She crouched in the back of the cage, terrified and shaking, a black and white bundle all ears and bulging eyes. I reached into the cage and she snapped at me. Bitch.
“Whoa,” I said. The volunteer chuckled. “Yeah, that one’s really scared.” We eventually got her out, and she stood unsteadily, looking around like she was expecting the apocalypse, tail so far between her legs it nearly reached her chest. I picked her up. She felt lighter than my purse. She was weird-looking the way Chihuahuas are, tiny with bug eyes, but she had a beautiful coat, like cowhide with those black and white patches. Probably mixed with rat terrier, I thought. How awful. “I’ll foster her,” I told the rescue lady.
“What is going on with you?” asked Anne. “What is up with you and these fucking dogs?” I poured myself a shot of really nice bourbon. It was Anne’s birthday. “I don’t know,” I said. My shrink said I might need to switch meds.
My book was almost ready to go to press. I was re-reading it looking for typos. Advance praise rolled in, and I could hardly believe it. Writers I admired were using words like “gorgeous,” “unflinching honesty,” and “absorbing” to describe my work. “Nobody’s going to buy it,” I told Hot Firefighter Husband. He rolled his eyes.
The bitch’s rescue name was Arabella. We renamed her Skippy. “Is she, like, transgender?” asked the Diva. Good god. We’ve got to occasionally turn off the news. Skippy fell instantly, madly in love with the little Tyrant. She cried at her door when the Tyrant went to school, and slept burrowed under a blanket snuggled against her legs. She followed the Tyrant around like – well, like a puppy.
Skippy couldn’t stand Husband. She bit him right off. “Man up,” I scoffed. I mean, those teeth were so tiny, after all. Still, she growled whenever he walked by, and watched him like he was gearing up to shoot her. She wouldn’t eat when he was around. She barely ate, in fact, unless it was scrambled eggs and white bread.
I was working as an adjunct at the University of North Florida teaching writing labs. The chair of my department asked if I’d be interested in taking a full-time visiting professor of journalism position for the spring semester. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” I liked the sound of it – a visiting professor of journalism. Maybe Morning Joe would invite me to go a round or two with Kellyanne Conway? What would I wear? As the holidays neared, I began to panic. “I feel like I’m so full of shit,” I told Husband. He had headphones in, but I could tell he agreed.
Skippy finally started eating dog food, but only the single most expensive dog food ever made, and only if it was mixed with “human grade” chicken stew canned food. I kept it in a plastic bowl in the fridge and I marked it so Husband wouldn’t sample it. Skippy liked me and the Tyrant, and that’s it. Sometimes she liked Buddy the Wonder Dog, but not often. She put up with the Diva when her sister wasn’t around. She let Yobe the Rescue Dog kiss her, but not snuggle her. She liked to poop outside if she was outside, but if no one was paying attention to her, she pooped in the house and I yelled at her because DON’T POOP IN THE HOUSE, DOG. I took her to the vet. “She’s got a terrible ear infection,” said the vet. “Are you keeping her?” NO, I nearly shouted. She’s a FOSTER. And I coughed up $89 for ear drops. Skippy licked my face. Her breath was the worst.
The final proof of the book looked amazeballs – cover art by my own son, the talented Pterodactyl, and more than 200 pages of my very own words strung together. I called my friend Rona at the The BookMark and asked if she’d host my book launch. “I better!” she said, and I got all teary-eyed. I used to work at The BookMark and put a lot of effort into selling people my favorite books. Every shift I sold several copies of The Paperboy by Pete Dexter, which every Floridian should read. We agreed on Saturday, March 18 at 7 pm. DID EVERYBODY HEAR THAT? SATURDAY, MARCH 18, AT 7 PM.
Skippy didn’t like visitors at all, but she was so little I could just pick her up and lock her away. Anyway, she spent most of her time buried in the Tyrant’s bed. “Maybe we should just give Skippy to (the Tyrant) as a Christmas present,” I said. The two adored each other, and the Tyrant used the little dog to soothe her when she was upset, which was extremely, extremely often. “No,” said Husband. “Absolutely not. I have come to terms with you and your dog thing, and the fact that we will occasionally have three dogs. But not this dog. No way.”
“Just because she bites you?” I asked. He shook his head at me as a way of daring me to ask again, so I didn’t. Over Facebook, I found a home for Skippy with a single mom who wanted a small dog for her teenage son. They took Skippy on a Thursday afternoon, and the Tyrant cried herself to sleep. The next evening, she brought the dog back. “She’s too needy,” the woman said. “My son wants a dog who sometimes wants to snuggle, and sometimes doesn’t.”
“Get a cat,” I told her. The Tyrant sighed happily and fell asleep early that night, Skippy curled into her belly.
January. The UNF spring term began, and my schedule included four classes. Four weeks in, there was still no talk of firing me. My publisher sent my book proof to the printer. At age 53, I was finally sounding pretty legit – a college instructor with a book coming out. But THESE KIDS. Goddamn it, they just won’t raise themselves. I went to Target and bought four new laundry baskets so the clean clothes wouldn’t take up space on the couch; I started using a meal prep delivery service; I discovered 14 creative new ways to dress up exercise pants; and Buddy the Wonder Dog became my constant companion. “You have a book coming out!” Husband kept reminding me. “You’re a journalism professor!” I’m an instructor, I corrected him. “STOP IT,” he says, exasperated, because he’s not a yeller. “YOU ARE DOING GREAT.” I ate more chocolate.
My friend Gwinn decided I had to get rid of Skippy, so she made her “Pet of the Week” on her blog. A woman called. “I want a dog who just wants to snuggle,” she said. “When I’m not working, I mostly lay in bed and watch television.” It was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. “You’ll love her,” I said. This time, the Tyrant and I discussed the handoff at length, and I explained how Skippy would be so happy with a human who could smother her with love all the time, and how it wasn’t fair to Daddy to have a dog in the house who bit him. We met the woman in a Taco Bell parking lot, which reminded the Tyrant that she had never, ever in her whole life had Taco Bell, so after the woman took Skippy, I bought her a chicken taco, which made her feel fine about the whole situation. The woman called the next day to say she was in love, and busy teaching Skippy how to use a doggy door.
Now my book is at the printer, so it’s sort of like I’m in literary labor. My classes are going pretty well. I’m going to be on television twice and on the radio twice. And it’s looking like more than a few people are going to read my book.
I hope you’ll be one of them.
THE PLACE OF PEACE AND CRICKETS: HOW ADOPTION, HEARTACHE AND LOVE BUILT A FAMILY
THE BOOKMARK, NEPTUNE BEACH, MARCH 18, 7 PM! FOR REAL!