Dearest Rachel –
I never met the dogs you grew up with: Crispin, who was your mother’s when she met your dad while teaching at university (Their story was an interesting ‘meet-cute,’ and one rife with all manner of battles for employment rights within the academic field and what not, but they’re not particularly relevant for this letter. Maybe another time; I know I’ll probably not tell the story very well, but I’m one of the only ones left who know it at all), or his daughter, Canny (I know there was more to her name than that, but her full name was almost never used in the telling, so it’s all the name I know). By the time I was making the occasional visit to you at your parents’, her son, Rufus, was getting up in years (although not so much that Daniel didn’t get to meet him; her even has a few dim memories of the old boy).
I do recall some of the stories about them: how Crispin did not take kindly to this ‘other man’ in his mistress’ life (I think that a pair of shoes or other clothing was destroyed somewhere along the way, just to show Bill who was boss in the house); how Canny would become the first in a long line of family dogs that preferred sleeping with you in your bedroom than with her supposed real mistress and master; and so forth.
But the one that came to mind this morning was about how, when she knew the end was near, Canny made her way to the basement of your family home, curled herself up, and more or less let herself go. I don’t recall the details; I don’t think you were fond of telling the story (it’s hard to talk about a dying dog, even if, like me, you’re not particularly emotionally invested in them, and of course, you were, with every single one of them), but I understand that your folks had the vet come to your home – such is the difference between suburbia and downstate. In any event, Canny passed away in that basement.
And from that moment on, Rufus pointedly refused to ever go down there. While it’s true that he had begun aging as well, and travelling down stairs is tricky on four feet as opposed to two (just try crawling on hands and feet, and you’ll understand – upstairs is a breeze, but downstairs can be terrifying. Chompers never liked climbing stairs, either, because he knew what he’d eventually have to do, and didn’t look forward to it), you and your parents agreed that his reluctance to do so was in no small part because of the fact that he knew this was where his mother died, and he wanted no part of that section of the house.
Since what happened to you took place nowhere near our home – although there’s no denying that neither Daniel nor I have any great desire to revisit the place, save for on those occasions where I need to be there in a professional capacity (in point of fact, neither of us were ever much for the outdoors; even our fateful trip was at your urging as opposed to any particular desire on our own part) – there should be no such reaction on either of our parts regarding any particular room of the house. And yet…
Somewhere along the line, when Jan and I had managed to clear out the kitchen of all the detritus that had piled up over the past few years (and, in all honesty, some things had been lingering for actual decades), Daniel stepped into the kitchen, declared that there was an ‘echo’ to it, and resolved to stay out of it as much as possible thenceforth.
I’m in no position to argue his assessment. Certainly, he’s probably somewhat accurate, in a very literal sense, since most of the stuff we threw out would have been relatively soft, or otherwise functioned as a baffle for sounds being made in there. And what was left were the hard edges – the floor was uncovered, as were the surfaces of the counter and stove. Clean though they might be, sound would bounce off of them more than in years past – and even the absence of the mess itself served to underline your own absence, making the supposed ‘improvement’ just one more poignant reminder that you were (and are) no longer there. The place was now alien to him, and he didn’t (and still doesn’t) like it.
The result of this reluctance, however, begins to concern me. I have no problem with being in the kitchen myself; indeed, I make frequent use of the table that barely a year ago was overflowing with various containers you kept for the sake of possible future food storage (despite the fact that we had no place to store the containers when they were empty; where would we put them, say, after a Thanksgiving meal, when they were filled?) when I make myself breakfast while he sleeps (if he’s awake, I eat at the dining room table – he rarely joins me there, usually preferring his rocker/recliner in the family room, but at least we’re sharing the same extended space). But since he doesn’t usually bother with breakfast when I’m there, what does he do for food when I’m at the ‘office’? The answer is, generally, he doesn’t.
In fact, just last night, the folks were teasing me a little bit as Daniel downed his third helping of pork chop as we ate with Mom like we do every Thursday evening. “Don’t you even feed him?” Daniel actually acknowledged that he’d not eaten all day prior to the evening’s repast, but at least made a point of absolving me of responsibility for his situation: “That’s on me,” he said, also adding that he wanted to be as hungry as possible to be able to enjoy as much of Meema’s cooking as possible. Praise him for a superb bit of diplomacy, there; excusing me, while complimenting her to the heavens. Well played, son, well played.
But that’s just one day out of the week. And while he points out that my concern for him is partly due to my own hunger (and my assumption that he ought to be hungry if I am), and the fact that I’m twice the man he is – with twice the stomach – it still seems that one meal a day is not an ideal situation.
Maybe things will change once the kitchen doesn’t look like ‘yours’ anymore. I can only hope.
Wish me luck, honey; I’m going to need it.