The “No” Room


“Laugh Louder”

Huh. This was today’s message in the little flip book my friend, Jenn, gave to me. The book has one positive encouragement written per page, so it sits on my window sill above the kitchen sink and each morning I flip it. Today’s suggestion seemed off.

Well, it’s just a book.

I settled into my days’ work: looking for work. Unemployment is a full time job.

I sent off a proposal I’d been working on all week. There were more emails and unanswered queries. Soon it was time for Lillian, Delilah and my daily “off-leash.” Today we went to the little beach in our neighborhood where we ran into our neighbors and their very well-behaved dog, Sampson, who was on his leash.

Maybe it’s a form of dog bullying. Lillian and Delilah set about demonstrating their comparable freedom.

“Lillian DROP IT.”


“Lilly DROP THAT!”

Defiant head toss. More chewing.

I’d identified the object as a small turtle carcass.




Delilah wagged her on.

Lillian then bounded across the street, into a yard, and began peering into the front windows, taunting what sounded like one of those small, hairy dogs inside.

“Lilly come.”

She ran to the rear window.

“Lillian! COME.”

It felt like shotgun territory.

“LILLIIAAAAN COHUUUM!!” I pleaded, following her, armed only with cheese.

I was not laughing louder. I was yelling louder.

Sampson was nonplussed. If Delilah had pom-poms, she’d have been shaking them. I’m pretty sure she mouthed the words, “You go girl.”

Lillian skipped back out to the front yard and bounded toward the beach where her sister was now swimming. Delilah then rolled in the sand. Lilly pounced her approval.

I finally herded my naughty, dirty crew into the car and we headed home for baths, and perhaps a swig of Listerine. It was Hospice night and I worried that Lillian was in much too brazen a mood to visit.

Clean and dry we arrived at Hospice and I clutched Lilly’s leash. Earlier, on the phone, my mother had advised that I give her a “good talkin’ to.”

“Alright young lady,” I started…

She sat, angelic and wide-eyed. Then I walked. And she walked alongside. Like a ballerina. She knew it was time to stop screwing around. Well, mostly. She greeted the chaplain with a nose-up-the-skirt. The back of her skirt. Luckily, dog is occasionally this chaplain’s co-pilot.

“Room number one will definitely want to see her,” said the nurse. “And room four will too. They like dogs. Room two is a no.”

We chatted for a while in room one with a woman who used to have a Boston Terrier, and another woman in four, who’d owned every sort of dog ever bred. Lilly was oooh’d and aaaah’d over like a pageant dog. She kissed and cajoled and – well- she just really enjoyed herself. She is beginning to love this work as much as I do, I thought.

We were wrapping things up when I heard singing, just one woman’s voice. I looked into the “no” room and saw the chaplain singing hymns to a woman in bed. The sick woman’s husband sat, entranced. His wife was slipping away.

“There’s a dog,” he said.

“Would you like to see Lillian?” the chaplain asked.

We went in, stepping gingerly. We may not have “drop it” down entirely, but we do understand “no.” At least my part of us does.

The woman’s eyes were closed. Lilly nosed her knuckles. The woman, who’d been unresponsive, moved her hand around as if to pet her. I marveled at the power of the pooch.

“Do you like dogs?” I asked the husband.

“I LOVE dogs!” he rather yelled. He was hard of hearing. Lilly went in for a full frontal face cleaning. He began to giggle. She crawled up his lap and loved on his whole head. The man threw his head back, howling with laughter. She put her paws on his shoulders. He leaned back in his chair and guffawed.

His daughter walked into the room, smiled at us, and put her hand on her mother’s head.

“Did you make my daddy happy?” she called to Lilly.

Her daddy was still laughing. Louder.

In Like a Lion…

I wonder when my dogs will just get sick of me. In exasperation, they will throw their front paws up in the air, tie up little knapsacks full of treats and toys and stomp out the front door. They will do this because over the past few weeks I have become a doter. I may quite possibly have become – ready? Co-dependent.

I lotion their dry winter skin. I move furniture so they might comfortably lie where the sun throws patterns on the floor. I talk with them about politics and religion. I frequently kiss them all over their heads. I meddle.

Three weeks ago I lost my job. Abruptly.

Sometimes they are the only people I speak with all day.

Our routine has taken a hairpin turn. Oh, I still get up at some ungodly hour – it’s genetic. But now instead of shooing them downstairs before I rush out to the gym, I grab my laptop. This is their cue to stretch, abandon their beds for mine and re-curl, one at my feet and one at my side. I find it reduces my heat bill.

I shoot resumes about the Internet for a spell before then heading to the gym, then home to shower and move my laptop to the couch. Often, the girls and I exchange glances. I get a cold nose. They get an ear scratch. There are periodic cuddle breaks. Nearly every afternoon we have some sort of leash-less adventure. We discuss presidential candidates, (Their favorite is Rand Paw- clearly a name recognition thing.) and the relative nutritional value of deer pooh. We ponder relationships. Occasionally they ask why I’m always wearing sweatpants. Lilly rolls on her back and I scratch her belly. Delilah puts her head on the keyboard and I let her. I get tired of using it anyway.

There are occasional networking events. I think they are relieved that I am going out. In clothes that don’t have a drawstring.

We are adjoined at our uneven hips, communicating with our eyes, anticipating each other’s movements. We are three little beers left hanging in a plastic six pack holder.

I have not shed one tear over the loss of my job, but there have been some borne of simple anxiety. A few times I’ve let myself go to the darkest place: What if I can no longer take care of them? What if I had to turn them over to people who could afford them? That’s the crying part. That’s the heaving, sobbing pooh-storm. It upsets them. So I stop. And I feel ashamed that I cried about my dogs when most of my co-workers, who landed on the curb along -side me, have children. A few have children on the way. Some have children in college.

These are the dog days of March. In like a lion. Out like a Ridgeback chasing a lion. It will go quickly and we’ll be back on our paws in no time.

Meantime, I’ll dote. I’ll dog whisper and they’ll ignore me. I’ll put vitamins in their food and trim their nails and be their stay-at-home mom. They are brilliant company. I am annoying. We are a family.

Morning work session