When I was a kid, I desperately wanted a dog. My mother’s mother Nana lived with us though. Well, technically we lived with her but that’s another story.
Dad loved dogs, still does, and supported my interest in having one, but Nana either hated dogs or was afraid of them. Mom told me the latter.
“One day when Nana no longer lives with us, Daddy and I will get you a puppy.”
She didn’t wink or elbow me in the ribs while saying it, but the message was clear: when Nana died, I’d get my dog. Even though I was only five or six at the time, wanting a puppy became inextricably linked with a guilty feeling: “you want Nana to DIE!” I tried hard not to think about puppies.
Spoiler alert: Nana lived with us – or rather we lived with her – until I was sixteen years old. Even then, she didn’t die. She moved into a nursing home. Alzheimer’s Disease sucks, y’all. I didn’t get a puppy then, or ever.
In the interim, both parents indulged my puppy love by taking me on regular visits to the pet store* at Wyoming Valley Mall. There I’d ask to hold a puppy in one of the store’s little pens. If Mom were present, I would end up with a Lhasa Apso or Shih Tzu, her favorites. If Dad had brought me, I’d play with a Golden Retriever or Black Lab. When both parents were there, I’d usually get to hang out with whatever dog caught my eye that day with no parental interference.
Dad visits were better (sorry, Mom, if you ever somehow find my blog). I somehow knew those cute little furballs Mom liked would grow up to be lame, matted things with gross eyes, dogs to be ignored.
When I was ten, something tragic happened that rocked my little world.
I had been chosen to play Clara in my ballet company’s production of The Nutcracker and my wonderful, grandmotherly ballet teacher Mrs. Reynolds summoned me to her home in the final weeks before the show. I knew all of my steps; now she wanted to add some of the “character” nuances: expressions, subtle things.
My mother dropped me off at Mrs. Reynolds’ home and she introduced me to her cats. Five of them. I hadn’t spent much time around cats before or really given them much thought. I thought they were pretty cool, particularly the solid black one with green eyes.
But things deteriorated quickly: about an hour in, my eyes were swollen shut and I was sneezing and coughing up a storm. Death appeared imminent through a toxic combination of dander and shame. I was concerned that Mrs. Reynolds would relieve me of my Clara duties in response to my violent reaction to her cats. Fortunately she just changed our rehearsal venue moving forward.
That incident, though, was the beginning of the end of pets for me. Within a year, I started reacting to dogs almost as strongly as cats. I was crushed. Not only could I not get a pup of my own but I also had to limit my visits to friends with pets.
Still, try telling that to my mother: now she really wants a dog. Apparently more than she wants her daughter to visit.