Please enjoy this post where I tell you a story about an event from my life. Nothing more, nothing less. Today’s story is the fifth in a series about some of the women my dad dated: Maggie.
“She’s coming to live with us!” my dad tells me as we drive through Jones Beach. The “us” in this sentence feels pretty tenuous. I live with my father for less than a day a week on average. There is very little us. There is his apartment, which I am legally forced to inhabit as per a custody agreement. I’m 12 now. I’m round faced and lonely but it’s about to be summer, my last one at sleep away camp. I want desperately to go to camp again and I even more desperately don’t want a stranger to come live with us – no matter how little us there is. I want to be left alone.
I smile. He says she is from somewhere but I’m not listening. I’m listening to the Batman Forever soundtrack, it skips a little because it’s well worn but then it rights itself. Flyover country somewhere, maybe. “She has two dogs!” he’s excited but I don’t like dogs. He knows I don’t like dogs. I’m afraid of dogs because of their large, terrifying mouths and their long heavy bodies, and the low, haunting sounds they make. He is still talking when I look out the window and start crying. I don’t make any sound and he doesn’t notice.
In a twist of fate, my cat also hates dogs. I hate the dogs even more because of that but it’s not their fault they live with us. It’s my dad’s fault. And Maggie’s fault. She is towering to me at nearly 5’10” and has a plume of tight red curls on her head. She is a lanky, awkward thing. She watches a lot of TV and she doesn’t get a job but somehow she’s also very busy because she is rarely around but her dogs are always there. She has dogs, Riley, a giant German Shepard mix and Dotty, who is a dalmatian. I hate them and so in turn, I hate her.
The dogs barely fit in the one bedroom apartment. I assume we’re not allowed to have dogs in the apartment but no one says anything. The dogs are both over 2 years old and they have no training. I spend one day a week in the house but I end up walking and feeding and caring for the dogs when I’m there because my father and Maggie don’t. My dad takes immaculate care of my cat but he seems to pass off any responsibility for the dogs to Maggie who is more than happy to ignore them.
Eventually I don’t hate the dogs, instead I pity them. They’re neurotic. They destroy things in the house the second they’re left alone. They break everything I love. Dotty bites my cat once and even after the cat swipes at her eyes it takes everything in me not to hit the Dalmatian. It’s just a dog, I tell myself, hitting her doesn’t teach her anything. So I don’t hit her. Instead I hold her for a long time and I pet her softly and I cry on her back and she lets me. She lets me love her and after that she doesn’t bite the cat anymore, but she does eat and throw up my homework more than once.
When I sleep over at my dad’s house, the dogs sleep with me in the living room because they’re locked outside of the bedroom. They’re both my weight or more and they sleep next to me on the mattress that we drag out and call my bed. They smell but eventually I come to find them somewhat comforting. My cat comes to sleep with me too sometimes, despite the dogs. They don’t dare touch her in front of me. I feel like we all understand that things aren’t ideal. Me and the animals. We understand that things shouldn’t be like this.
Maggie and my dad get married at town hall one day. There is a pizza shop across the street from there and I convince my dad to buy me pizza. He tells me it’s great that I have a new step mom. I wonder why he married her as I eat a third slice of pizza.
When I take Riley on a walk one day she breaks free of her collar. She runs down the street and I become frantic and don’t know what to do. I have so little understanding of dogs that I’m not sure if running after her will make it better or worse. I call her name and start crying and run back to the house to tell Maggie. Maggie is furious at me and calls me a few choice words but she eventually realizes that she should go look for the dog instead of wasting time on me. Riley comes sauntering up to me about 40 minutes later, looking happy and simple. I wasn’t calling for her or running through the yards, I was just standing in the middle of the street near where she got loose. I wonder what she is thinking.
Maggie yells at me a second time when we get back to the house, even though I found her dumb dog. I look away from her and try to sing a song in my head and she snaps her fingers in my face and yells louder. Now I’m yelling. Now I can’t STOP yelling. The words are coming out of me like water from a broken fire hydrant. I call her some choice words of my own and I stomp outside, sit on the ground, and cry. My mom picks me up two hours later and I go to camp for a week after that. I don’t yell or call anyone choice words at camp.
When I come back to my fathers house, we’re getting evicted.
‘No dogs’, says the lease. I worry my yelling is the reason we’re getting evicted. Maggie and I don’t talk much after that but my dad asks me about the dogs. I remind him I hate the dogs. When we move to another apartment, they don’t allow dogs either so Maggie goes to live somewhere else. The dogs never come back. Maggie visits my dads new apartment three times. The last time she comes with a packet of papers that I know mean divorce. I feel relief, sadness, and then shame.
I don’t know if the dogs were okay and I worried about them for a while after that. The old landlord charged us for the damage to the apartment and it feels like too much and not enough at the same time.
And even after all that, I still don’t like dogs.