam so that his back would push me further away from Sam. Many mornings I woke to find Rocky's head next to mine on the pillow, with his back pushing against me. He was always moving to be sure that he came between my body and Sam's.

I like dogs, but I am not a "dog person." I was disgusted by dog hair in my bed and found nothing cute about him sleeping on my pillow. I walked him, but having grown up in the country where our dogs ran free, the idea of carrying a bag and picking up his poop, was annoying. I was not as patient with him as I might have been as I would wait, and wait, and wait, while he sniffed every last plant and rock and stick. I had never known that dogs could have significant gas issues, and his barking could drive me crazy. But as time passed and my own kids and step-kids needed me less and less I seem to have transferred my nurturing needs to Rocky. I have now been his "mom" twice as long as his first mom was and he clearly adores me.

Fortunately, as a dog of limited height, jumping on the bed was one of the first things to go for Rocky. The day he could not get on the bed we bought him his own bed and since then he has slept happily on the floor of our room and I no longer wake up with dog hair stuck on my lips! This change was probably the most significant turning point for me. He trusts me, he depends on me for calm and routine. Sam is still the alpha male, but I am the one that most frequently has the dog sleeping on my feet while I read or eat or work on the computer, and I get nudged if we forget to give him his 5:00 "scoop." I take him on walks when the weather is nice, and I talk to him constantly.

Recently my step-son suggested that Rocky needed his own Facebook page. Tom now lives in Ohio but he has remained Rocky's number one fan from afar. For kicks I created a Facebook page for Rocky. I did not think about the weird, but deep connection that would result from channeling the dog's thoughts as I update his "status" every few days. Tom has noted that Rocky's status reveals not only how Rocky is doing, but also how I am thinking or feeling. I get a ridiculous kick out of putting into human words what I imagine Rocky to be thinking or feeling. And it gets really weird when I find myself commenting, as Rocky's Facebook "friend" on something that Rocky has posted on his own page.

Rocky is twelve now and he is slowing down. His back left leg is weak and often trails behind the other three as he moves about the house. He is stiff when he gets up and most of the time he gets stuck half way up the stairs and needs to be carried the rest of the way. And the mother in me is more attached than ever. There is something about his vulnerability that has reached into my soul and grabbed it hard. I don't know how much longer Rocky will live. He seems to be in good health, but the life expectancy of a Corgi is eleven to twelve years. I used to think only of how much simpler life will be when we don't have a kid, I mean, DOG at home. But now I can get sad just imagining how much I'll miss his presence. When I cook he is at my feet hoping for something to drop on the floor for him to eat. When we watch TV he has made a nest for himself under the lamp table where he hangs out just to be near. He has a large vocabulary and understands my emotions with or without words. He knows swear words and will run downstairs when he hears one, alerting us to what we just said. And perhaps more than anything I'll miss being his mouthpiece on Facebook where he currently has 17 "friends."

Rocky Converse
Basic info
Gender: Male
Relationship Status: It's complicated
Interested in: Women and Men
Looking for: Friendship
Current location: Salem, Oregon
Hometown: Salem, Oregon
Political Views: I am a raging, bleeding heart liberal. Healthcare for all (except squirrels!)
Religious views:I believe that all life begins in the bottom of the yogurt bowl. Praise Yoplait.