This Dog, This Shower, This Bench, This Morning

Janet Frishberg

This is our dog. This is the dog we bought together when we believed in our grief bringing us closer to each other. Our dog is small and white, two of the opposite criteria we had for a dog before we found Chelle. “As long as it’s not small or white,” were the exact words I said to Jarrod the night he started responding to online postings. But then I got an email at work, saying a friend of a friend of a coworker couldn’t keep her dog anymore. The owner was moving to Thailand to teach English; Michelle, the dog, couldn’t come along.

Before forwarding the email to Jarrod, I added at the top: we are a generation of CHILDREN. Should we break our rules?

He replied seven minutes later: maybe we can just meet her?

We both agreed Michelle was a dumb name for a dog, and so we call her Chelle, which people think is Shell, which is also a dumb name for a dog.

Our dog looks like a rabbit when we put our bare feet on both sides of her head and force her ears to stick straight up. Our faithful dog likes playing with only one toy: a small, brown stuffed dog. The toy dog’s name is Rusty, and he’s the sort of dog we might’ve gotten if not for Chelle. I was originally against keeping Rusty. “But it’s so meta!” Jarrod said, throwing the toy dog onto the floor towards Chelle, where she gnawed on it, gently though. Our dog does almost everything with kindness.

***

This is our double-headed shower. This is our shower of naïveté. This is the shower we believed, when we first moved into our house, we’d use together daily. When I still thought I’d want someone to see me shower every day. This is the shower we stood in four months after my brother’s yahrtzeit, back home after a weekend of camping in Big Sur. The ceramic floor was brown with our dirty soap suds, and I let Jarrod shave my armpits, and thought I could let him wipe my butt one day, but I didn’t say it out loud because I could tell he was about to want to have sex.

Our shower floor is good for sitting on. I know this because I’ve sat on it many nights when Jarrod’s asleep. I let the water run so I could cry without him hearing me. He does not necessitate this, and the shower clearly does not necessitate this, with its roominess and its two heads. It is me that necessitates this.

***

This is a bench near our house, on the edge of a wetland. The bench is wooden and it collects water in the wintertime when the thick, pale air is cold. My best friend Yael pressed her forehead on my shoulder for a brief moment. Her face, blanketed in a constellation of freckles. She blew hot breath through my sleeve, using the same mouth that once-kissed my once-alive brother, on New Year’s Eve eleven years ago. This is the bench where I sat in a down vest next to Yael, and told her, “I can’t be the woman who leaves someone whose mom just died of brain cancer.”

Sometimes, she is the youngest person I know. Sometimes, the oldest. She looked out at the imprecise landscape, like a watercolor with its lack of edges. “Of course you can,” she said, in the same voice she probably uses when she shows her students how to properly balance an equation.

***

This is the morning delivering an ambivalently beautiful sky, when I wake up just before sunrise in dread. This is the pond I can see from our kitchen window while I eat breakfast, with its water too full of algae to be drinkable. This is the early air’s sweetness outside our alone-house, after the last three days of rain. This is the stubborn ice on my windshield and me scraping it off at 7:45 am, breathing loudly, like I’m mad at the glass for not keeping itself warm overnight.

This is our rabbit dog Chelle, unleashed and waiting for me to open the car door for her. She is trying to break my heart in the driveway with her attention and patience. I still don’t know if I chose her because I thought she’d help me learn these things, or if she’s the way she is to make up for what I’m not. This is me climbing into the car the morning Jarrod speaks at a conference in Las Vegas. These are my nails on the elephant grey steering wheel, my nails painted dark purple, a selfish color. This is me liking his status on my phone so he won’t know anything is wrong while he has to network for one more day. This is me turning on the car and reversing down the driveway, carefully, turtle-slow, the way I tell myself I should do all the things. This is me pausing at the intersection, this is me driving to work today, whispering a leaving prayer, with a car full of my belongings, believing if I change my mind by 5 pm, I can always come home and unpack the trunk, place everything back on the shelves and re-crowd the closet, boil the hot water, pour a cup of peppermint tea, and wait for him on our light green sofa in my coziest pair of socks, a fleece blanket over my lap, like nothing ever happened.

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Janet Frishberg lives and writes in a light blue room in San Francisco. She’s currently editing her first book, a memoir. You can find her work in places like Literary Orphans, Cease, Cows, the SF Chronicle, r.kv.r.y quarterly, Black Heart Magazine, Revolution House, and soon in The Rufous City Review. You can find her @jfrishberg.