Monday, December 21, 2015

The dog of December 15th

Something of note -- and often surprising -- seems to happen to me on Dec. 15ths.

Yes. 15ths. Plural. I make the grammar rules around here.

On Dec. 15, 2005, I arrived home from Africa. And who would have ever thought I'd travel halfway around the world?

A year later, I turned in my last ever undergraduate paper, and finished college life as I knew it. I believe the paper was for my children's literature class, about Peter Pan.

Dec. 15 laid dormant for the next several years, but in 2013 on Dec. 15, I ran my first half marathon.

In 2014 on the fateful date, I went on my first date with Alex.

This year, I learned what it is to be married.

No, I didn't get married. Mom, Dad, you can breathe again.


My roommate and very good friend, Abby, who you've come to know via this blog in recent months, and I always joke that we're married.

When we find ourselves saying things to each other like, (with raised eyebrows) "I'm actually not going to have beer tonight," or: "Did you forget to take your pills?" we find ourselves next chuckling at our ridiculous closeness.

Thank God we don't bicker like a married couple, because that's annoying.

But we enjoy a lot of the bliss of marital life, and with each passing day we get to know each other better and better. We can read emotions, predict behaviors, just like we would that of a spouse. And it's nice.

On Dec. 15, 2015, a dog came into our household. You can probably guess this was not my doing, and it certainly followed the Dec. 15th pattern of being both noteworthy and surprising.

I don't love dogs. Never have. I've come a long way, in going from flat out hating them to actually seeing some of their charm. But they're not my favorite, and may never be. I didn't think I would necessarily have to ever challenge this stance, unless I married someone who just had to have a dog (or, alternately, married someone so allergic to cats that a dog was our only fluffy alternative). And I certainly didn't see a challenge coming toward my stance on this most recent Dec. 15.

Now, this isn't a story of instant animal love, in which the dog of Dec. 15 turned me forever into a tried and true canine lover, never looking back.

Rather, it made me adjust. Not just in my opinion of dogs, but in how I conducted and looked at myself as a person in relationship with another human.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, the thought of living with a dog is more than just that: a thought. To me, it's an entire paradigm shift.

I don't know which detail is more important in explaining this: the fact that I grew up with cats or the fact that I grew up with zero dogs.

To me, life with a dog is an activity reserved for "other." Other people. Other homes. Other lives. A life with a dog has never been one that I thought would apply to me (unless, in the case of marriage -- see above).

So you can imagine, when a puppy crossed our threshold, some emotions set in for me. Honestly, since me and Abby had discussed it a little beforehand, my first thought wasn't one of utter shock or fury. But it was kind of flatlined.

I was taking a nap, because I was sick, and I heard jingle bells. I assumed Abby was decorating our Christmas tree. When I turned my head and saw a dog in the living room, I was too out of it to realize that I was hearing his collar, but I later put it together. I noted in my grogginess that I didn't feel anything of an extreme nature, counted that a good thing, and collapsed my head on the pillow once more.

What followed was many emotions. Emotions that I kept to myself, and whether I imagined them or not, unspoken emotions between me and Abby as a result. Whereas we usually pranced about in our giddy togetherness, it seemed to me we were now anxiously circling each other, like Max the cat and Jack the new dog. Our general elation had been let out of our tires, and I, at least, was feeling it.

I finally opened my mouth -- or, email -- and tapped out a message that I reread approximately 10 times before sending. I told her I was a coward for emailing rather than talking directly, and then laid out everything I was feeling, from the warranted to the perhaps ridiculous. I assured her I loved her and that her happiness was important to me and if having a dog helped that happiness then I understood.

Once I put my feelings out in the open, there was no turning back. But within the hour, I felt better. I regained some of my sanity; I didn't feel like I was hiding from my "wife" anymore.

Even before we reached our final decision, we hit road bumps. But, as I love about us, we were respectful and loving in all our discourse.

I apologized for being grumpy with the dog, explaining that I didn't want to show any affection for the admittedly cute puppy, because I didn't want to send mixed signals.

She admitted she was frustrated that I hadn't been expressing my more-than-obvious reactions to the dog.

Through tears she asked if she thought I could adjust to Jack.

I told her yes.

When we moved in together, we agreed that this would be good practice for both of our future marriages; we thought shared space and occasional compromises would act like training wheels for life with a spouse. I'm sure some of you are shaking your heads at our ignorance, to which I say: give us a break. We can't pretend to understand married life, and it's out of our control that neither of us are there in our journey yet. But I think we give it a pretty good go, even when things get hard for us.

During our back-and-forth about our feelings regarding the dog, Abby texted me: "Maybe this is another reason we're living together, to learn how to be open with difficult feelings."

I thumbed back: "Right? That sneaky God, making us grow."

As it stands, it remains to be determined if the dog will remain with us long term. A few kinks have to be worked out before we can make a final decision.

But I'm sure of this: our friendship will stand the test of time. Because when faced with a disagreement that threatens our "marital" bliss, we care utmost about each other.

(And don't tell anyone, but I don't hate the dog.)

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