For years I’ve fed the dogs and cats at exactly 7:20 every morning. An odd time? Yeah, but it’s how we do things I guess. Traditions start in strange ways… Years ago we used to kennel the pups until Wifey Dagmar left for work each morning. She’d leave at 7:18, the pups were fed at 7:20. It made sense. And even though Wifey hasn’t left for work in nearly two years now we still feed the dogs at 7:20.
This morning was pretty normal. The pups got restless around 5:30, I let them out to read their morning paper, they came in and snoozed whilst I worked until 7:19 at which point their inner alarm clocks went off with an uncanny accuracy that’s vaguely unnerving. I shooshed them out the door, got the kibble, “Okay, girls, calm,” I said as I unceremoniously dumped a cupful of dried nuggets into their bowls, the words forming clouds of icy vapor in the still winter air. They sat, Zoey by her bowl, Buttercup by the other, staring at me, quivering. “Free,” I said. By the time my mouth had started forming the letter “R” the girls were snout-down in the Heaven That Is Food.
I popped back inside to get another cup of food, this time for the cats. I often wished I had three hands so I only had to make one trip at feeding time. I put some nuggets on the table for Miss Mittens, opened the strongbox, nudged Nitty Kitty aside with my hand, and dumped the rest in the bowl. A few years ago Pops made us a smallish box with a kitty-sized hole in the front – I put the cat’s food in there so the pups can’t get to it. Every morning I smile a bit; as I feed the pups I’ll usually see two golden-green eyes blinking mysteriously at me from the depths of the shadowy kitty box, a small but fierce black kitty inkily biding her time in the safety of darkness… Nitty is the smallest of our family, a tiny cat. Yet she rules her kingdom with a firm, though adorable, black velvet paw – Miss Mittens (also known as The Lady Miss Waddlebottom) might be twice her size but Nitty always gets the food bowl first.
I stood outside for a moment and pondered the silent dawn creeping it’s way over distant frosted hills, the vibrant warm colors in the eastern sky giving false promise of comfort on a bitter blue December morning. A small bird, feathers fluffed out to double its size, sat in the pine tree a few feet away, staring towards the gathering light, hopeful.
Breaking the spell, the pups finished their food and eagerly traded places so each could examine the other’s bowls, hoping for an errant leftover nugget, snuffling and shuffling. I shooshed them back inside, Buttercup heading towards her kennel, Zoey to the other. Click, click, doors shut, I patter through the room towards my office as quietly as possible, but…
A muffled voice, “Honey? Can you shut my door please?” I turn back and peek into Wifey Dagmar’s room. A silent TV flickered away, merrily showing pictures to itself, absently casting light on a comfy lumpy bumpy pile of pillows and cushy blankets with a little nose poking out. The muffled voice spoke again from the pile of blankets. “I just fell asleep about half an hour ago… I vish these stupid meds wouldn’t keep me avake.” I obediently reached in to swing her door shut, soft snores from the blankets already competing with the quiet, ever-present whoosh-whoosh-pfffff of her oxygen machine. I’ve learned that her doorknob rattles, so I tend to simply give the door a bit of a tug with my finger and let it swing silently toward me, hinges oiled against squeaks. But today, “thunk.” The door hit Dagmar’s wheelchair. If her chair is pushed right up to her bed there’s about a quarter-inch of clearance to swing the door shut, but if there’s any gap between the wheelchair and the bed the door won’t shut. The snoring stopped as I stepped into the room and quietly pushed the chair an inch northwards, but resumed again as the door swung quietly shut, unobstructed.
Last summer I took the trim off the bottom two or three feet of her door so she could get the wheelchair in and out a bit easier – the wheels of the chair fit through the door, but barely. The extra inch of clearance makes a big difference, but it also means that when her door is closed there’s now an inch wide gap allowing light – and sound – into her sanctuary. It’s on my wish-list to widen her doorway and put a barn door (a door that slides back and forth on a rail outside her room rather than a normal swinging door) in someday so she can get her chair in and out easier – and park her chair in her room without worrying about it blocking the swinging door. But that’s a task for a different day.
I tippie-toed back across the living room to my office, eager to get back to work. But as I listened to the combination of gentle almost-snores and whoosh-whoosh-pfffff on the WIfey monitor I keep on my desk, I found myself almost haunted by a thought.
What does she think?
Most people enjoy a little alone time every now and then, but Wifey’s isolation takes “alone time” to completely new levels. Because of the immune system disorder not only is she always ill, but we’re always trying to avoid introducing her to any new germs… While we don’t turn people away at the door by any means, we also don’t particularly encourage visitors as Dagmar is invariably ill for days or weeks afterwards. And she never feels well enough to leave the house.
Her world consists of three rooms – bedroom, bathroom, and living room. Her social life consists of a television, a phone she can rarely use due to her pain, two dogs, and a husband who’s either working or sleeping. She’s usually awake all night, catnaps off and on through the morning, spending about twenty-two hours each day in her bed.
What does she think? What’s going on in there?
I can’t imagine the loneliness.