Home Alone: A Husband's Nightmare Week
I am a man alone. My wife has just up and left me on this crisp and beautiful February Sunday. She loaded up her things and coolly drove away — with her mother in tow, no less.
To the casual eye, life appears perfectly normal. Couples are walking their dogs, reading the Sunday paper, having leisurely chats over lunch, planning their secret Valentine rendezvous. But all I can see are the uncertain days sure to follow, hours of endless loneliness yawning to eternity.
Actually, it’s just until next Sunday afternoon. That’s when she returns from her big college conference in Washington, D.C. And technically speaking, I’m not really alone, per se, as I have an old cat and three dogs to look after, plus two more coming on Monday night, pooches I’ve agreed to keep for a buddy going off to see his sweetie for Valentine’s Day.
While he’s off living the life of Riley — footloose and single, eating oysters Rocke-feller and drinking champagne from a silken slipper — I’ll be playing butler to five large dogs and a crusty old cat named Rufus.
Apparently either guilt-ridden or convinced I’m incapable of feeding myself, my efficient wife has prepared two days’ worth of home-cooked gourmet meals and stacked them neatly in the refrigerator, requiring only a quick zap in the microwave oven.
She’s also left me heart-shaped cookies and my favorite jelly beans and a certificate to have a foot massage at a swanky spa next Sunday, her Valentine’s gift to me. Moreover, the house is as clean as a Swiss hotel.
But don’t be fooled by these clever ploys. This is pure social recklessness on her part. Heaven only knows what mayhem may result if I’m left in a house for a week, especially given my acute FDP.
FDP stands for “Full Dishwasher Phobia.” We FDP sufferers fear opening the dishwasher and finding it full of clean dishes, which means we might have to try to properly put them away. This task, studies have shown, is simply not in the DNA of most middle-aged married men. So I’ve decided not to risk it and just keep the dishwasher closed all week.
This evening we are seven — one man, five dogs, one crusty old cat. My friend the Valentine’s Romeo is off on his love quest, bearing chocolate and roses. Meanwhile, feeding this horde is a challenge. Each wants what’s in another’s bowl, and everyone is curious what the cat is eating.
The visiting dogs are actually well-behaved visitors. It’s our super-friendly golden retriever, Ajax — just 9 months old and already pushing 80 pounds — who is the problem. He annoys everyone in the house, including the butler. At one point I come into the kitchen to see how doggie dinner is progressing and find this friendly monster up on two feet helping himself to the Valentine’s Day cookies. Even Rufus the cat is appalled, asking to be let out for an evening of solitary bliss.
The dogs all go out to the fenced backyard for an evening wrestling match, and I collapse in my favorite chair, weary and dessertless, to eat my own prepared meal in front of the boob tube like lonely dudes have done since the Middle Ages.
If my wife were here tonight instead of hobnobbing with a Nobel laureate or the secretary of education in Washington, we might catch an episode of her beloved “Downton Abbey” or maybe the latest world news, something meaningful and highbrow.
Instead, I watch an episode of “The Bachelor,” a TV show developed by a 14-year-old boy. It serves her right. As she’s engaging in discussions about how to save American education, I’m stuck at home watching eight lovely women in string bikinis attempting to woo a guy who looks as if his career aspiration might be parking cars at a Los Angeles strip club go off to the Peruvian Andes and make out in a hot tub. They’re looking for lasting love, and I’m just looking for jelly beans — which I discover have also been vacuumed by Ajax the Wonder Dog.
The dogs bound in and make a beeline for the couch. They’re covered with dirt and grass. Ajax drags in a tree limb. So much for the Swiss hotel effect. Both female dogs — and I’m not making this up — take one look at what we’re watching on the big screen and leave the room, clearly disgusted.
They pad upstairs to catch the end of “Downton Abbey” on the bedroom TV.
Is it just Tuesday? Already the sink is half full of dirty dishes, and I’m beginning to feel a little like the Unabomber in his cabin.
It is, after all, Valentine’s Day. My wife, bless her, called to say she and her mom are having a swell time in Washington, have toured the city and even caught a couple of great museum exhibitions. Tonight they ate gourmet Indian. “I know how you love great Indian food,” she says cheerfully. “I wish you were here.”
I wish I were there, too. Indian is my favorite. But that would mean I had to miss a nourishing bowl of Raisin Bran and the swell brown-sugar Pop-Tarts I had for tonight’s supper, the signature meal for single aces across the planet.
On a brighter note, my friend has returned from his Valentine’s quest wearing the contented glow of a suitor in love, claiming his well-behaved dogs and promising ginger beer. He looks happier than a valet in a tub full of Hooters waitresses.
Sorry. I have no memory of what happened Wednesday except to say I ate my last prepared meal and my wife called to mention she went to Capitol Hill with her boss today to meet with various senators and Nancy Pelosi. Lucky her.
Back in my world, Ajax the Wonder Dog went out in the rain at dawn, dug an 11-foot trench in my flower bed, then galloped through the house covered with black mud, ending up on the new quilt on our marriage bed.
To make matters worse, as he wildly fled the room — I probably wouldn’t have actually brained him with that sand wedge — he bolted through my wife’s dressing room and slammed into her vanity table, sending an antique jewelry bureau crashing to the floor. I’ve been picking up pieces of jewelry all day, wondering vaguely how long either of us would survive left entirely on our own. It’s my wife’s own durn fault for going away.
Or at least Nancy Pelosi’s.
As of today, I’m officially out of clean cereal bowls. But concerned neighbors were kind enough to have me to supper tonight, a civilized interlude of homemade beef tips and rice and fresh vegetables. We talked pleasantly of presidential politics and the early spring weather.
Then I went home to have the last Pop-Tart and mop the kitchen floor and clean the mud off the walls. A contrite Ajax watched me do this with a pair of my boxer shorts in his mouth, retrieved from the overflowing dirty clothes hamper, his version of a peace gesture.
Noticing the Everest of dirty dishes in the sink, I decide desperate times deserve desperate measures and finally confront my Full Dishwasher Phobia. I take a deep breath, seize the handle and open the blessed machine only to find — Eureka! — it’s empty, heaven be praised, fully ready to be loaded. I’m so relieved I almost weep.
Loading a dishwasher is a cinch. Any fool can do it. You just throw everything short of the dog inside it, toss in a little soap, use your foot if necessary to get the door closed, and hit the start button. To celebrate, I find something green at the back of the refrigerator that could either be very new cheese or very old meat and go watch an episode of “Ice Road Truckers.”
As of today, following their grand tour of the nation’s capital, my wife and her mom are now visiting with her sister on Long Island, and I’m in the home stretch and feeling pretty good about how this week has turned out, all things considered, save for no more Pop-Tarts and a certain antique jewelry bureau.
This evening I dined out with a dear friend — another woman, no less! — ate salad and listened to horror stories of her own young dog gutting a silk chair and making crank phone calls to the county animal shelter. My muddy floor and chewed-up boxers are small potatoes compared with this woe, I think.
We enjoy a nice meal and talk office shop, and I go home happy to know the dishes are clean and the dogs are suddenly behaving as if they expect Mama to come through the door any moment, probably because they’re busy eating leftover Christmas cookies and totally hooked on “Downton Abbey.”
As I write this, the weekend lies dead ahead. My long and lonesome week is drawing to a close. But I’m cool now, perfectly under control. The sun is shining, and springtime is greening up the world in a way that sort of reminds me of the mysterious thing I ate from the back of the refrigerator, proving that whatever doesn’t kill you really can make you stronger.
Sometime Saturday afternoon, I’ll throw the dogs out and mop the floor and clean the kitchen a final time. Then I’ll go to the store and buy healthy snacks and make the house as spiffy as a Swiss hotel, not counting the ruined bed quilt and the odd muddy wall.
With a little luck and good timing, I’ll be off having my feet massaged at the swanky spa when she rolls home Sunday afternoon and has to unload the dishwasher all by herself. Of course, she likes doing this sort of thing. It’s in her DNA.
She has nightmares about me unloading the machine and putting the dishes and pans God knows where. So this will be my little “welcome home” gift to her, hopefully teaching her to never leave the dogs and me on our own for so long again.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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