When I married for the second time, my own three girls were at the teenager stage. My new husband, a psychiatrist, had two young boys whom he adored—both dark eyed, dark haired and beautiful. No problem, I thought in my ignorance. My husband, a busy doctor, was obliged to work long hours. I was more than ready to take on two adorable boys. The boys, naturally, who had lives and a mother of their own, were not so eager to be taken on.
I tried everything that had worked so well with my girls. I cooked up all that colonial food, told stories, climbed dangerous fences in illicit places, taught them how to cheat at Monopoly, swam in cold water, dived off rocks, did hand-stands, helped with homework and the chicken pox. But when I served the food I had bought so lavishly from Balduccis or made soups that I stirred and strained for hours, the younger one looked at his father and said, “Do I have to eat this stuff?”
This is where the dog comes in. I am not now and never was a dog person. I had always had cats, but one afternoon, left alone with the younger boy, in one of the frequent lulls in conversation I said to him hopefully, “What if we were to get a dog?” He deigned to look up at me with a flicker of interest.
“Who will walk him?” the wise child asked.
“Well, I will, “I said. “It will be good for me.”
And it was, of course, I who walked and cared for the dog, obtained in order to ingratiate myself into the boys’ good graces. He was not a particularly good dog. He was big and rambunctious and a barker. He had even bitten an oculist when he leaned over to adjust my glasses. But ultimately the dog and I, walking and talking together through our solitary days, fell in love as humans tend to do with their dogs, if they are given the chance. The dog sat patiently by my side as I worked the long solitary hours of a writer. We took endless walks together through the New York streets in the evenings. He came with us to Italy in the summer and swam with us. In the water his herding instincts emerged and he swam in circles keeping us together.
Years later the dog was diagnosed with cancer and had to be operated on. I was told I could come and sit with him for a while. My younger step-son, now a tall teenager, offered to my surprise to accompany me on this visit.
The two of us sat cross-legged on the floor of the animal hospital with the dog between us for a long while, the tears falling silently down my cheeks. All we could hear was the soft whimpering of the animal in pain.
I said, “I have never heard him cry before.”
The boy held him and stroked him gently. “I’ve never seen you cry before either,” he said, looking at me with a half smile and something like a glimmer of admiration in his dark eyes. I nodded and reached out and took his hand.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.