Aside: It’s #TBT. My husband and I recently celebrated 19 years of wedded bliss, which made me reflect on our life together. According to Hallmark’s website, wood is the traditional gift for a 5th wedding anniversary. We took a slightly different road….
My husband and I felt prepared for puppy parenthood. Neither of us had previously owed a large-breed dog, nor did we know anyone with a Golden Retriever; nonetheless, we had fallen in love. Every anniversary up to that point, we had given each other cards with fuzzy, blond puppies – a short of promissory note for our future plans. By our fifth anniversary, we finally owned a house with a backyard – the time had come to take the next step. If we didn’t screw up a dog too badly, we reasoned, we’d be ready for kids in a couple of years.
Aside: No need for a cheeky aside here for those readers who have had dogs and/or kids. For those readers who haven’t, all I can say is it’s not the same at all.
Scouring the classifieds one morning, I reported, “They want $600 for a pure bred.”
“Wow, that much?” Pete remarked.
I located the “Golden Retriever mix” listings. Over the phone, the breeder touted her puppies as a marvel of genetic engineering: a black, male Labradoodle coupled with a female Golden Retriever.
“She has two male puppies that look just like Goldens,” I said, trying to sell Pete on driving out to see them.
“They sound like mutts,” he scoffed.
“They’re only $300,” I pleaded. “Besides, I told her we’d be there tonight.”
Aside: One secret to our happy marriage is that Pete humors me 95% of the time.
While Pete drove, I studied the labyrinth of country roads labeled with numbers on a Virginia map. At some point, I announced that we were lost.
Aside: GPS devises have saved our marriage on several occasions in more recent years.
Since we didn’t have a cell phone (it was 2000), Pete located a pay phone outside a decrepit roller skating rink and parked. Picking up the receiver, I dialed the number and placed it near my ear. Nothing.
Aside: I briefly considered returning to the car and making Pete go inside, but I am the one who takes care of these interactions. Besides, I needed to save face. The guilty need to correct errors may also be one of our secrets for marriage.
The painted cinder block walls and smell of sweaty socks wafting from the skate rental counter transported me back to fifth grade. A large, hairy, old man leaned on the lower half of a Dutch door. I informed him that the phone didn’t seem to work.
“Are you makin’ a long distance call or something?” the man eyed me.
“No, it’s a 703 number.”
“Lady, 703 is for Washington, D.C. This here’s 540 area code,” he announced as though we were in California rather than 50 miles outside of our nation’s capital.
I inhaled slowly thinking about how 703 actually belonged to Fairfax County, not D.C. Rather than pointing this out, I switched tactics, “Do you know where 255 Road is?”
“Sure. That’s way up past Dinosaurland and the Texaco station.”
I thanked him and returned to the car. Following a subsequent stop at a payphone that accepted 703 numbers, we found the breeder’s farm.
Aside: Marriage, like writing, requires frequent revisions. It’s pretty much trial and error.
When we arrived, an adult Golden Retriever herded puppies out of our path. One hyper, golden male crouched underneath Pete while his curly-haired, black sister gave me her belly to rub. Once we homed in on these two, the breeder instructed her husband to send the competition back to the kennel.
The female was obviously more submissive, but we had our hearts set on the golden fur. We chose the male despite the fact that we had witnessed him eating horse poop earlier.
Aside: We were smitten. We love a challenge. Enough said.
While Pete held the puppy, I wrote out the check, signed the sales agreement, and listened to all the vaccine information.
“He will probably have worms and fleas,” the breeder warned.
It was too late to be put off by this. He was ours, worms and all.
During the car ride home, I sat in the backseat stroking our puppy. Without my help navigating, Pete found the way home. Once we arrived, I remembered that we hadn’t read any of the chapters on puppy care.
Aside: It’s tempting to draw conclusions from this pattern of being lost, gaining clarity (or at least deluding ourselves into thinking we knew what we were doing), and becoming lost again. Marriage, like writing, isn’t that tidy though.
Henri (pronounced “ornery” when we wanted to be pretentious) kept us company for 11 of our 19 years as a couple. For the first two of those years, we patched drywall and wood trim around the house. Despite our failure to train Henri to heel during walks, we brought home a human baby girl to add to our brood. The dog was perfectly fine until we introduced a second child into the mix. At that point, he developed skin problems and began surfing the counters for bread products. He may have been allergic to our son.
Aside: Pete and I once agreed that there were about six good years during Henri’s life span, excluding the first two and the last three.
When it came time to say our goodbyes, we were sad. We loved our dog, but we loved each other and our kids more, which is why we don’t have any plans for a dog in the near future. Perhaps we’ll feel differently 19 years from now when we are empty-nesters, contemplating what to do with ourselves while our children make their way in the world.
Aside: Sometimes in a marriage, you have to know when to say “Mercy.”