Winning Over My Husband’s Passive-Aggressive High-school Sweetheart
Todd fell deeply and completely in love with a pretty young thing named Kate at the age of 16. Kate’s affection for Todd matched, probably even exceeded, the feelings he had for her. Life took it’s toll, however, and Todd ultimately left her behind to go away to college. In spite of the distance between them and the time that passed, Kate’s devotion for him never waned.
I confess to being somewhat envious of Kate during the early part of my courtship with Todd. Outdoorsy and raven-haired, quiet and subservient, she was everything I wasn’t.
Kate was a Labrador Retriever. Todd’s step-father bought her with intentions of training her to be a duck-hunting dog, but her tender heart, gun-shy temperament and unwillingness to bark under any circumstances revealed her to be a companion and pet rather than a working dog.
If I quietly envied Kate, she was unabashedly jealous of me. Upon the start of graduate school, Todd rented a place that allowed pets. He took Kate in after leaving her with his parents for four years, and it was at that time that the animosity she’d felt toward me manifested in passive aggression.
Any time Todd and I held hands or hugged, Kate wedged herself between us snout-first. The love in her eyes was always directed upward toward him, and the relentless, bruise-inducing force of her tail was directed back toward me.
After Todd and I married, he suggested that I toss the ball for Kate a few times every afternoon in an effort to cultivate a friendship with her. Fetch was her favorite game.
I gave it a shot. Hurled the tennis ball toward the back fence as Todd had always done. Kate would run for the ball and pick it up with her teeth, but instead of bringing it back to me for another throw, she would bring it straight to Todd and force the ball into his hand as though he, not I, had thrown it. As though I didn’t exist. If Todd were on the other side of the house, she would search until she found him. If he were inside the house, she’d wait patiently at the door for him to come back out.
“Look!” she seemed to say. “I got our favorite ball away from that awful woman! Now we can be together again. You and me. Like it used to be.”
And like every other ball-related activity I had ever tried in my life, I decided that fetch wasn’t for me. I quit.
What finally won Kate over was not a game of fetch. It was an evening jog.
About two months into my marriage, I took Kate along one night for a jog. We had just turned the clocks back an hour for daylight savings time, and by the time I finished with clinic duties and schoolwork, I found it had gotten very dark. I decided to take Kate along for my run, lest I come across someone with bad intentions (and no real knowledge of dog breed temperament).
Walking Kate was like walking a show dog in the Westminster. My father-in-law had done a good job with her lead training, and she always stayed right by your side. This dog we have now, Molly, bless her stupid little heart, she is going to crack her thyroid cartilage pulling that lead taut one of these days, but Kate was much more sophisticated. There was generally slack in the leash.
On this particular evening, and quite out of character, Kate persistently tugged away from me and toward the curb. There were golden piles of dried leaves on the street before many houses, and she wanted to walk through them. Wanted to walk out of our way to traipse through them.
How like us, to enjoy the crunch of leaves beneath your feet. How childlike. Joyful. Up until that point, I had always thought that dogs were purely instinct-driven creatures. Now here was this dog frolicking in the Fall leaves. No good reason. Just having fun. And she kept looking back at me with such pride.
“Did you see me?” she seemed to be asking. “Did you see the mess I made with the neighbor’s yard waste?”
Our jog turned into a stroll. I let her romp through every leaf pile we passed. I guess Kate buried the hatchet in one of those leaf piles, because it wasn’t long after that Fall walk that she started bringing me the tennis ball.
I think of Kate most this time of year. When I go outside for a few minutes of time alone, and when I walk in the darkness that has come too soon, the chill in the air is always somehow a surprise this early in the season, and the rustle of the leaves is always a sweet memory of her.