THIS ( USURPED) LIFE
MAGGIE and I have been through a lot together. Nights can be long and unsettled at the end of a 20- year marriage; the new rental house has its own creaks in the night that are quite different to the sounds of our old home.
They always seem louder, too, when the children are staying with their father, but Maggie’s restful sleep calms me and tells me that the sounds are just passing creaks, not creeps, in the night. I turn and sleep again.
How long ago did an 11- week- old salt- andpepper schnauzer with an overbite become the adored new family member? This trusted confidant of my young sons is now my trusted, unflinching protector.
There have been times when I didn’t always do the right thing by her. Walks were missed, words were spoken more sharply than necessary, but she would just go back to her beanbag, and with an understanding sigh watch me and my every move, watching over me, always watching for us.
For a while she only ever barked when males came to the door. I understood her concerns.
Is it true people become like their dogs? Or is it more that the dogs start to take over their owners’ identity? Who exactly is the queen of the pack in our house? I sense an overthrow is looming, with a claim to the throne from my ageing schnauzer.
Definitely more confident with age, she’s not seeking approval any more; she has carved her place in this well- worn family.
Once she would have driven me mad in the car, trying to get on to my lap as I drove; now she waits to get into the back seat, where she spreads out, allowing me to be her chauffeur. In applying the guilt she has taken over where my mother left off.
She no longer even bothers to keep up the pretence of sleeping in her beanbag. No, she sleeps on the couch, my couch, not the other couch or even the other end of my couch. No, she prefers my exact spot. She hears me get slowly out of bed in the morning and I hear her slowly get off the couch, nails hitting the floorboards, no sense of urgency. She knows exactly how long it will take me to get down the hallway. She knows she has time for a stretch before walking to the beanbag and nestling in.
It’s all so blindingly obvious that I don’t know why it took me so long to see it. She’s vying for the position of matriarch and it’s me she wants to overthrow.
Jerry Seinfeld said that if aliens arrived from another planet and watched us walking behind our dogs, feeding them tidbits and picking up their crap along the way, they would think the dogs were the ruling class, leading us with a lead, allowing us to stop and carefully collect their turds.
Could it be Maggie thinks she’s me when I’m not home? If she can, she’ll get on my bed and sleep in exactly the same spot and position as me, lying on her left side, head on pillow.
I know this because she leaves a perfect indentation of her body on the bed, right down to her snout on the pillow. Rogue dog hairs complete the evidence.
I used to think she did this to stay close to me when I was gone. Now I’m not so sure. To date, there have been no signs of dog hairs on my clothes, but I’m looking.
thislife@ theaustralian. com. au