Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (10 page)

The kids don't even know we have all this stuff. There are plenty of memories in their
hell holes
bedrooms. We'll only keep the grown-up games. Anything for children will go.

Jilli has younger brothers, I remember, and her family lives nearby.
I decide to make two separate piles: one for donations and one for Jilli's guys.

From their tangle in the open box, the grim little Fisher-Price knights regard me warily, eyes obscured by visors and helmets. I could swear one of them just tightened the grip on his cudgel, and my heart goes out to him, bless his little plastic about-to-go-down-the-toilet-like-Fluffy-Bunny soul. I know I'm projecting pointlessly on inanimate objects; I can't help it. My children are frigging gone, out there being shot at and stuff, and there's nothing I can do. What
else
can I project on, the
dog
? Never mind. I can handle this empty nest. At the moment I have a terrible surging impulse to zip open my womb and stuff every last one of these little Fisher-Price buggers inside—castle, Boulder Blaster and all, like a reverse C-section—but give me a second. I'm sure this feeling will pass.

It's Pixar's
fault.
Toy Story
is creating a generation of hoarders.

The phone rings and I climb over everything to find it—Sam.

—I need to transfer.

—You need to what?

—Do you think I can transfer out of here in January?

—Sam. Are you talking about this year?

—Yeah.

—You want to transfer second semester of your
freshman year
?

It turns out Sam is not taking well to his new school for all kinds of reasons. He's been talking to friends having the opposite experience, and Sam is hell-bent on switching. We have a brief, charged discussion, mostly me talking, lecturing about not making snap decisions, giving things time, and how I managed to weather early vapors at boarding school.

I must remind myself: academics are only one piece of the pie chart of a young person's college education. Released from home, they finally have the chance to solve their own problems without parental interference. I manage to hold on to this one rational thought for maybe ninety seconds, and then surrender, abandoning the hall mess again, Lilly scrambling ahead of me—
Lilly, I love you, but MAN, you are so up my ASS you are making me NUTS
—and I jab around on the Internet, download a map of Ben's campus hoping to figure out exactly where he's holed up, and simultaneously Google “transfer application guidelines” for Sam. The phone rings again.

Eliza has fallen prey to a speed trap near her off-campus apartment in Virginia, a state where going thirty miles per hour in a twenty-five zone is the equivalent of holding up a convenience store.

—Bad luck. Now you'll have to drive like a granny.

—Like
Granny
?

—No! If you drive like Granny they'll take your license. Drive like
a
granny, a
normal
one—I don't care how many drivers get mad at you, just let them honk. Try not to break one single traffic law from now till you leave Virginia.

Perfect: Sam's going to drop out and live under a bridge for the rest of his life, Eliza is one step away from a criminal record, and Ben, as long as he hasn't gone into anaphylactic shock since last time I checked, is on national television, dodging the unspeakable.

CNN drones. Ben's campus is apparently still in lockdown, although the gunman has been neutralized, whatever that means. I wait for another text. A phrase flits into my consciousness—can't remember where it comes from:
You are only as happy as your least happy child.

Life moves too fast. Do I have to let
everything
go? Isn't there a compromise?

Lilly tiptoes over and puts her head on my knee.

Okay, how about this: grown-up-type games everyone likes can be salvaged, but I know that's only a practical concession. I'm seeking comfort. The children's important memories are in their rooms already, buried under a ton of crap, admittedly, but most of their personal treasures are up there for them to deal with as they please. They don't care about what's down here—
I'm
the one who cares, and this sudden admission pricks me with intense relief. What's to stop me from sparing a few small tokens from this collection, just for myself? Does that count as wallowing? My new office closet under the stairs is huge, after all. There has to be room.

For me: One mangled headdress. It's in a photo I treasure: knobby-kneed Ben in rubber cowboy boots dashing through the house.

For me: One tiny black hooded sweatshirt—I trimmed it painstakingly with white faux fur Fluffy Bunny stripes the year Eliza wanted to be a skunk for Halloween.

For me: One glittery jester hat, from another favorite moment—Sam leaning into the curve on an amusement-park ride; flying, blissful, twinkling jingle-bell tips streaming behind.

And the knights. Yes. For me: the knights can stay.

8.

Sleep Disorder

B
ack to that empty-nest checklist:

  • Romance! Whether you're already in a relationship or on the lookout for one, who's to stop you now from spicing things up a little?

Hmmmm … what exactly do they have in mind? Naughty underwear? Sex toys? Maybe a round of couples' swinging with some of the ABBA ladies and their
Toy Story
guys?

If there truly are aliens somewhere in the outer stratosphere, using special extraterrestrial camera probes that beam through the walls and ceilings of our homes and monitor Earthling behavior, I hope they haven't been focusing too much on the Morse master bedroom. We're not typical.

Curtain up: A bedroom in shadows. Two lumps in the bed: one large and male, one slightly smaller and female. A blade-thin greyhound sleeps on the floor by the female lump's side of the bed, next to a tabletop cluttered with a teetering pile of books, and a spray bottle. A digital alarm clock reads 3:27 a.m. Stillness.

The dog lets out a little high-pitched REM-state yip. The male lump stirs.

MALE LUMP.
(Softly)
Ell.

Silence. The male lump twitches. The dog yips again and pedals her legs spastically, chasing a dream rabbit.

MALE LUMP.
(A little louder)
Ell. Ell Eee.

The female lump stirs slightly.

FEMALE LUMP. Mrr?

MALE LUMP.
(Very loud, twitching a lot)
ESS-ESS!!!! ELL EEE! ELL EEE!

FEMALE LUMP. Okay.

The male lump continues to twitch. The dog continues to pedal and yip. The female lump rolls over and scrabbles on the bedside table, causing most of the books to fall and land on the dog, who startles and jumps to her feet.

FEMALE LUMP. S^&#.

MALE LUMP. ELL EEE! ELL EEE! ELP!

FEMALE LUMP. I know, I know you need help. I'm on it. I'm trying to get the damn water thingy—

MALE LUMP. ELLLLLLP!

FEMALE LUMP.
(Waving the spray bottle)
Got it.

The dog is now pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed, panting anxiously. The female lump squirts her bottle in the air a couple of times to get the thing going, then reaches over and sprays the male lump once on the shoulder.

FEMALE LUMP. How's that? Lilly, go back to sleep.

MALE LUMP.
(Still twitching)
O.

FEMALE LUMP. Shoot. Okay. Um, let me think.

MALE LUMP. ELP! ELLLPP!!!

FEMALE LUMP. Okay, okay, okay. On the head. Ready?

She squirts him three times in rapid succession on the side of the head, hard. The male lump suddenly bolts upright.

MALE LUMP. Damn! Right in my ear.

FEMALE LUMP. Sorry. Okay?

MALE LUMP. Yes. Darn. Thank you.

FEMALE LUMP. Okay.

MALE LUMP. Sorry.

FEMALE LUMP. Okay. Lilly, lie down.

They go back to sleep. Lights fade on Lilly, standing by the bed, watching them, statue-dog.

The doctors call it narcolepsy. We call it Waking-Up Attacks.

Waking-Up Attacks have been going on for decades. I think they're becoming more and more resistant, like a stubborn virus. David says what happens is his throat collapses, and it's terrifying, like being buried alive. He sort of wakes up, but he's mostly paralyzed. He can't really do anything about his collapsed throat—similar to those dreams where you try to run away from something but your legs won't work and you keep falling down. He needs to wake up so he can open his airway and breathe, but for some reason this strapping six-foot-four, two-hundred-plus-pounder has a really hard time achieving total consciousness without outside help.

Back in our heady, romantic early days, David was easy to wake—I'd just say his name and he'd snap out of it. Then one night came the first warning that the mystery was gone and our relationship would be settling into a dangerous stretch. I knew the signs of a budding Waking-Up Attack well by then, and at his first little
Elp!
I said,
David. David? David! Wake up!
but he kept right on twitching. So I tried giving him a little poke, which solved the problem.

Over time, poking became less and less effective, and my poke evolved into a sort of shove. Then the shove had to keep getting more and more aggressive in order to work, all building up to one pivotal night when I found myself lurching on top of David into a straddle position and bouncing up and down, making the bedposts rattle. This tactic (one might assume) could add enough spice to satisfy any empty-nester checklist. Under our circumstances, it definitely did not. I think this is when I began to speculate about alien spies picking us as random subjects for Earthling behavior research, and David, fearing bodily injury, suggested the spray bottle.

The spray bottle was a stroke of genius—it's worked for years now. I keep a spare in my travel bag.

When I'm not around, David can be trapped in Waking-Up Attack state for ages until he finally twitches himself into consciousness. (He had one on a plane once. Oddly, David is sometimes able to see what's going on around him even though he can't really function. He says he could tell the surrounding passengers were watching, probably figuring he was drunk or something, and then turning away embarrassed, as if to give him his space. This could not have been easy, given all David's flopping around.) Often he hallucinates, thinking I'm there when I'm not. He'll incorporate me into his dream, becoming more and more frustrated. He thinks he can see me, and can't understand why I won't wake up and spray him so he can go back to sleep.

I find David's adaptive resistance to my Waking-Up Attack strategies intriguing. There's definitely an analogy that could be applied, to do with the hazards of over-familiarity in marriage—something to consider at this turning point in our domestic life. One very significant factor we've identified is that if he has any reason to suspect I'm annoyed at the interruption to my sleep, I don't have to lift a finger. Guilt wakes David immediately.

The thing is, I am never annoyed. Okay, maybe occasionally, but I know my husband is not having Waking-Up Attacks on purpose just to inconvenience me. We're all aware that maintaining a successful long-term relationship requires schooling yourself to see things from your mate's perspective. David deserves credit for being tolerant of what he calls my Sleep Kicking. I fall asleep curled in a considerate little fetal ball, but at some point in the night I need to unfold, explosively, like a well oiled jackknife, causing my feet to unexpectedly sock him right in the kidneys.

Imagine the problems we'd solve if we could find a way to have my Sleep Kicking coincide with David's Waking-Up Attacks.

He's had three sleep studies—you spend the night in a hospital, covered with sensors so they can monitor you—but to date, the only people who have ever witnessed one of David's Waking-Up Attacks in all its glory are those embarrassed seatmates on the plane, and me. After one study, the doctor told David to bring me along for the big final meeting to discuss the results. This sort of worried me—David's perfectly capable of making his own medical decisions. What did they need me for?

Apparently they had picked up just enough activity to diagnose a mild case of narcolepsy, which, according to
Wikipedia
, is
a neurological disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally
. A main characteristic of narcolepsy is
excessive daytime sleepiness.
It comforted me greatly to know this, because I'd been feeling a little sensitive on date nights. I have enough trouble eating in public with a recognizable actor. When that actor nods off center stage at a candlelit table for two before the appetizers arrive, it's humiliating.

Another classic symptom seemed accurate to David. It's called
lucid dreaming.
This is where you're awake and dreaming at the same time, which is the crux of David's experience. He realizes what's happening, and wakes just enough to know he needs my attention, but not quite enough to be able to do anything concrete to help himself.
Hypnagogic hallucination
is common as well—this is where you're sort of semiconscious, and you see and hear things that aren't there. I've been brooding on this particular feature of narcolepsy ever since David had a Waking-Up Attack as I was coming out of the bathroom one night. He was positive I was still in the bed—he says he could actually see me sleeping beside him. Unfortunately, still in the middle of an unusually intense dream, he was particularly jumpy. So when I crossed the room to help, approaching from an unexpected angle, David, who must have perceived me to be some sort of home-invasion threat, sprang instantly out of bed in action-ninja mode (all two hundred-plus pounds of him) and seized my wrist in a vise-grip.

Aside from scaring the crap out of me, what's particularly intriguing is that a variation of this idiosyncratic trait is also commonly associated with greyhounds.

The rescue people warned us it's a bad idea to startle a sleeping greyhound. Other than wanting to chase (and possibly eat) small, cute animals, aggression is not much of an issue with these dogs, except when they are asleep. A lot of them will deliver a warning nip (or worse) if you try to pet them when they're resting. It's hard to say if this is a breed-specific characteristic or simply a side effect of early kennel life, where each racing dog sleeps alone, undisturbed in its own private crate.

For some reason Lilly is not normally fazed by interference while sleeping, which is lucky for us. I first realized we'd dodged this one bullet when we heard from Eliza in Florida last summer. Caught up in our household's consuming greyhound fever, Eliza decided to spend a good chunk of her vacation between junior and senior year at college embedded at a greyhound rescue farm, helping out with chores in exchange for direct access, research for a self-designed art fellowship: a documentary about the life of a typical racing dog from birth to retirement. A heroine of the rescue movement, Grace, kindly took Eliza in for a month's stay at her compound. Freshly retired greyhounds spend their first weeks with Grace before being assigned to foster homes on the path to adoption.

Grace has devoted her life to greyhound rescue. Her kennel is always filled to capacity with recent refugees awaiting transfer, and it breaks her heart if she can't take every single dog from the tracks in her area. Those that can't be placed due to serious health conditions, Grace keeps, sharing her own limited living quarters with at least a dozen grateful misfits—greyhounds with seizure disorders; greyhounds with only three legs, one lost due to an accident in their last race, a death sentence without Grace's intervention. Whenever I feel particularly exasperated by my one clingy dog, I think of Grace and her Mother Teresa lifestyle and I feel like a wimp.

There were about fifteen of these lucky rejects living with Grace in her double-wide trailer last summer when Eliza stayed there for one hot, unforgettable month. Eliza was assigned to the guest room, which was surprisingly comfortable for a trailer, except that on her first night, a pair of mostly adorable whippets named Abbott and Costello made it clear she would not be sleeping alone.

David and I have enough trouble sleeping with each other—beds and sofas are off limits to Morse dogs. Like many diehard dog lovers, Grace enforces no particular furniture policy. Abbott and Costello had established the guest bed as their sleeping quarters long before Eliza's arrival, so she had to get used to them burrowing under the covers on either side of her while she was catching up on e-mails in the evenings. This was tricky because if Eliza so much as cleared her throat, one or the other of these little buggers, true to the characteristics of their breed, would rouse immediately, growling and snapping. So our princess spent a lot of sleepless nights not daring to even lean over and switch off her reading light—a character-building kind of summer.

It eventually became clear why David's sleep doctor wanted me at that consultation session. We went over the diagnosis, and David rejected the offer of heavy-duty uppers and downers to keep him regulated. Then I was handed a pamphlet showing one remaining option. David and the doctor watched me carefully.

I opened to the first illustration: a couple in bed.

Talk about spicing things up. Not exactly what I had in mind in the way of sex toys.

I really did try to keep a straight face.

Curtain up: A bedroom in shadows. Two lumps in the bed: one large and male, one slightly smaller and female. Both are sleeping peacefully. Most of the male lump's face is covered by an elaborate system of Velcro straps securing a monstrous gas mask. A wide, elephantine, almost pulsating opaque tube snakes ominously from the center of the mask (roughly where the male lump's nose might be) to a pump-type gadget hissing rhythmically on the nightstand.

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