Well Intended / A man and his dog
It's not polite to eavesdrop. Sometimes you can't help it. Like when you're waiting for your lunch date at the Indian Buffet and he's 20 minutes late.
The waiter had asked me three times if I wanted a drink and reminded me that at Bombay Club, a glass of wine comes with the buffet. I've often wondered if they might be willing to pour 6 ounces of red in a thermos to save for dusk. Alcohol at noon for me is as much as a declaration that I plan on accomplishing nothing more for the rest of the day. And sometimes, that's advisable. But not often.
There were only three other diners. Their voices carried over their naan and across the tile floors. I appreciated that I could neither hear them chewing nor the scrape of flatware over china. Instead, their conversation enthralled me.
On one side of the table were two young adults, a boy and a girl both with wavy black hair and cocoa eyes. They looked healthy, like they had been outside for days drinking spring water and climbing mountains. A man, who I quickly learned was their father, sat across from them. His skin didn't have the same sunny glow. Like me, still pale from winter, he sipped his ice water. His children leaned towards him. "You aren't okay," they kept saying. "You can't tell us that you're okay." I missed some of the words that followed as I fooled with my cell phone and stared at the door wondering if I had the time wrong. We said noon. I was sure of it.
The man's grown children wanted him to adopt a dog. They were determined. He wasn't okay because he was lonesome. A dog, they believed, would soothe his solitude. He shook his head no, several times as they went on with their argument. You know how persistent kids can be. "You love dogs," they said. He nodded to this. Then they started to talk about what kind he would like, what size and attributes would make the perfect companion for their father.
No sign of my date. I had to get involved. "Excuse me," I started. There is no excuse for joining in a conversation, uninvited from across a restaurant, especially while discussing the loneliness of a man.
"I have a dog. She's amazing. I don't know what I would do without her." Instead of rolling their eyes at me, they invited me to join them at their table. It would have served my date right, but I said I was waiting for someone and stood beside them instead.
I found my dog on petfinder.com. I said. She was just a pup. But our town has several rescue organizations and the Humane Society and a shelter. The man's children already had a plan to attend an adoption event the following week. He agreed to go and said that he wanted a small dog. I imagined a little terrier mix, or maybe a poodle of some kind.
Millie is imperfect. She barks at cars and squirrels. She clusters his squeak toys in a pile on the sofa -- the ultimate whoopee cushion.
She has few tricks. And even those, she performs only when heavily bribed. She is terrified of having her nails trimmed. She runs out the front door. She wanted nothing to do with the adorable bat Halloween costume I tried to strap on her last year.
But she is Millie. And we belong to each other. She rests her chin on anyone who is still. She follows me, hoping only that I will look at her kindly and perhaps scratch behind her ears.
She wants nothing more than I give her. And she is perpetually delighted with the same things we do every day. Breakfast is always a fabulous treat. A walk is an eager adventure, even if our route rarely varies. Every time I toss her squeak toy she leaps after it as if it were the best thing she had ever seen and not the same old shabby hedgehog she's been chasing all year.
I never fret over how I am raising her. I have no aspirations for an Ivy League education for her, and she is indifferent to my own. She wants me to be no more than I am; here with her, now. When I leave she doesn't pout. When I return, she is pleased.
It's simple and lovely. And I can't imagine how empty the weekends without the kids would be without her.
As far as I can tell, when I am gone, she sleeps. I catch her yawning on my return. She sits beneath my desk when I write, at the foot of my bed when I sleep and at the bathroom door when I bathe. I'm not telling you anything you don't know about dogs. And I'm not saying mine is any better than any other. But, she is mine.
I wonder if my children will grow to be kind enough and wise enough to sit with me at lunch someday and intervene if I seemed unhappy. I hope they won't need to. But I want to believe they would.
The man in the Indian restaurant was blessed. I don't know the cause of his loneliness. Loss compiles. But, I know he is loved. And I know by his children that he can love.
And I imagine right now there is a man with a dog and a dog with a man and that they are both better off.
Krista Richards Mann's "Well Intended" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.