The following is an excerpt from A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, published by Harcourt.
What Stays the Same
This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt. Everything else changes. A grandson needs me and then he doesn’t. My children are close then one drifts away. I smoke and don’t smoke; I knit ponchos, then hats, shawls, hats again, stop knitting, start up again. The clock ticks, the seasons shift, the night sky rearranges itself, but my husband remains constant, his injuries are permanent. He grounds me. Rich is where I shine. I can count on myself with him.
I live in a cozy house with pretty furniture. Time passes here. There is a fireplace and two acres and the dogs run around and dig big holes and I don’t care. I have a twenty-seven-inch TV and lots of movies. The telephone rings often. Rich is lodged in a single moment and it never tips into the next. Last week I lay on his bed in the nursing home and watched him. I was out of his field of vision and I think he forgot I was there. He stood still, then he picked up a newspaper from a neat pile of newspapers, held it a moment, and carefully put it back. His arms dropped to his sides. He looked as if he was waiting for the next thing but there is no next thing.
I got stuck with the past and future. That’s my half of this bad hand. I know what happened and I never get used to it. Just when I think I’ve metabolized everything I am drawn up short. "Rich lost part of his vision" is what I say, but recently Sally told the nurse, "He is blind in his right eye," and I was catapulted out of the safety of the past tense into the now.
Today I drive to the wool store. I arrive with my notebook open and a pen.
"What are you doing?" Paul asks.
"I’m taking a poll," I say. "What is the one thing that stays stable in your life?"
"James," says Paul instantly.
"And I suppose James will say Paul," I say, writing down James.
"No, he’ll say the dogs," says Paul, laughing.
"Creativity," says Heidi, the genius.
"I have to think," says a woman I don’t know.
"The dogs," says James.
Rich and I had a house together once. He was the real gardener. He raked and dug, planted and weeded, stood over his garden proudly. Decorative grasses were his specialty. He cut down my delphiniums when he planted his fountain grass. "Didn’t you see them?" I asked. "They were so tall and beautiful." But he was too busy digging to listen. I lost interest in flowers. We planted a hydrangea tree outside the kitchen window. We cut down (after much deliberation) two big prickly bushes that were growing together like eyebrows at either side of our small path. We waited until the birds were done with their young, then Rich planted two more hydrangea trees where the bushes had stood. I don’t want to see how big they are by now, how beautiful their heavy white blossoms look when it rains. "I love what you’ve done with the garden," my friend Claudette says, looking at the bed of overgrown nettles in my backyard. I weeded there exactly once. I want to plant fountain grass out there, but first I need a backhoe.
Rich and I don’t have the normal ups and downs of a marriage. I don’t get impatient. He doesn’t have to figure out what to do with his retirement. I don’t watch him go through holidays with the sorrow of missing his absent children. Last week we were walking down the hall to his room, it was November, we had spent the afternoon together. "If I wasn’t with you and we weren’t getting food, the dark would envelop my soul," he said cheerfully.
He never knows I’m leaving until I go.
—From A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas. Copyright © 2006 by Abigail Thomas. Published by Harcourt. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.