Daddy is always late coming home on Tuesdays. We don’t like when he’s late. Pocket sits on the couch, looking out the window, waiting. I sleep on Mommy’s lap, but I sleep tensely.
But we’re not angry, because Tuesday is the afternoon that Daddy spends with his Auntie Bev, and if it wasn’t for Auntie Bev none of us would exist.
You see Mommy, believe it or not, had one rule when she married Daddy. OK, two rules, one is she wouldn’t do that, and two was no dogs.
That’s right my Mommy was an anti-dogtite. Daddy knew if the puppy window ever opened he would have to jump through it quickly. And it did open, out of nowhere, one day at the mall.
The seeds had been planted years before Mommy and Daddy were even married when this little Shih Tzu jumped out of a car near where Mommy was living, ran into the woods, and ended up in her driveway, jumping in her lap as soon as she opened her car door. Mommy called Daddy and they went to the police station and the animal control officer with a description of the pup but a couple of days passed and there was no word. Meanwhile the little baby had nestled right into her heart, which broke into two pieces when the baby’s owner called, one side for the joy she saw when the family found their Precious, and the other side for seeing it disappear from her life forever.
It must have been with that little Precious in mind when, one day, she looked in a puppy store window, saw a little baby like the one who had nestled in her lap and said that she wouldn’t mind a puffy little dog like that.
Daddy knew this was it. He had one chance. Auntie Bev. She owned a puffy little dog named Tillie and my Daddy thought if Tillie and Mommy could bond then maybe he could convince her to get a dog.
They stopped at my Auntie Bev’s and Uncle Bob’s house, and, unfortunately found that Tillie had recently gone to the Bridge. But Auntie Bev, who Mom respected very much, told her how wonderful Tillie was and how much she meant to them and she slowly kept working on Mommy until she gave in and agreed to think about getting a puppy,
Less than 24 hours later Daddy had Mommy at a house in Dartmouth where little puppy Blake went running over to her and jumped in her arms and Mommy hasn’t been dogless for a day since.
Auntie Bev and Uncle Bob were the first family members to meet Blake and they were the first family members to meet me. I met their daughter Jan and their grandson Michael Robert that day too and they all fell in love with me because I was two pounds of irresistible.
I spent lots of time there and both Uncle Bob and Auntie Bev, who thought they were too old for their own dog, enjoyed our visits, stroking us, playing with us, and they were just about two of my favorite people. A few years ago Uncle Bob got very sick and had to go to the bridge leaving poor Auntie Bev alone.
It was during that time that Daddy began to go over there on trash day, to take out the trash, and to sit and listen and learn about life.
She would tell him stories of harder times, growing up in a real Depression, with her grandfather’s sea chest, filled with worthless stock certificates, anchoring their poverty. She had calming, wisdom-scented conversations with our Mommy when she was diagnosed with cancer, anchoring her anxieties. And Auntie and Daddy would sit, in the late Tuesday afternoon sunshine, and release the pent up frustration, either deserved or not, that their various family members had inflicted on them. It was the best therapy for them both, familiar, comfortable as old shoes, as warm as a blanket near a fire.
She was a small woman to start, all Gays are small, and arthritis began robbing her of her freedoms young. She had both knees replaced, and a hip, and a broken shoulder that never properly healed. She walked with the aid of at least one cane, hunched over, slowly inching her way forward. With her myriad of physical problems she and Uncle Bob had agreed that she would be the first to go, but when death picked it’s own order, and the couple who had been married for more than 50 years were delivered the crushing news, Aunt Bev reminded Uncle Bob of his promise to let her pass into the night first. Uncle Bob contemplated this promise and his limited mortality for several seconds then surmised: “Bev, did you ever consider they just don’t want you?”
Aunt Bev’s family took her car away after Uncle Bob’s death. This made her angry because she was sure she could drive, as were we, but it was the stopping and turning that gave us pause. She still tried to exert as much independence as possible. One Tuesday Daddy could not find her anywhere and was ready to scour the neighborhood when she appeared from behind the shed, cane in one hand, bag of acorns in another. She would also venture down the cramped, adventurous cellar stairs, wedged in an entryway after the builder realized he hadn’t provided basement access and shoved them in, thin steps six inches high (it was built shortly after World War II when the country was much more forgiving) where Aunt Bev, against everyone’s wishes, would venture down to do her laundry, then make her ascent, one step at a time, tottering on each steep, but perhaps with Uncle Bob’s invisible hand still guiding her, making it to the top step and latching the door behind her, a chore she saved for Tuesdays, knowing if Uncle Bob’s hand was elsewhere and she went backwards down the steps Daddy would know what to do. Her faith in him was strong, more so than ours, as we don’t trust him to properly distribute our mail.
On Saturday morning Uncle Bob’s eternal hand was not there to catch her as she had a stroke in her bathroom. Daddy’s Daddy found her slumped against the bathroom door, and called 911. They took her to the hospital where they made their diagnosis and it became clear to all, but her, that she could no longer live independently.
Daddy visited her on Tuesday. She seemed impossibly small in the hospital bed, as if her lost independence had given her an aura that still lay on the bathroom floor like discarded nightwear. The always fraying string that anchored her to our world had become dangerously thin, but Daddy sat enraptured in her story about the gun fight in her hospital room the night before; the woman in the next bed who sat up in the window all night with her gun pointed, ready; the nurses who covered Aunt Bev with sheets so she would not be caught in the cross fire; the black cowboy named Bill who swore to protect her (and when a male nurse, bald and black, came in to check on her, then left, Aunt Bev leaned forward and whispered “that’s Bill.” Growing up in the industrial Northeast Daddy was sure “Bill” had been called worse than “Cowboy.”) Daddy then gave her a kiss and left, as he did every Tuesday, but this time there was no trash or recycling, just a lonely wait for an elevator as a nervous couple skittered back and forth wrestling with the same decisions that faced Auntie Bev’s immediate family.
If life is nasty, brutish, and short then the end is an NBA game where the final minutes stretch out forever with hard fouls, missed free throws, and unnecessary time outs. Prayers will be said, deals brokered, imaginary death panels consulted, but no one can stop Auntie Bev’s, or anyone else’s, inevitable end. Daddy would love one more Tuesday sitting with her in her living room as the sun sets discussing the unimportant issues of the day. But the sun is setting, time is growing short, and her chair, which sits next to the chair Uncle Bob vacated two years previous, sits vacant, as does the couch where Daddy sat, as the lonesome trash days begin to build up.