Couldn’t Keep Her
My husband leaned against the door frame, hung his head and told our son, Colin, “Mommy is mean; she doesn’t like dogs.”
“Dear Easter Bunny,” Colin wrote in third-grade cursive, “Can you please bring me a dog?”
That night, I penned in my journal. My son wants a dog. I want a divorce.
The Easter Bunny wrote back, “I know you want a dog very badly, Colin, and I know for sure that someday you will get one. I’m very sorry- I do not bring dogs. Thank you for the carrots.”
I did like dogs. But how would I fit more into a day? Three kids were enough. Teaching at-risk teens who told me to “fuck off” was too much. Still, you want to make your kids happy. You do what you can. And Colin was the son who rarely asked for anything.
At an area SPCA, I found Sunshine, a tan, medium-sized mutt, reticent but sweet. This dog felt right. Everyone in the family would need to pitch in to walk, feed, and clean up after this girl.
The twins were supposed to take Sunny outside before the bus came. And my middle school son would let her out in the afternoon. The kids forgot, it was raining, Sunny wouldn’t come out from under the couch. There were accidents. The dog was terrified of boys when I wasn’t around. She didn’t play, and she cowered behind furniture when they called her.
When my husband came in from work, I asked him to take the dog out. He said, “No, I’m too tired.”
And I am too mean.
I took walks with Sunny-girl in the neighborhood. By my side, she wagged her tail as I wrestled inner thoughts. It was April, and by mid-June, my husband and I were seriously discussing separating.
Agonizing emails fleshed out grievances during the summer months which amounted to: this marriage is done. We slept in separate rooms. The three boys floated in the tense middle of our estrangement, and our already skittish dog was adrift in the middle of that middle.
Christmas week, my husband left with his guitar and two suitcases. He would visit the kids in the nest on the weekends, and I would stay in his city apartment.
The anxious dog became more disoriented when I was gone. There were more accidents, and now not so carefully cleaned up or not cleaned at all until mean mommy arrived home on Sunday nights.
My husband and I discussed putting the house on the market. I couldn’t replace these rugs, and I was pretty sure I would break if the dog pooped on the carpet again.
One night, on my hands and knees cleaning shit, I cried, “Help me, God. This dog is pushing me over the edge.”
I stopped bawling and called Al Kolieker, the carpet cleaner. He brought his machines the following week, and I told him, “She was probably abused by men. She hides from the twin boys and when my oldest son comes in the door with his skateboard, she goes ballistic. She’s wonderful with me, just not a fit for the kids.”
Al had a close friend who had just lost her spouse and a dog, too, and she was quite lonely. “Do you think she’ll take a ride with me?” he asked.
“She loves the car,” I said.
I told the boys about the retired woman; Sunny could be a loyal friend to her. Then asked, “What do you think, guys?”
Dylan said, “It’s good, Mom. Can we get pizza tonight?”
“Meatball,” said Colin.
Claire had taken the dog on a trial basis, but when we spoke two days later, I could tell she wanted to keep her. Sunny, a good companion and watchdog would fill her void. My voice broke as I said, “I think this was meant to be.”
I turned on the oven and pulled hamburger meat out of the fridge. Colin came running in, holding his cleats. “Practice, Ma. We gotta go.”
“No, not tonight,” I shook my head.
“Coach switched it.”
I threw the meat back in the fridge and grabbed water bottles.
Later after his shower, Colin poured himself a glass of milk.
“Save me some for my morning coffee,” I said.
“Too late,” he said, wiping a milkstache with the back of his hand.
I sighed, and he started to leave the kitchen. “Hey, wait,” I called after him, “Come look who I’m friends with on Facebook.”
He stood next to my chair, put an arm across my back, and leaned in. I caught a trace scent of his older brother’s body spray.
“Is that Sunny? Mmm. Cool,” he said. Claire had gotten eleven likes for the snapshot of Sunny curled up on a gold sofa, his head on her lap. I was pleased the dog was working out for Claire. But I had a pang of regret, that we couldn’t hold onto her, make her feel safe. Our family had come apart at the time of Sunny. She was a casualty in our battle, a symbol for all we would never be—one big happy family.
Colin squeezed my shoulders, “Night, Mom.”
I turned to hug him, but missed the moment. He was springing toward the stairs. “Love you, son,” I said to the back of a broadening torso that seemed to hardly belong to him. We failed Sunny, but I wasn’t sure Colin saw it in the same light. Already, he seemed so changed from the time of his letter to the Easter Bunny.
Jeanne-Marie Fleming holds an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.Ed. from Long Island University. Her words can be found in the wVw Anthology, Read 650 podcast, Black Fork Review, Hudson Valley Parent, Loud Coffee Press, and Writers Read. She is a fiction editor at Variant Literature Journal and a writing mentor for the incarcerated population via Transforming Lives NY. She resides in the Hudson Valley.