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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Be My Life's Companion…

April 15, 2004

As I toted and heaved to Leslie Sansone’s aerobic video, swinging my shoulders and lustily pumping my knees to the syncopated Latin rhythm, my mind wandered off on a tangent, reviewing a recent intimation from my brother that he and his wife would be gracing us with their presence later in the summer.  ‘Bout time too, I thought, it’s been a long while.  The music changed and I started the ‘knees up’ routine.  Bet Lorene would like this, she’s a bit of an exercise buff.  “Eight, seven, six, and on one we go to kickbacks…” the instructions sounded dimly and I changed my stance, preparing to  segue into a hamstring curl. She could use the rubber bands for the upper body while I go with the dumb bells, I mused, and if I moved just a bit back, there would be room for us both to do the right-and-left double side-steps.

I moved closer to the piano and back a bit, envisioning my sister-in-law, trim in Tilley shorts and t-shirt, utilizing the space I’d allowed her; imagining us synchronizing our steps to allow us “…four steps up and four steps back, keep that back straight…”  She could put her water on the coffee table, I’d put mine on the piano bench.  I looked over at her and smiled as we marched foreword, then back in time to the music. “Watch this,” she told  me, waggling her hips on the downbeat, then executing a smooth pirouette.  “Nice move,” I told her.  “Even Leslie doesn’t look that good on the…”

I stopped abruptly.  Good lord, I thought, turning off the video, I’ve just been talking to someone who is alive and well and living on Vancouver Island!   Not only that, earlier in the day  I’d broken off a search  and asked out loud, “Anybody seen my glasses?” before I realized that I was the only “anybody” around.   Shoot, I’ve been retired exactly two weeks and I’m already starting to see people who aren’t here.  Worse, they’re starting to talk to me. And I’m answering!

I’d known I’d miss my buddies at Mac’s, miss the camaraderie and the gossip and verbal give and take.  But though I continually natter out loud to Phil, who shuffled, in his steel-toed Romeos, off this mortal coil more than a year ago, I didn’t think at this point I’d still be asking that pitiful and familiar old question of my friend and  co-receiver, Connie. And I certainly did not anticipate sharing time, space, or conversation with an imaginary sister-in-law.  Shuddering, I remembered a dotty old friend who carried on long, although surprisingly witty, conversations with the Styrofoam form that had once held the moth-eaten wig she now wore day and night, sideways or backwards according to her whim.  Would that be me in a few months?   Panicked, I grabbed my coat and purse and went blundering in search of a living, breathing person with whom to share my distress. 

As it happened, that person was my grand daughter, Deanna, who was not only at home but on-line, checking out the residents of the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter.  “What you need is a puppy to keep you company, Gram.  Just look at this sad little face, awww, he’s so cute, we should go right down there so you could adopt him…”

“Oh yeah, Deanna, like that’s gonna happen…”

Well, to make a long story short, later that afternoon I brought home Gulliver, an eight-month old Beagle crossed with an imp of Satan.

He’s a cute little guy alright, I decided fondly as he hesitantly entered his new home: a compact body covered by a thick soft pelt, striated black and brown on the back with a blonde underbelly, short stocky legs and a sweet, girly face framed by pale brown ears.  I didn’t think his name suited, though.  Gulliver.  He’d soon be Gully and how un-cool would that be?  How about Boswell?  McAdam?  Oh well, I‘d have to think on it later, right then I had to wipe up the puddle he’d made against the big umbrella plant beside the door.  “It’s OK baby,” I crooned. “You’re just nervous, you’ll be fine in a min…OH NO,  not on the foot stool…”

Puddles, I thought wearily after wiping up yet more evidence of the nervousness I’d so recently made light of.  Or Squirt…

In the end, I decided on Gibson, for Mel.  It was Deanna’s idea.  I wasn’t talking to her yet but she sent her suggestion via her sister Nicole and by the time I found out that it was Dee’s idea, it was too late.   I’d already told everyone on the block and they had all endorsed it, calling out “Hey, Ellen, hello Gibson…” as we passed by on our morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon, early and late evening constitutionals, trying to ensure that the puddles and squirts occurred outside where the damage limited to tufts of the neighbour’s grass or, preferably, to the NWTel  boxes that show up at regular intervals along our streets.  Actually, the name kind of fits: he’s short and cute, and he evinces just the least little bit of attitude with the swing of his hind end as he hauls me up and down the street.  

Looking now at the shambles that has become my home and my life, I sometimes wonder just what in the world I’d been thinking when I let Deanna talk me into that little visit to the Shelter.   Did I really think I could take on a lively young dog with boundless energy, enormous curiosity and a bladder the size of Ear Lake after spring run-off and still meander desultorily through my days, coming and going at will?  Was I truly so naïve as to believe that a little dog would sit unobtrusively in a corner, happy to walk if I wanted to, thrilled to play when I felt like it, content to wait quietly until his human had finished her book and deigned to notice him?  To be perfectly honest, I really think I did.  And was I ever wrong.

Gibson doesn’t wait quietly for anything.  He isn’t happy unless he’s in full locomotion, preferably with me stumbling along at the end of a rope.  He want my full attention, 24/7, and sulks if he thinks I’m only pretending.  He’s fussy about his food, turns up his nose at my idea of a treat, and scorns my poor efforts at procuring a play-toy that will engage his attention for more than five seconds, preferring my sheepskin slippers which are one more chew session from being totally destroyed.    Scatter rugs are not permitted to live in their usual places but are piled willy-nilly in one big heap the minute I turn my back, the big coffee table books on the lower shelves get constant, personal attention, and I dare not open the bedroom window more than a crack because it immediately becomes an avenue of escape.

I try to think back two months ago when my life was orderly and serene; my slippers beautifully beaded, the heels intact and the collars soft, and creamy white, and there.  Oh sure, I talked to the empty space beside me and smiled at jokes that only I could hear but what’s the distinction between that and me asking Gibson which program he’d prefer: The Surreal Gourmet or the Crocodile Hunter?  Upon reflection, I guess I’d have to tell you the difference is, that when we finished our aerobic workout, Lorene didn’t lean up against my legs, put her head in my lap and gaze at me as if I was the best and most wonderful thing she’d ever clapped eyes upon. 

It’s been a long dry spell.

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