"Yea. I thought I had to go, so I sat on the toilet and tried, but instead of anything coming out, it was just whistling."
"Yea, like a mellow breeze."
"Why are you telling me this?"
My wife doesn't like my jokes. She used to when we were younger, and she was trying to lock me down, but now it's not the same.
Humor takes vulnerability; I'm out here talking about how my butt shoots air - really going for the laugh - and she doesn't even crack a smile. Maybe my humor's too blue, but she used to like poop jokes. I guess people change.
Our daughter likes poop jokes. Her favorite punchlines contain the word poo. When she tells a knock-knock joke, the laugh’s always something like, "It's poopyhead, that's who."
I encourage this type of playfulness. I call her poop machine or pooper scooper. Sometimes when we play, I'll be a poop monster. It's all to get a laugh. If you think about it, I'm pretty desperate.
"Sorry, babe, I was just trying to get you to smile."
"I'm worried,” She says.
She's worried about how we're going to tell Rose that Max died.
It's pretty heavy stuff, I guess, but then again, recently, I've been in this mood where I don't think anything's that heavy. Like the other day, I was on the freeway, and my tire blew out. I had to pull to the side of the road and use a button on the roof of my Audi to call for help. Usually, when unexpected things like that happen, I flip out. But, for whatever reason, I didn't this time. Like I said, people change. I don't know where I got it from, but my new mantra is "take it as it comes."
"It's going to be fine, babe. Things die; it's part of life. We'll just take it as it comes."
"She's five, Peter. This could cause trauma if we're not careful."
I remember when my dog Snugs died. It wasn't a Max situation where you wake up one day, go downstairs, and the dog's dead. Max, the poor bastard, got taken away by the grim reaper when he was sleeping. Snugs didn't go out like that; he had a tumor. I guess he was an even poorer bastard. He lived his last six months limping around the garage while his right front leg swelled to the size of a football. I used to sit on the concrete floor with him. He was an outdoor dog, and the tumor made him smell bad, but I'd sit there, pet him, and cry. I think I was fourteen when we had to put him down, and my mom asked, "Do you guys want to be there?" My two bitch-ass brothers hid upstairs while my mom and I watched the vet euthanize the dog. It makes me kind of sad thinking about it now, but mostly it makes me feel better than my brothers.
My wife's always thinking things cause trauma. Since 1975 over 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed by landmines leftover from the war. Millions are still buried. Sometimes, I feel like my wife navigates life as if she's surrounded by trauma landmines that have the potential to blow up our daughter's whole world. She constantly points out things that we did wrong that might cause Rose to need therapy in the future. I called this out to her once and said, "What's the big deal? I'll probably need therapy too after you're done with me." She didn't laugh.
I say to her, "We tell Rose that Max died. We be honest with her and tell her things die with age."
"You think we should say dead or died? I think saying he went to doggy heaven is better."
"We should say Max is dead because he was old. You can't lie to kids. We got to tell her Max is dead and one day mommy and daddy are going to be old and die too, and…."
"Jesus Christ, Peter! Can't you take anything seriously?"
Maybe I shouldn't be so jokey, especially in the light of Max dying, but he was my wife's dog, and I never really liked him. I liked his name. I liked calling him Max, Maximillian, and the Max-Factor, but I didn't like when he licked my hands, jumped up on the bed, or how his pale green eyes tracked me. My wife got him before she met me, and I've always felt like she and Max had this history together, like they lived a life I'll never know.
"I'm sorry," I tell her, "Ok? I'm sorry."
My wife's not emotional yet, but I know it's coming. She'll probably break down and cry right in front of Rose. Mothers do that type of stuff, or at least that's what Lisa does. She puts on a show like she's really strong, but then she breaks. For example, I'm the one who kills spiders, and my daughter always sees me do it. I don't even like killing spiders, but I've become the exterminator. I've probably killed seventy-five spiders since we've lived in this house.
I told Lisa she had to kill a spider, and I framed it as a gender thing. Like if Rose never saw Lisa kill a spider, she'd think that girls don't or can't kill spiders, and that would create a negative gender stereotype. The key to convincing my wife of anything is buzz words.
She got scared that her not killing spiders could result in some trauma for Rose, and the day came when it was her turn to do it. But she missed the spider with the kleenex she was trying to smash it with, and then it ran towards her, and she ran backward and hit her head on the side of the door and started screaming. I laughed because I thought it was funny and might be a way for my daughter to see the humor in things. It didn't turn out well for anyone; Rose became even more terrified of spiders, Lisa has a small scar on her temple where she had to get two stitches, and I'm still the only one with blood on my hands.
"Poor Max," My wife says, petting the toy poodle's white fur.
Then we hear Rose coming down the stairs.
"What are we going to do?" Lisa asks.
It's the morning, and neither of us has brushed our teeth, so her breath smells horrible. I wish we could have gotten ready.
"Mommy!" Rose yells from around the corner.
"Shit," My wife says, "What are we going to say?"
I tell her, "You take the lead" because wives love stepping up, and I don't want the responsibility.
Lisa looks stressed, Rose is a few feet away from seeing her deceased pet, and all I'm doing is thinking of what poop joke might cheer everybody up.
Peter has the smirk on his face that he gets when he's got one of his dumb jokes to tell. I want to tell him to stop it, but I don't have time.
Rose is standing in the doorway. I approach her and wipe her blonde hair, which is messy from sleep, from her forehead.
"Hey sweetie, how's it going. How'd you sleep?"
"Good,” She says quietly.
She's holding her unicorn stuffed animal under her chin and surveying the scene with the skeptical eyes of a five-year-old unsure of why we're in the laundry room and Max isn't moving.
Peter asks, "You doing good, Rosie?"
"Yea,” She says.
It's hard to ignore Max's body on the floor, but I think if you don't look too hard, it kind of looks like he's sleeping, and I wonder if we can hide it from her.
"Why isn't Max awake?" Rose asks.
I say, "Mommy and Daddy have something to tell you, ok, sweetie?"
And then we both look at Max on the floor, and this time I realize there's no hiding the truth; dead things always look dead. I have no idea what to say next. I look to Peter, who's on one knee with his hand on Max, which is surprising because I know that Peter didn't like Max; he was jealous whenever I gave the dog attention.
I takeover, "Remember last week how I told you Max was sleeping more because he was getting older?"
"Yea," Rose says, holding the unicorn even closer to her face.
"Well, Max went to sleep, and it's a long sleep, ok?"
"Ok," She says.
There's silence for a moment. It seems like Rose is taking the news remarkably well.
I look over at Peter and raise my eyebrows in disbelief. He can't believe it either; I'm crushing parenting.
I rub Rose's back - she's still warm from bed - and I'm about to tell her we should go eat breakfast when she walks over to Max and kicks him in the stomach.
The dog's limp corpse moves a little.
"Wake up," She demands.
"Don't kick Max," I say.
"I want him to wake up."
Peter glares at me.
"It's not that type of sleep, sweetie," I say.
"What kind of sleep is it?" She asks.
"Max," I hesitate, "… he's asleep, and it's going to be for a long time. He's in doggy heaven."
I can feel Peter rolling his eyes.
"But he's right here," Rose says, pointing at Max, "I want him to come back."
"He's not coming back," Peter interjects.
Rose digs her face deep into her unicorn like it's a pillow, and tears come from her eyes.
"But I want him to come back."
"I'm sorry, sweetie," I say.
"I want to go to doggy heaven," She says.
"You can't, sweetie. Doggy heaven is only for dogs."
"But he's still here," She argues.
I look at Peter for help.
He nods, then clears his throat, "Rose, Max can't come back because he's dead."
"Yea," Peter says, pulling her close to him, "He died because he was old."
"Died like when you kill spiders?"
"Yea, like when I kill spiders. Except no one killed Max; he just died because he was old."
"But I want him to come back," Rose says, crying harder.
"Sweetie, we all want him to come back,” I say, “but these things sometimes happen."
Rose drops to her knees and throws herself onto Max. Seeing her cry makes me cry, and I fall to the floor and rub her back.
Peter is still on one knee, emotionless. I'm sure later tonight he's going to tell me I shouldn't have cried. I glance at him and notice that the stupid smirk on his face is back.
"Rosie, you know what?" He asks.
She doesn't respond.
He tries again, "Rose, you know what's good about this?"
His breath smells awful, and he just said that there's something good about my dog dying. I want to tell him not to say whatever the hell he's about to say, but it's tough to stop a man from telling his dumb jokes.
"What?" Rose says through her tears.
"Now that Max is gone, you're the biggest poop machine in the house."
He looks at Rose and me with a smile on his face, desperate for approval. She cries even louder. I look at him and want to shake my head, but I don't because I know he's trying. We're all trying.
My doggy, Max, is dead. He went to doggy heaven. It means that he's not coming back. He died because he's old. I'm old too. I'm in the first grade, but he's older than me, and he's older than my mommy and daddy too, and that's why he died.
Daddy said one day he and mommy are going to die.
Then mommy told Daddy that I'm going to get trauma, and I don't know what that is, but I hope it's a new dog.
Mommy told me that I don't need to worry because they're not that old and will be here forever. That's a million years.
Max always had crusty's in his eyes, and sometimes he would fart, and it would smell so bad, and Daddy would make a joke and say that I did it.
A long time ago, Ms. Theresa told us that Henry the Lizard died. Henry the Lizard had big black eyes, and he would sit on the branch in his tank, and he wouldn't move.
He would just sit there all day.
I'd tap on the glass and ask, "What's going on here?" And some kids put food like peanuts and pretzels in his tank when Ms. Theresa wasn't looking.
And Ms. Theresa said that Henry died, and I thought it was because he didn't even move, but now I think it's because he was old because he had really wrinkly skin and he blinked really slow. He also ate bugs.
I told mommy I want a new dog, and I want one like Chase from Paw Patrol, and Daddy said that that dog is too big, but I cried, and mommy said she'll think about it. And Chase isn't too big because I see him, and he actually looks the same size as Rubbie and Ryder and Skye.
Doggy heaven is just for dogs, but other animals are there too, but they call it doggy heaven because it's mostly dogs. Max is there right now, and Mommy says that he's probably having a great time. If I was him, I'd go to the beach because one time, we took Max to the beach and he had so much fun. He tried to eat the waves, and it was so funny. And the funniest thing was when he pooped on the beach and then daddy had to pick it up, and he was going to throw it in the ocean, and mommy said, "You can't do that!" And Daddy said, "What do you mean whales poop in the ocean."
I didn't know whales poop, but there's this book called everyone poops, so that makes sense. There should be a book called everyone dies.
"Peter, you're not going to believe this. I put her down, and she said there should be a book called everyone dies."
"What did you say?"
"I told her that it's a good idea."
"It is a good idea!"
"You don't think we're screwing her up by talking about this stuff?"
"No way," I say, "Life is rough. Animals die, plants die, people die. You can't sugarcoat it for kids. It's good for her to know what happens."
"You don't think it's too soon?"
"Elsa's parents died! Moana's mom died! Disney does it. She gets it. It's no big deal."
"It was Moana's Grandma. Remember the stingray?"
I don't remember the stingray, but I nod my head.
My wife gets into bed beside me. I'm looking at news from the Olympics on my phone. Nyjah Houston is super tatted, and it's such a bummer he didn't win a medal.
I'm not even thinking about Max. Then Lisa asks,
"Are you sad?"
I turn to her and see that she's looking at pictures of Max as a puppy. It hits me that she had Max for over a decade.
"It's sad, babe," I tell her.
I put down my phone and wrap my arm around her. She starts to cry.
"Babe, don't cry."
"I had him for so long," She says, tears running down her cheeks.
"I know," I say, "And you gave him a great life."
"You think so?"
I'm surprised she needs me to validate this.
"Yea, babe, you were a great dog-mom."
"Yea, and you're a great human mom too."
She chuckles a little, and even though I've been looking for a laugh all day, I don't feel good. Instead, seeing her cry, and needed to be reassured that she was good to Max, makes me cry too.
We're parents: we don't know what the hell we're doing. We weren't expecting our dog to be dead this morning, but this is what happens; I guess all of these ups and downs are a part of it.
I don't know if the way we handled it with Rose was the best, and it's sad that Max is gone, but none of that takes away from this moment I'm having with my wife right now; we're just holding each other and crying. Part of the reason we cry is because of what happened today, but another part is because we know how lucky we are to have each other and Rose.
Rose, this tiny, innocent human, was able to take what life threw at her today, understand it, accept it, and be ok.
Dammit! Life is too beautiful sometimes.
We think we're supposed to do the teaching because we're the parents, but just look at Rose, who, I now realize, gave me my new mantra. My daughter, Rose, showing us how to take life as it comes.
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Oh Scott, YOur stories are the best. A few things I really liked: She got scared that her not killing spiders could result in some trauma for Rose, and the day came when it was her turn to do it. But she missed the spider with the kleenex she was trying to smash it with, and then it ran towards her, and she ran backward and hit her head on the side of the door and started screaming. (I am just like Rose) I laughed out loud here: I rub Rose's back - she's still warm from bed - and I'm about to tell her we should go eat breakfast when s...
Glad you enjoyed it! For years I was terrified of spiders and can definitely relate to that story.
You did a great job with the three perspectives. It was very relatable and a sweet story. I liked how you tied it together at the end.
You created 3 perfectly distinct characters and point of views and I love how well you showed each of them working through the trauma. I didn't expect Rose to kick the dog, but hell I have 3 kids I should expect the unexpected I suppose😂 The way you had a lighthearted husband with an overly vigilant mother worked so well. In the end she softened and I'm glad we got to see that. Title was great. We had to put our dog down at the beginning of the year and there were so many hard moments in it, so this got to me. You did good!
This story was funny and emotional in all the right ways. Peter, Lisa, and Rose were relatable and incredibly well-written. Great job!
Beautiful story. The writing and dialogue are excellent. Fun to read the humor throughout, while they cope with the sadness.
Scott, Oh, you big poopy head! You made me cry! What a beautiful story! This part right here: "I put down my phone and wrap my arm around her. She starts to cry." This family is so tight, so in sync, so in love and loving, the reader can just feel the warmth radiate off the page. This is a wonderful story. -A:)