P U P P Y L O V E
~ 3 ~
Mrs. O’Connor picked up the coffee cups and plates from the tables scattered around the great room. The fire was burning in the fireplace and a few adults were still reading their papers or talking. The view out the huge picture window — snow gently falling, kids wrapped in colorful winter attire working together to build three different snowmen, skiers on the distant slopes and in chairlift seats being taken to the top of the hill — even seeing it every day, it still retained a picture-postcard charm.
But she hardly even noted it today. Her mind was elsewhere. She couldn’t forget her fight with Kerry, couldn’t forget his storming out of the house, angry with her as usual.
She realized she couldn’t just blame him. She was at fault, too. She’d handled the death of her husband, her whole world other than Kerry, poorly. Her grief had been overwhelming and while she’d been aware Kerry had been hurting, too, she hadn’t had the ability to deal with him as she knew she should have. He’d needed her comfort and support, and she hadn’t been able to provide that.
And so they’d taken to sniping at each other, trying to alleviate their pain by transferring it to each other. And this had gone on far too long. Just lately, Mrs. O’Connor, her own grief beginning to abate, had recognized what had been happening. She’d even tried to stop her constant harping at Kerry. But the boy — and that’s what he was even though he felt thirteen-year-olds were pretty grown up — seemed to be set into fighting her, no matter what she did. It was partly her fault, she knew. Maybe mostly her fault. But she needed to be able to find away out of this constant warfare. She simply didn’t know how.
Last night was a good example. She’d been trying to talk to him. He wouldn't answer. Eventually, she’d said he needed to listen to her. At that, he’d jumped up and asked why, when all she did was yell at him. She’d denied it, and his response had been, what do you call this, right now? Then he’d said he was leaving, and, responding to his anger, she’d said oh no he wasn’t. That was the last she’d seen of him that night.
She had to find a way not to let his anger evoke her own, and she had to remain calm. Maybe not push him so hard, although she didn’t think she was doing that. The problem was, she didn’t know what to do. She did know they had to end the war. They couldn’t go on living together going for each others’ throats.
She looked up to see the lodge manager standing across the table she was clearing.
“Oh!” She blushed. “Mr. Cavender. I was in dreamland, wasn’t I?”
Mr. Cavender smiled. “Well, maybe. You doing all right?”
She was getting tired of the question, but at the same time felt very grateful that all the people here cared. She knew she should have moved on by now. It was almost a year ago. But she still dropped into fugues occasionally. This time it hadn’t been about her husband, but Mr. Cavender wouldn't know that.
“Oh yes, I’m
fine. Just thinking about Kerry. We’re going through a rough patch right now.”
Mr. Cavender started picking up plates from the table, helping out. “Ah, that’s normal. He’s 13. Kids start to get a little rebellious at that age, and he’s just suffered through a pretty big blow. He’ll come around.”
Marie grimaced. “I sure hope so. Hey, I got to get this stuff into the kitchen. Sorry for the delay.”
“No problem at all, Marie. And tell Kerry I might have a new customer for him. Have him give me a call.”
Kerry had to figure out how to raise a puppy without his mom knowing it was in the house. He knew it would be easy during the day when she was at work. She worked from 6:30 in the morning till 6:30 at night with an hour off for lunch, six days a week. Long, long days, but waitresses didn’t make much money and besides, she didn’t have much to do at home and preferred spending her time at the lodge, especially as the hours there equated to a larger paycheck. Kerry could give the puppy the run of the house during those hours; it was what to do with it while she was home that was worrisome.
When he got home from the doc’s, the first thing he did was make up some mush for Lucky using some of the puppy milk replacement and a packet of dog food Doc had given him. He made it fairly thin, thinking if it was mostly milk, the dog would accept it better.
He got out the blender, poured in what he figured would be about the right amount of milk and dried food, and pressed the puree button.
He spent the next quarter hour cleaning splattered milk mess from all the nooks and crannies of the kitchen.
Next, he tried soaking the dry food in the milk before blending it. He also remembered to put the cover on the container.
“Here Lucky, try this.” He set the bowl on the floor and set the dog down by it. Lucky sniffed it, then stuck out a tentative tongue. Then, to Kerry’s delight, the tongue got busy, and before he knew it, he was picking up an empty bowl and washing it out for next time.
Taking Lucky outside came next. Doc had told him that after eating, dogs should be taken out fairly soon. Kerry found the wisdom of that. He’d barely shoveled snow from a spot in the yard before Lucky had anointed it, then gotten even busier there.
Back inside, in Kerry’s bedroom, Kerry sat on his bed with Lucky and thought maybe this would be a good time to wrestle, or play tug of war. Lucky had other ideas. She turned around in a circle four times, then promptly lay down and went to sleep.
While Lucky was dead to the world, Kerry took the opportunity to look at the pamphlets Doc had given him. One gave him a good idea. It showed how a dog could be trained to obey various non-verbal commands, hand signals in fact. Kerry realized how handy it would be if Lucky would respond to signals instead of having to be told what to do if his mother was around. Silence was golden.
That also meant teaching Lucky not to bark. Another pamphlet covered that. Kerry was starting to understand that raising a puppy, and especially concealing it while doing so, was not going to be easy.
“See you tomorrow, Marie.”
Mrs. O’Connor smiled at Mr. Cavender and waved as she walked out the door. He’d been especially friendly of late, and she’d noticed. He was just a few years older than she was, a little chubby perhaps, maybe getting just a bit thin on top. But she was no spring chicken, either, and once past thirty, she’d started being more interested in people’s personalities than their looks. Mr. Cavender was a nice man who cared about his staff, always had an encouraging word for them and never spoke down to them. He was always cheerful, too, and had a pleasant laugh. Some of the waitresses thought it surprising that he was still single.
Marie started the old Volvo. Old it was, but the fact it never failed to start when she needed it to was a real blessing in the cold temperatures where they lived. As she drove home, she thought about Kerry and about how she might de-escalate their constant battles. She decided that this evening, she wouldn’t rise to any bait he threw out. It takes two to tango, she thought, and if I refuse to dance, that should put an end to it. Not that it would be that simple. Kerry could blow up at anything, and she had a real problem with keeping her own temper in check. Especially when he was yelling at her.
The lights were on in the house as she drove up the driveway and into the garage.
That meant Kerry was home. She rarely new what his schedule of lessons was; it was constantly in flux, and Kerry wasn’t all that great at communicating with her in any case. That was a constant source of tension between them. She wanted to know where he was when she got home. She saw no reason why he couldn’t leave a note. Yet he often didn’t.
She went into the house. It was quiet, but she saw Kerry’s coat hanging on its peg and his room’s door was closed so she was sure he was there.
She’d put some stew in her crock pot early that morning before heading out to the lodge; it had been cooking all day and smelled wonderful. It didn’t take her more than a few moments to throw a salad together, cook some broccoli in the microwave and set the table. Then, while starting to take up the stew, she opened her mouth to call Kerry.
She didn’t call, however. She was about to, but if she did, as usual she’d have to yell loudly because of the distance. Realizing that beckoning him that way would sound aggressive, she stopped. If she truly wanted to turn over a new leaf, then maybe one way to start would be to reduce the aggressiveness in the house, at least that part of it that stemmed from herself. So, when the stew sat steaming on the table, she walked through the living room and down the hall to his room.
She knocked lightly on his door and said, “Kerry, dinner’s ready. It’s on the table.”
She was starting to turn the doorknob to make sure he’d heard her when suddenly there was Kerry. The door burst open just far enough that he filled the doorway. The expression on his face was peculiar. It looked apprehensive, guilty, and hostile, all at the same time.
What in the world was he doing in there that he was keeping the door tight to his body so she couldn’t look in? When he spoke, his angry voice shattered the calm of the house, so she had no time to think about that.
“Why are you opening my door? When it’s closed, you can’t just knock and walk in. I don’t do that to you. I respect your privacy. You think because I’m a kid I don’t deserve privacy? I’m not a little kid. I might have been undressing in here. You can’t just open my door whenever you like!”
Marie stepped back from the verbal assault. But her first reaction was to strike back. He was her son. Nothing he did needed to be private, and in fact it was her duty to know what he was doing so she could keep him safe. This was her house; what if he was building a fire in there? That was stupid, but kids did stupid things. Parents were supposed to watch them. Who was he, anyway, telling her what she could or couldn’t do in her own house? She was in charge of him, responsible for him. He couldn’t talk to her that way!
All those words and more came to her in a rush, and almost made their way to her lips. It was only the resolution she’d made earlier, not to rise to his bait, that kept her mouth closed. She forced herself to think, and in doing so, she realized, this was perfect. This was in fact the perfect time to put into play what she’d decided.
What she’d done next, when she thought back on it later, lying in bed that night, caused her to smile. What she’d done was, she’d simply remained silent. She hadn’t responded at all.
Kerry wasn’t done blasting her. But, even while doing it, he was thinking. What he realized was, this was perfect! He’d been wondering how he could keep her out of his room, and now, maybe, he had a way.
“In fact,” he continued, as though there hadn’t been a pause, “you shouldn’t be coming in here at all. It’s my room. My private area. From now on, stay out of here unless I invite you in. This means even if I’m not here. You make all the rules around here, and that’s not fair. So I’m making one now. My room is mine, and you don’t go in there. I’ll know if you did. I have a way. So you don’t come in here, ever, without permission.”
Marie listened without response. Kerry opened his mouth to continue his diatribe, but suddenly saw that she was simply waiting him out, and his words faltered. He found it was difficult to fight against someone who wasn’t fighting back. His next words, said much more tentatively, reflected that recognition.
“Uh, so, are you OK with that?”
Marie almost smiled, but didn’t, feeling that might upset him more. Instead, she said, “I think that makes sense. You should have a place you can feel entirely free to be yourself without interruption. A sanctuary. OK. I’ll stay out. I guess this means you’ll be doing your own laundry and making your own bed when you wash the sheets?”
Kerry hadn’t thought that far ahead. This was something to consider. He had other things to chew on here, too. He was aware that something had changed here: his mother wasn’t screaming back at him as he’d expected. She was talking softly and was even agreeing with him. She’d listened to what he had to say, too. He’d have to figure out what that meant when he had time to ponder it.
He did know he didn’t like the part about the laundry and such. He needed to respond to that. He did so in a normal speaking voice, his shouting temporarily quelled. “Uh, you probably should continue to do my sheets, and then make the bed with the fresh ones. You know how better than I do and I might screw up the washing machine.” He thought that sounded like a good, logical reason, and he felt clever for thinking of it. “But I meant what I said about not coming in unless specifically invited. So, when it’s laundry day, I can strip the sheets and leave them in the hall, and then I’ll ask you to make the bed with them, rather than you just coming in whenever you want.”
This time Marie did smile. “I guess that’s a good compromise. As long as, instead of leaving the sheets in the hallway, you bring them to the laundry area. Deal?”
She smiled and
held out her hand, and Kerry couldn’t help himself. He shook her hand and said,
“Deal!” And he wondered at what had just happened. It was the first extended,
civil conversation he’d had with her in months, and the first they’d both walked
away from happy. It seemed almost surreal.
In bed that night, Lucky hadn’t even having made a pretense of sleeping in the nest Kerry had constructed for her at the bottom of his bed but instead had curled up next to his bare chest and was now sleeping soundly. Kerry was still working through that discussion with his mother, and thinking about his room now being a private refuge. He was surprised how well it had gone, and how it had solved one immediate problem of keeping Lucky secret. As he ran it over in his mind, he realized something. It looked to him like he’d be more apt to get his mother to go along with what he wanted by being civil to her instead of fighting. It sure had worked with the problem with the sheets.
True, he’d yelled and fussed about his privacy, and gotten that as a result. But, he wondered, could he have had that all along had he simply asked? And wouldn’t it be better if he tried not to fight with her so much, better if they had a truce? Because at some point, it was probably inevitable that she’d learn that Lucky was there, and if they were getting along better by then, friendly even, wouldn’t it improve his chances of being able to persuade her that the dog should be allowed to stay?
As he thought, his hand was idly stroking the puppy. In just the short time he’d been taking care of it, something about it had deeply moved him. Maybe it was that she was so dependent on him. Maybe it was because he’d saved it’s life. In some cultures, he knew that meant he was now responsible for it. He did feel responsible, but it was more than that. He loved this dog. That’s what it came down to. He loved this little, adorable, vulnerable, ball of fluff.
He felt that with his heart and soul. Was it because it was another way to beat his mother at this unfriendly game they were playing? Was it because it was a part of his gathering sense of independence and his need to demonstrate it? Were these motivations all mixed together with the feelings he’d developed for Lucky? He didn’t know, and didn’t care. He simply knew he loved her, and he was keeping her, no matter what.