the smell of my desperation has become a stench

The night of the missing dogs

It all started when we received our second water bill for this house, one that had more than quadrupled in amount than the bill before it. Meaning we were spending more on water than a monthly payment on an Italian sports car. Maybe this was Jon’s mid-life crisis? And instead of losing it and running out and buying a convertible Porsche he freaked out one day, stood in the back yard, and sprayed the trees with water for twenty hours straight. Would that not be the cutest mid-life crisis ever?

Now, I’m taking way more baths than I ever have in my life, but it’s not like I’m filling a swimming pool every time I do it. So I know my cleanliness is not to blame for this ridiculous jump in the amount of our water bill. The only explanation is that we’ve got leaks or some other major issue going on with our sprinkler system. ISN’T THAT FUN. SO FUN. Welcome, sprinkler system, to our collection of home owner nightmares! Sprinkler system, meet our troubled boiler! Here’s our twenty-five-year-old roof that is falling off in chunks! Sorry, you missed the dehydrated cat that was living in our attic, but here are all our broken gutters! Oh, and a retaining wall that threatens to crush the garage!

Who in their right mind would buy a house like this, right? Let’s just put it this way: have you seen my bathtub? Fifteen minutes in that thing is like four shots of bourbon, and suddenly everything is fine and next thing you know you’re drunk dialing friends and slurring YOU ARE SO NICE, I LIKE YOU.

So we called out The Sprinkler People, and sure enough, several spots were just shooting gallons of water into the air every time they were turned on. Did I actually just write that sentence? Oh my god, I did. I’m not going to edit it because the thirteen-year-old boy in me is begging me to elaborate.

A few hours later and things were mostly fixed, and all that was going on while we were upstairs shooting video footage for the office remodel. In fact, they finished their work just as we were playing back the video and realized that Jon had plugged the microphone mixer into the wrong hole.

(Thirteen-year-old boy snicker)

(Sixty-eight-year-old father eye roll)

Meaning the microphone I had been wearing hadn’t been working the entire time. Meaning he wanted to reshoot the entire thing. Meaning my face turned an angry shade of red, and I said through gritted teeth, “You know that appointment you’re supposed to make with our marriage counselor? HERE’S THE PHONE.”

Right then my niece came bounding up the stairs. It was her last day with us since she starts school next week, and I thought she was coming to say goodbye. So I stood up to hug her, and she was all, dude. Gross.

And then she mumbled something, I couldn’t make it out, followed by, “We can’t find Coco.”

What?

“Yeah, someone left the gate open, and we can’t find her anywhere.”

Since I have lived through The Missing Dog Scenario more than is fair to a single human being, the script started running through my head involuntarily: I AM GOING TO FIND HER DEAD BODY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THIS.

It all happened so fast, but I remember ripping the microphone off of my chest, running down two flights of stairs and out the front door in my bare feet while screaming COCO! COCO! COCO! And while still in my bare feet I ran a block down the street to the major avenue that circles by our neighborhood, a giant lump in my throat growing in anticipation of what I might find. Where is her limp dead body? Where is her limp dead body?

I know this is morbid, but that’s exactly where my brain goes every time we can’t find one of the dogs. Maybe because that’s how my brother’s dog died, maybe because I know so many people who have lost their dogs to cars. And suddenly my head is spinning with scenarios in my brain like, how am I going to wake up tomorrow morning knowing she’s dead? How will I bring myself to put her body in the car and drive her to the vet? How am I going to tell everyone on the Internet who has grown to love her like I do? Despite her poop-eating, barking at leaves, non-stop licking everything ways?

Luckily I didn’t find anything on that road, so I ran back up to the house, shoved on a pair of flip-flops and grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen. We’ve trained the dogs to come running to the sound of pills rattling around in a bottle, and I thought I’d drive around shaking the bottle out the window while calling her name. Jon would stay at the house in case she suddenly showed up. That was the longest car ride of my life, next to being in labor on the way to the hospital. And I know I must have looked completely insane, my head reaching as far out the window as I could stretch it, a bottle of pain meds in my hand, screaming COCO! COCO! COCO!

I imagined a horrified mother playing with her daughter in her driveway saying, “No, sweetie. That’s not some new ice cream truck. Hurry inside and hide.”

I circled and circled the neighborhood: nothing. Again: nothing. Again: nothing. That’s when I started bawling. This is a new neighborhood. She wouldn’t know her way home. What if she tried to run to the old house? I decided I’d drive over to our old neighborhood, but I wanted to touch base with Jon first. As I turned up our street, Jon was standing in the front of our house waving madly at me. That’s when the lump in my throat sunk and hit my heart. I wanted to stop the car right there and never move another inch.

I know this seems ridiculous to people who don’t have pets. It’s just a dog, right? And even though I have kids and know the difference between the love for kids and the love for pets, that difference in no way diminishes the love for pets. We have raised this dog, fed her, treated her when ill, improved her behavior, taken her outside in the middle of the night because that’s what was required. Yes, she is a total shit, but I love her shittiness. She wouldn’t be Coco if she wasn’t a shit.

Turns out she came running home from up the street, prompted by nothing, perhaps unable to find poop to eat in someone else’s yard and remembering all the poop in ours.

And this is where the line between having pets and having kids starts to blur, because when they come home you have to act very happy about it even though your impulse is to call them names and yell hurtful obscenities. DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU PUT ME THROUGH, YOU SHIT.

I parked that car so fast, ran inside the house, and actually sat on the floor so that she could lick my face with the same mouth she uses to eat all that poop, that is how much I love that dog.

However, that’s another ten years off of my life.

And then later that night Chuck wouldn’t come when called from the back yard. Usual behavior, except this went on and on, and then on and on, and finally Coco had to drag us up to the hole in the fence where he had escaped into the neighbor’s yard. ISN’T THAT FUN. SO FUN. Welcome, broken fence! Meet the sprinkler system! We’ve got a boiler who is dying to meet you!

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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