Monday, January 31, 2011
This is about the fifth time I’ve tried to write about this. The epic fail proportions of previous attempts might have something to do with the amount of alcohol consumed at the time. Alcohol consumed morosely, moribundly, lugubriously, lachrymosely – while listening to Josh Pyke on loop. Moribundly wasn’t even a word until now.
I met The Pilot at work; he had the desk next to mine. I was 31 and skinny on a diet of cigarettes, coffee and single parenthood. Jim was just two years old and I had gone back to work, delivering him (Jim) screaming and enraged to daycare each day and trying all day to stuff my blind terror into a place in my heart where it didn’t feel like it was ripping the flesh from my bones. There is no such place.
So The Pilot sat next to me and he has since admitted that he took up smoking to get to know me better. He had this nice way about him and he had a 23 year old girlfriend and that combination was always a lethal one for me – sweetness + unavailability = searing crush. I took to wearing pretty dresses to work and pretending my shit was together instead of all over the place and I postured as this calm, wise, HILARIOUS adult– i.e.: not a 23 year old girl.
So without deceit or lies or anything unseemly we managed to start seeing each other. The 23 year old had wandered off, all by herself, I didn’t even have to pour sugar in her petrol tank.
He had a dog-named Max; I had a kid called Jim.
I always called Max my step-dog and, on the whole, The Pilot did a much better job of taking on the role of stepfather to my son than I did of welcoming the dog to the fold.
Max, who patrolled the boundaries of the yard with his low growl and hound-from-hell bark. All. Fucking. Night.
Max, who buried his nose in the crutch of every visiting female and inhaled - deeply, un-selfconsciously, persistently.
Max, who mounted every visiting toddler and small child and, no matter that they were the wrong species, humped like there was no tomorrow.
Max, who seized the opportunity to devour a pooh dropped seconds before by a 1 year old having ‘nappy free time’ in the back yard, subsequently sending my father into a fit of dry-retching so violent it appeared life threatening.
And, while we’re on fecal material, in a chaotic moment when Jim was suffering from diarrhea and was being carried, bare-arsed, frantically, to somewhere his bum could be washed, Max ducks into the frame and LICKS THE DIARRHEA.
Seriously, how do you love that? Love as a verb, I mean. How?
But then there’s this.
Max, who endured being ridden around the back yard, who waited at the gate until the humans came home, who got brought home in the back of a paddy wagon (6 months ago) because he busted out one last time looking for bitches, and the police knocked at my door and were so sweet, like it was the nicest thing they’d had to do all day, bring home a dog so old he can barely stand but thinks he can still cut it with the ladies.
He learned how to smile. When we all got home from the school run he walked towards us in a kind of crab-like way, tail wagging furiously and the left side of his lip lifted in what could be mistaken for a snarl, but I knew he was smiling, and it made him snort.
In the last two years Max was pretty much stone-deaf. His talent for standing right where you needed to go, or sleeping where you were bound to trip over him (but if you’d seen him first, and stepped over him slowly, so as not to wake him – we had all got in the habit of pausing, mid-step, to check that his chest was still rising and falling, that he was still breathing, still alive) we’d stumble over him and cry out his name in frustration – but he couldn’t hear and just stood there, like a demented old person, probably wondering if he was related to any of us.
My sneezes managed to penetrate his hearing. He would be sound asleep in the back room (kitchen, living, family, i.e.: Life Room) and I would sneeze (loud) and Max wouldn’t so much as wake from his sleep as startle and leap, like a much younger dog, but then land on his hundred-year-old, unsteady legs and kind of stagger hurriedly outside. He didn’t hear “ahCHOO!” he heard “OUTSIDE!!” and it made us laugh and be sad all at the same time.
Max’s life was lived in parallel with me and The Pilot, he’s been on every holiday, exuding foul odor from the back of the car while our luggage was tied precariously to the roof, as much of a daily fixture as a favorite comfy chair - there, taken for granted, loved - sometimes distractedly, half-heartedly. I had my quiet moments of commune with him, after the kids were in bed and I sat outside with a glass of wine, Max would come and rest his head on my lap while I scratched the back of his ears and told him he was a good boy in the dumb voice I reserved for him.
Maxy died in January, one day before Anna’s 11th birthday. I wrapped him in a rug I made for her when she was a baby. We buried him under a tiny Poinciana tree with a ring of petunias at the bottom, in front of the chook house, keeping watch.
I have wept at the dog-food counter at the supermarket, I have wept when he failed to show at the gate, when I thought I heard him shake his collar, or heard his feet on the floorboards in the hallway. I polished the brass name disk on his collar and put it pride-of-place on display, so that all who visit might mourn with us. I sent out a text to our nearest and dearest to tell them the news and my phone was flooded with messages about his legendary appalling behaviour. I dug his grave (The Pilot was away), held him for one last long hug and we played a special Josh Pyke song for him.
Max is with us in stories.
Thank you, if you stuck with this.