Sometimes when I slip into a bad mood, it’s very hard for me to crawl out of it. The brain chemistry of irritation floods me, and my inner Swamp Thing rises from the dark bog of my amygdala. Our house smells like dog cheese after three days dog-sitting for an eight-month-old labradoodle, who is a bit bigger than our 23-month-old standard poodle. The two of them have been playing Godzilla vs. Kong in the house 24/7 because it’s raining outside, chewing on each other, growling, and bumping into furniture until I boil over with exasperation. So, I kick them out into the pouring wet, where they joyfully tumble in puddles and roll in the mud, picking up seeds and weeds in the mushy fields and soggy forest. When they come inside, they bring a fermented waft of bad kombucha, and I rant in my head.
I’m not Cruella. I love dogs and ordinarily I don’t mind dog-sitting, but usually we take care of old dogs we’ve known for a long time, dogs that know how to behave and just want a comfortable place to sleep all day. This time we’re dog-sitting for a puppy, a very big bouncy long-haired puppy in our tiny house. Of course, poodles don’t shed. That’s why we have them. But their curly wet hair is a magnet for dirt as it coils tightly around burrs and bits of leaf and mulch. They don’t wipe down as easily as a shorthaired dog, and after a splash in pond algae, as they warm up in the house, they have the very special odor of frog dip.
If I were complaining about this to my therapist, she would say, stop resisting the moment and just roll with it. Like a puppy. And I would say, I hate puppies. And she would say, that’s your resistance talking. But I want to read a book. I want peace and quiet. I want complete control of my environment. And my therapist would nod and say, of course you do. That’s why you’re in therapy.
Now Swamp Thing is very grumpy. I try to talk pretty to her, but she’s not having it. When the puppies shake off the rain it looks like someone sprayed coffee around the room, which in our tiny house is the living room, the kitchen and the diningroom, all in a space small enough to be covered with flying grit in an instant. Swamp Thing’s feet crunch on the floor. The puppies are having a fabulous time wrestling. Then Swamp Thing’s foot slips on the wet linoleum and the sudden jolt of adrenalin as she imagines her broken ankle causes her head to explode. She screams, anger splatters everywhere and suddenly the puppies sit with their ears back like it’s the fucking Westminster Dog Show, and Swamp Thing bursts into tears.
Enter my cohabitant who was messing with his fishing stuff in the garage until he heard the scream. What can I do? he asks.
I feel like a complete failure at puppy parenting, humiliated, ready to shave my head and enter a nunnery, so I grab my car keys and go. Being alone in my car is like a return to the womb. Sanctuary. Across town I find peace at our local garden center, a place of worship where mild mannered adults hold seed packets like prayer books. Among the neat rows of spring vegetable starts and seedlings, my knotted muscles let go of my bones and I surrender to fantasies of kneeling in the dirt. Like stained glass windows, symmetrical wooden racks of small compartments holding colorful plant illustrations draw me into confession. I bow my head to ask the divine for grace, and valium for Swamp Thing. Then I just sit in my car for a while and meditate with my new ranunculus.