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Based on a true story
That weekend, Mark brought his doberman to the house. She was absolutely sleek and very well behaved. I knew someday we'd be close, but I shied away, not great with dogs. The kids instantly loved her, petting her, not giving her a moment alone. My children--and the dog--were so tired at the end of the night that they practically put themselves to bed.
"You two better get going," I told Mark after a while, motioning to him and his dog, who was dead-asleep in the corner of the front room.
"I just made you and me coffee though," he said.
We walked into the kitchen and I had to laugh because even though he didn't live there sometimes it sure felt like he did.
I went to grab a mug from my cupboard, when Mark sidled up behind me and started tracing my arms with his hands. I exhaled, hardly able to think.
"I don't want to leave any more," he said. "This feels like home. I come here every day after work and spend every chance I can get with you and the kids. I do homework with the kids. I cook with you. I mow the lawn. You guys are everything to me--you're my family."
"You really love those kids, don't you?"
He nodded. "They're pretty amazing."
I threw my arms around his neck, then tip-toed so I could hold him closer. We stood in my kitchen, for the longest time, me slightly crying as I hugged him, and him wrapping his arms so tightly around me, I hoped he'd never let go.
You know, life can be so strange--when I'd gotten divorced and later found out the Schmuck was married, I'd never thought I'd find a love like this. It baffled me how Mark could love us so much, selflessly making sure our needs were met, being a father-figure to the children, and the man I so desperately needed.
I wiped my tears and kissed him on the cheek. "I would like to snuggle with you tonight. I miss you when you aren't here--I feel like you should stay tonight too."
So we walked up the stairs, hand-in-hand, to my bedroom, and that's when the dog woke up....
I really don't have a problem with dogs, unless they're sniffing my butt, barking, pooping, farting, or barfing. Really, other than all of those things, dogs are all right. And I really liked Mark's dog until her face was practically glued to my crotch as I walked up the stairs. I wiggled away, trying to seem all right, but freaking out inside. Didn't he notice I was getting molested? Instead of saving me, Mark laughed--like his dog was hilarious.
"Oh, how...cute!" I lied, side stepping up the stairs. I thought once we got to the bedroom we could leave his dog outside, but Mark invited her into MY ROOM before I even got to go in!
I was fine with Mark staying the night--until he invited his dog to sleep by us.
I cleared my throat. "You want her to sleep where, honey?" My voice went up an octave, sounding like a pre-teen boy during puberty.
Mark rolled close to me and started kissing me. I wasn't in the mood, but I tried. Then his dog was licking my neck! I swatted her away, trying not to cringe.
Seriously, getting licked on the neck while I was kissing Mark--that was sick. I instantly remember something my aunt once told me: "If a man asks another woman into the bedroom, she better be a "dog!"
I never knew exactly what she meant by that, but either way, this felt like a night gone very wrong
After a couple of minutes--dog free--I slowly opened my eyes while still kissing Mark and saw his dog glaring at me from the other side of the bed.
"Okay!" I pulled away. "I'm a bit creeped out!"
"Gina! I've accepted your kids. You can't accept my dog?"
I wanted to, but wasn't this fast! It was her first time over and now she was in my bedroom--alone with us--AND she stared at me like she wanted blood.
"Yes, you've accepted my kids--and that means the world to me--but at least THEY don't sniff your butt!"
Mark was livid. I was livid. His doberman looked back and forth at us, panting--happily!
"Fine, you want to stay the night in here with your dog? Great!"
"Gina, you're being ridiculous!"
"I told you I'm not great with dogs, that you'd have to ease me into this. Now she's in my room?"
He went to touch my arm. "Don't touch me!" I said, then I went out of my own room, and slammed the door so loud I was shocked it didn't wake up the kids.
Mark didn't come out for a while. So I paced back and forth thinking, I could have communicated that better.... He was finally going to stay the night.... Why can't I just accept the dog? But I was taught that dogs don't even sleep in your bedroom, let alone your bed.
I paced and paced. That's when Mark came out.
"I'm putting her outside," he said.
"Why don't you two just leave? Maybe we can try this again another time."
His eyebrows raised, and he looked genuinely heartbroken. "I really want to stay," he said, then without waiting for a reply, he put his dog outside, and gave her a treat.
I folded my arms and waited for him in the TV room. I somehow knew that I'd been wrong, that I could have handled the situation better, but I couldn't quite figure out why I was so mad.
After coming back inside alone, Mark remained quiet, waiting for me to say something.
"What?" I asked.
"Why are you so upset?" he queried. "I know you said before you don't like to have animals in your bedroom. I didn't think it was this big of a deal though."
That's when I exploded. "I told you I wasn't okay with something, and you did it anyway." And suddenly my anger made sense. "The men I've dated never listened to me. If I said I didn't want to do something, they didn't care--somehow we'd end up doing it anyway. Their hobbies became my hobbies. Their dreams had to become mine. I couldn't be myself, or say what I wanted! I always had to be nice. Did I want Chinese? No, but I had to eat it and hardly ever got a chance to choose the restaurant. Could I use conditioner, no because one guy I dated didn't like it! Could I wear makeup? No, because I looked too pretty and other people checked me out. Could I get new clothes? No, they cost too much." I paused then fearfully said, "You might be just like them."
"You can't really think--"
"You might be!" I interrupted.
I expected him to yell at me, act like others had in the past. Instead, he calmly folded his arms. "Are you done yet?" he asked.
I wanted him to yell, be angry. I wanted to feel something other than this uncertainty and fear. If he yelled, then we could have it all out for each other and make up--it would be fiery--and somehow it would feel like love had in the past....
"Why aren't you angry?" I shouted.
"Maybe I am. But I'm not going to yell back. I'm not like that. And I'm definitely not like those other guys you've dated."
I was sobbing now, so lost in memory. "They knew how to get their way. With money. With time. With...sex." I cried so hard. He tried holding me, but I pushed him away and leaned against the wall. "And you!" I could barely see him through the tears. "I never have to be someone else with you. You listen when I say 'no.' Mark, you never push me. You respect what I say. But you didn't tonight. I've been through some hard things. I need to be with someone who respects my choices. And maybe you can't do that! I know this seems like something small, but that's how it starts. Next thing you know, I'm stuck in some shitty situation again, the shell of who I really am, a mirror of whoever I'm with. I don't want to be a damn mirror anymore. I want to be myself."
"I'm so sorry," he said, slumping down. "I understand what you're saying. I'll get my dog and go. I promise you, though, if you tell me something is a big deal to you, I'll respect what you're saying."
He went to the back door, but I stopped him. "I'm so sorry, too! It's hard for me to understand where all of this is coming from. Maybe I need counseling. I just hope this makes sense." I took a big breath. "You...meant what you said; you're not like those other guys?"
"I just want you to be yourself."
My body suddenly felt so exhausted. My arms reached out for him, and he held me close, stroking my hair. Then he gingerly picked me up and carried me to bed.
"You're tired, baby," he said. "You need some rest."
"Will you please stay?" I pleaded. "I'm sorry I got so upset. I could have expressed myself a lot better."
"I'll stay," he nodded, "but if it's okay, I'd like to stay up and drink another cup of coffee and write. Can I use your computer?"
"Sure," I whispered. And I couldn't believe how tired I was.
The next morning I woke up really early. Even though we'd fought, it was the best feeling in the world to wake up to feel Mark's arms around me. I gently moved from his arms, then tip-toed down the stairs to the back door and let Mark's dog inside. She seemed so happy to see me that I let her follow me into the kitchen.
I started making Mark and my kids breakfast. Mark's dog rested next to me, looking so cute that I had to give her some bacon. After each child woke up and hugged me--and the sausage sizzled in the pan--I realized my computer was open to a Word document that had my name on it.
Spatula still in my hand, I went over to the computer and read the words as my kids pet the dog and chattered happily.
Yes, we both make mistakes. But, Gina, no matter what, I want to be old with you, feeling young 'cause we're together. Love can carry us through all of this. It doesn't age. Its back doesn't go out it doesn't get arthritis, it doesn't need a motor. It doesn't lose its hearing or become forgetful. It is what keeps on when the years get late and our hair is grey. Its what can heal and get both of us through anything. I'll work as hard as I can to be here for you. I want to be old with you yes, but I want to feel young with you forever.
That's why I have faith, 'cause I've grown into the man I am now and I know what I want and need and I choose where I'm meant to be. That's with you.
"Are you okay, Mama?" my baby boy asked because I'd been covering my mouth with my free hand. as I read
"Yes." I nodded to him and grease dripped from my spatula. "I just feel like a jerk," I said, then looking up, I spied Mark walking down the stairs.
My three youngest kids squealed before running to Mark and hugging him. "You stayed! You stayed!"
Mark's dog ran up too, wagging her tail.
"I knew he'd stay," my little boy said. "That's why he brought us an awesome dog!"
"I'm so excited," my middle daughter smiled, hugging him again, making it so he could hardly walk down the stairs.
"You let the dog in, huh?" Mark's eyes widened.
My oldest daughter had remained by me. At this point, she whispered, watching her siblings, "It's weird, Mom, but sometimes I think we need Mark even more than you do." I wondered what she meant, but I didn't have time to ask because she went over and hugged him too. "Parent teacher conferences are tonight. You promised you'd go!"
"Wouldn't miss it for anything. All that homework we've done, you better have good grades." He smiled down at her, obviously proud. And I found myself again, stunned by that man.