I’m going to tell you a story of how dumb stuff can change your life in unexpected ways. It is a true story and I’ll try to make it interesting but sometimes, the truth is just true, and that’s all.
Lynn and I were married for about 20 years, and we’ve weathered a few storms and celebrated many victories over that time. Lynn is a good and steady woman who doesn’t take things to extremes or ultimatums. I can’t overemphasize what an attractive quality that is in a person.
We’ve always been pretty good about talking out our problems and one thing I attribute our healthy relationship to was, we are very touchy. By that, I mean we touch – we hold hands when walking together, or I put my arm around her in the theater. Part of this touchiness was she curls up next to me every night in bed, her head resting on my arm, her leg slightly over mine, and that’s how we went to sleep together. At some point in the night, one or both of us would turn over or need to adjust, but we almost always went to sleep with our bodies touching each other. That might sound smothering or over the top to some people, but it was our standard operating procedure and it worked for us.
Then Murphy came along. Murphy is a precocious, male Rat Terrier puppy. I immediately fell in love with this little dog when I saw him bossing the other puppies in his litter around, and our son, Spencer (9 years old at the time), took a shine to him as well. Lynn was less enthusiastic about the mischievous imp, but was out-voted, and so we named him Murphy and he joined our family.
Here’s the thing about Rat Terrier puppies – they are unholy terrors. At least, Murphy was. Left unwatched for more than a minute, he was sure to be doing something bad – chewing on an electrical wire, peeing on the carpet, getting into a trash can or gnawing holes in my shoes. All it took was a minute. It became an alarming experience to look up and realize I couldn’t see Murphy, as it usually meant something, somewhere was being damaged.
Bedtime was no different, and I was weak about crate-training Murphy. Weak, in that I couldn’t take his constant, high-pitched barking every time we crated him. I know, I know, you have to deal with this to break a dog into a crate. Murphy would bark for over two hours, sometimes reaching fingernail-on-chalkboard pitch. So I finally let him out so he would quiet down.
Still, Murphy on the loose was a little like having a small, black and white tornado amok in our bedroom. When that got to be too much, I put him in bed at my side, between my wife and me. I hooked a finger under his collar and firmly but gently held him in place. Eventually, he calmed down and went to sleep.
It became a pattern, and at bedtime, I took Murphy into our bed, hooked a finger under his collar, and he went to sleep between my wife and I.
This mistake was not apparent to me immediately, but I had disrupted a pattern that my wife and I had been following for twenty years. I tried to keep physical contact, throwing my foot next to hers, but that was inadequate and somewhere down deep, I felt the lost connection. A busy signal or the number you have dialed is not in service kind of thing, but I ignored it.
Two months passed before it began to dawn on me. Men – we are slow on the uptake when it comes to emotional issues. I think women would be a lot happier with the male gender overall if they would just accept this and stop setting the bar impossibly high, expecting us to know why you are crying when you don’t have a broken bone and nobody has died. Those are a guy’s valid reasons for crying, and even in those circumstances, it’s better if you don’t. But I digress.
I realized that my wife and I were not as close as we had been. This distance was evident beyond the bedroom, in the ways we interacted with each other. Lynn was onto this long before I was, but she was trying to adapt and be flexible. She was putting up with it.
Putting up with it. That is another way of saying, there is a breaking point. I reached Lynn’s breaking point almost six months after we brought Murphy home. Behind this massive dam that cracked and crumbled, and finally gave way before my astonished face, was six months of putting up with it.
It wasn’t just Murphy, though he was the first leak this dam had sprung. It was every dumb thing I had done regarding Murphy, more than a few I was oblivious to having done. Again, Men – we are slow on the uptake when it comes to emotional issues.
We worked it out with each other. How that was done is none of your business. Yes, I let you in on a secret, but it doesn’t mean you get to probe every corner of my underwear drawer.
So, back to Murphy. Remember him? He’s the Rat Terrier puppy that was the wedge I unwittingly drove between my wife and me. Murphy grew and continued as a source of anxiety in my marriage and home, but we didn’t kill him, and that is as much of a testament to loving him as I can provide, up to that point.
Eventually, Murphy stopped chewing up things he shouldn’t chew up, and settled down. It took two years, but he outgrew being a puppy and became just another stubborn terrier. Along with that, I could move him from between us in the bed and not have him destroy the room.
Lynn and I, who had been getting busy signals from each other all this time, were finally able to curl up, connect, and go to sleep, our bodies together again.
Murphy is now four years old, and every night, he tries to sleep between Lynn and me. I trained him that way as a puppy, so it’s my fault. Now he is grown, and I forcefully but gently push him down to the foot of the bed, where he promptly trots around to either of our sides and settles next to the outside part of one of us, but that’s OK. Lynn and I are sleeping with our bodies next to each other again, and it feels good.
© 2013, Mitch Lavender