Dog Stays in the Picture (19 page)

Scottish history is fabulously juicy: Mary Queen of Scots sent to the block, bloody Macbeth, and Braveheart—not sure if that guy actually painted his face Mel-Gibson blue for battle, but he was definitely real: William Wallace, a hero of the fourteenth-century Scottish rebellion, hanged, eviscerated, and chopped to pieces by his British captors.

There's a great anecdote in Branigan's
The Reign of the Greyhound
about a contemporary of Braveheart, Elizabeth de Burgh, a fourteenth-century queen of Scots. Elizabeth's husband, Robert the Bruce, led the Scottish rebellion against England after Braveheart's bloody demise, and during the long struggle, Elizabeth was captured and held for years by Edward I, the British king.

The capture was sort of awkward because Edward I was good friends with Elizabeth's father. Due to the greyhounds' value as hunting dogs, they belonged exclusively to nobles at the time, with laws against commoners owning them. Elizabeth must have been a greyhound lover, and Edward I must have known this, because during her eight-year confinement, he instructed Elizabeth's captors to give her three greyhounds for company. Locked up together for eight years! Those dogs must have been thrilled. Makes my many months incarcerated on the sofa with Lilly seem like a picnic.

Of course I have to spend the next hour investigating Elizabeth de Burgh to see if this greyhound story is legitimate, and I'll be darned if I don't stumble on another coincidence.

As it turns out, Elizabeth was definitely lucky. There was another woman on the lam with her, a Scottish patriot named Isabella MacDuff, who, for all we know, may have been yet another ancestor, given that Duff is my great-grandmother's maiden name. MacDuffs back then were charged with the privilege of endorsing Scottish kings—meaning the only way to become a legitimate king of Scots was to have a MacDuff physically place the crown upon your head. But, when Elizabeth's husband, Robert the Bruce, claimed the throne, the cowardly MacDuffs were mostly siding with the British—all except Isabella.

There probably wouldn't even
a Scotland today if Isabella hadn't bravely stepped forward to crown Robert king, and sadly, when she was captured, Isabella didn't get any greyhounds. Instead, Edward I locked her up for years
in a cage
, which he hung over the side of a castle wall as a cautionary reminder to the Scottish rebels. The same castle wall, in fact, where he had displayed one of Braveheart's chopped-off arms the year before.

Why is nobody celebrating this long-suffering, forgotten heroine? It's disrespectful. Why didn't our ancestors take the time to record things more completely? And what was it
to hang there in a cage next to Braveheart's blue arm for four years? How did Isabella stay alive all that time, out in the elements? Who fed her? Who dealt with her piss pot?


—Please, Mama. We're eating.

Someday this will matter to our children. They may have to deal with the complexity of descending from bigamists and marauding monks, artist-inventors and feuding brothers, heroines and Preserved Fish, and from people who actually enslaved other human beings. They may never truly find out if they're Jewish. But no matter what, they'll have as much as I can piece together for them, because I fervently believe that forgetting is wasteful. The world is a brutal and glorious place. The more we know about what has come before, the more we will know ourselves, and the easier it will be for us, and our children,
and our dogs
, to proceed.

On the subject of Macbeth: a dim bell is ringing. Something about that group of islands off the west coast of Scotland, where all those monks laboriously doodled greyhounds in the margins of manuscripts. Where Macbeth was buried. What was the name of those islands? The Hebrides. There's something else I read about the Hebrides recently—what was it? Something I was researching right before all this family stuff. What was my last big investigation? Wait a second. Ticks?

Oh my gosh. Here it is.


Perhaps the first known description of what is now known as Lyme disease appeared in the writings of Reverend Dr. John Walker after a visit to the Island of Jura (Deer Island) off the west coast of Scotland in 1764. He gives a good description of both the symptoms of Lyme disease (with “exquisite pain [in] the interior parts of the limbs”) and of the tick vector itself … many people from this area of Great Britain immigrated to North America … at the end of the 18th century.



—Your ancestors brought infected ticks to America. They poisoned me.

it, Mama. You're making this up.



MAY 2012

f anything else happens to him, I will still go to Tokyo. And when I get there, I will kill him.

I try to be on alert when David's working—I scour scripts for the risky scenes, urging caution—but when
scheduled a stunt in the final episode of their third season last week,
I was totally out of the loop, working in Philadelphia. There's been an interesting Morse household reversal this year, actually: David's had two of the kids down there since last January. Sam finally abandoned New England halfway through sophomore year and is taking a semester off, applying to transfer to a warmer climate and doing an internship in New Orleans. Eliza is living in our rental with them, building a career as a freelance photographer. My first memoir came out last fall, and book events in Philadelphia have caused me to juggle my time between both homes, logging miles with the airline, carefully scheduling coverage for Lilly up north so her life's not too disrupted. So David and I have had a chance to appreciate how the other half lives, David as den mother and me as the traveling partner.

A Lilly breakthrough: After my recovery I began exercising again, often in the evenings, and while the family was home my workout sessions became a useful opportunity for Lilly to practice trusting people besides me. We have a small side room at home with a couple of exercise machines set up in front of a television. This space doubles as Joey's private dining area, and we've always kept the door shut during his mealtime so prowling dogs wouldn't interfere. Lilly accepted my inaccessibility with minimal protest when she had the family for company, and when they all left, I continued my routine of evening exercise sessions, failing to process the fact that Lilly was now essentially
alone, in
another room
, sometimes for hours at a time. Because Lilly already understood the routine and knew exactly where I was, she was peaceful when I emerged, sound asleep in the living room.

I still can't believe how long it took me to register the fact that there's an outside entrance to the exercise room. Once this became clear, all it took was some simple adjustments to the security­-alarm system. My secret escape hatch has been working for months now, and Lilly has no clue.

It's essential to plan ahead: While Lilly's turned out in the yard, I scurry around doing all the anxiety-inducing things she's identified as my departure cues, gathering purse, shoes, coat, whatever. I stash them near my secret hatch, and then it's a simple acting exercise. I let Lilly in the house and immediately head for the sofa, sighing contentedly, as if there are no plans for the rest of the day
Once she settles, bored, I wander sort of idly into the exercise room. Naturally, Lilly jumps up and tries to follow, but I close the door firmly, just as I would if I were about to work out and Joey's food was vulnerable. I then turn on the TV as usual, stealthily set the alarm (careful not to jangle keys or zip up my jacket), and slither out. Ha!

I can be gone for several hours, and when I return (making sure to come back through the hatch—living in fear I'll blow my cover someday by coming in through the mudroom like a normal person—and, remembering to take off my coat before going out to the living room) Lilly is there, but she's stretching and yawning like an ordinary well-adjusted dog—she's clearly been completely peaceful, positive she had me safely cornered with no means of escape. This technique works for our house sitter Gaillard, too, which is fantastic because now nothing can distract me from going to Tokyo to murder my husband.

David agreed to do a job that will start next week, a miniseries in Japanese, which meant he'd have to fly straight from New Orleans after
completed its third season.
On his last free day before filming that
final stunt in New Orleans, David decided to take a nostalgic bike ride along Lake Pontchartrain, and the ride ended abruptly with a freak crash just around the corner from our house. He's had plenty of bike accidents before, but not quite like this one sounded when he described it to me later on the phone: a sudden dive over the handlebars and a teeth-rattling knock to the head, bad enough to completely, irreparably destroy his helmet and inflict various bumps and scrapes all up and down one side of his body.

—Good lord. Are you okay? Should you see a doctor?

—I'm icing it.

—I hope you're going to let them use a stunt double for that fight.

—Uh …

—Come on, David. We're going to Tokyo, it's going to be so much fun! Just this once, let someone else do the frigging stunt.

David likes doing his own stunts, for all sorts of reasons; it's a kick to play cops and robbers, of course, but also he's a stickler for authenticity and a steadfast team player on a film set. More than once he's refused proper medical attention, arriving home in the evening with a broken hand swollen beyond recognition because his character can't be wearing a splint in the scene next morning. His legs are covered with scars from years of being kicked and beaten, and he's down to partial hearing in one ear because he sometimes won't wear earplugs during gunfights (they might show in the close-up). He's been putting off surgery to repair a shoulder and a knee for years now, always squeezing in one more job so as not to disappoint some director.

Acting is a contact sport. Sometimes I feel like I'm married to a professional athlete—we have an entire section of our freezer devoted exclusively to ice packs.

If there'd been more notice,
might have been able to dig up a double who looked more like David. The guy they brought in, perfectly capable of handling the stunt (an ugly clash, long overdue, between David's honest cop and an evil coworker) was the right height, but about fifty pounds heavier. So, as I feared, my
perfectionist husband decided to do the fight himself. And, as I feared, it was rough.

Are you all right?

—I'm icing.

—Dammit, David. Don't do anything else, please. Lie down and don't move until it's time to go to the airport tomorrow.

David and I have all these rules about travel. We never fly on the same plane if the kids aren't with us. This doesn't really decrease the odds we'll orphan the children, of course. We drive around in cars together all the time, but flying on separate planes helps me keep my nerves in check during turbulence. David needs quiet time to adjust before starting a big job like this anyway; whenever the kids and I were able to visit during school holidays, I'd always make sure he was settled before we descended. It's been a long time since we've been without the children on location overseas, and out of habit I'd asked the Japanese studio to book my departure from Philly for a few days after David was to leave New Orleans. This gave me a little extra time, and the evening before David was scheduled to depart I was still contemplating my usual checklist of pre-departure errands
( find passport, don't forget anxiety medicine for the long flight and bedside spray bottle for David's Waking-Up Attacks, drop off groceries for Mother Brigid, tell Gaillard about the plumber, pay bills, restock kitty litter and dog food)
the phone rang: Sam.

Don't freak out.


—There's something wrong with Papa. The paramedics just took us to some hospital.

—WHAT?! What's wrong with him?

—They don't know yet, we just got here. He's really dizzy and when he tries to move his face gets all red. He can't stand up.

—Okay. Okay. Should I come? I'll come right now. Maybe there's a late flight—

—No. Papa says to wait.

—He can talk? Can I talk to him?

—No, they're running tests. He says to wait. He's okay; he just can't move.

—Hold on. Papa's PARALYZED?

—No. Mama. It's not THAT bad. I'll call you when we know something.

—Okay, but Sam, I'll come in a second if—

—I have to go. My phone juice is low and I don't have a charger. That guy Tak from Japan is here and we're waiting. I'll call you.

—Oh f3%@! Japan! He knows he's not going, right? Papa can't work if he can't move—

—Mama, we don't know anything yet. I've got to go.

I wandered around in a daze for a few hours, texting Eliza, who happened to be at home for a high school reunion, calling Ben, and hounding Sam to brief the doctors on all David's health issues—the sleep disorder, the allergies, and
this weird thing to do with the blood vessels around his ear; they spotted it years ago and told us to keep an eye on it. Papa might forget, Sam, so ask them if they know about it
—waiting, waiting, until finally the phone rang: David.

Oh, thank God. How are you? Do they know what it is?

—They aren't saying. They know it wasn't a stroke or a heart attack and I definitely don't have a brain tumor, but I can't stand up, so they're putting me in a room tonight while they figure it out.

—Good. So you're not going to Japan.

—Not tomorrow.

—David. You are having a scary health crisis. You're not going to Japan AT ALL. Right?

—Uh …

—Oh my GOD.

See? This is what he does.

I could tell immediately what was in play down there. This miniseries (for Japan's public television network, NHK) is a huge undertaking, a period piece starring Ken Watanabe as Yoshida, the Japanese prime minister during the American occupation after World War II. They had gone to a lot of trouble hiring a real American actor to go toe-to-toe with Ken, and David would be playing Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who ran the show after Japan surrendered. NHK has never dealt with our actors' union, so the deal had taken quite a while to settle, making the whole situation extremely last-minute. This producer, Tak, had to Ping-Pong all over the world sorting out David's work visa, delivering it just barely in time.

I'd met Tak on my last trip down there—he's a really nice guy, and now he was probably under tremendous pressure with a tight shooting schedule and skillions of yen or whatever on the line. David must have known that if he backed out, Tak and NHK would be in a terrible jam. And David, as we know, is a team player to the death.

I could have rushed down there and tried handcuffing David to his hospital bed or lying under the wheels of his plane on the tarmac at Louis Armstrong International. But there was no guarantee I'd succeed, and knowing how the SBDs thrive on manipulating the availability of last-minute changes in air travel, I'd probably miss my own flight from Philadelphia to Tokyo, meaning David could end up unconscious in some Japanese trauma center and I'd have no way of getting to him at all. I had to stay put and see how this played out.

I sat in the house all weekend with a phone in my hand and my laptop fixed on the US Airways reservation screen, waiting for texts from Sam, who was valiantly shuttling back and forth between the house and the hospital with his father's special pillows and allergy-free food. (Sam really surprised us. He's one of those still-waters-run-deep types like his father; you can't always tell what's going on in there. As it turns out, he really comes through in a pinch.) By Saturday night, David still couldn't take one step without the world going upside-down. The doctors decided it was a bad case of vertigo, either due to a virus or, more likely, the crystals in David's inner ear had been knocked out of place when he hit his head on that bike ride. Whatever the cause, the ideal way to recover from vertigo is plenty of rest.

David, what the f%^&? You're still going?

—I should be okay. I walked down the hall by myself today. They gave me motion-sickness pills and steroids, and Tak has organized wheelchair assistance at the airports tomorrow. He says NHK is willing to chance it.

—Oh, great! How nice of them. Does your doctor know you have to travel for almost twenty-four hours? And then instead of recovering from jet lag, you'll dive immediately into a month-long job with Japanese people who work like lunatics and never sleep and you're going to insist on working just as hard as them because you are a total nincompoop and definitely going through a midlife crisis and if you are not in a coma already by the time I get there I will immediately find you and put you in one myself and then do the same to everyone in Japan, which sort of defeats the purpose?

—Uh …

—Great. Really, this is so great. See you soon.

This should not be happening. What kind of wife am I, anyway? I knew this could happen, and I should have stopped it. I should have been down there all winter, but
, instead I've been here, swanning around with my memoir, mooning over my rescue dog.

So. Kitty litter is stocked and bills are paid. Ma has her groceries, and I am positive I have my passport—I keep rifling inside my purse making sure it's still there.

Gaillard comes over when I'm about to leave; he can tell I'm a wreck.

—Don't worry, Susan. Lilly will be fine.


And I'm off.

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