My family flies over to visit me. This is the third time they’ve seen me this year but they obviously miss me too much to stay away. This is understandable. I would miss me too.
I decide to make it an extra special visit for them and offer to take them on a road trip down to Albany. They are all excited about it and tell me what a good idea that is. I am full of good ideas!
My dad starts planning the boring logisticky details while I begin a list of sights to see and games to play in the car. I ring a friend who grew up in Albany to request recommendations of picturesque places where my family can take photos with me.
Tilmonster paws at me while I’m thanking my friend.
“Stop interrupting, I’m on the phone!” I snap at her. The dog has no manners.
She paws at me more insistently, using some claw for good measure.
“I’ve got to go. I’m being mauled,” I tell my friend, then turn to Tils. “What, you demon, what?!”
“Do you think I’ll get to chase a kangaroo?” she asks eagerly. “And should we take my ball or do you think there will be plenty of sticks to play fetch with?”
Oh. This is awkward.
“Tillybilly. Puppydog,” I try to use my kindest voice. “I was thinking that it would actually be easier if we go without you. I’ll drop you back at your parents’ before we leave. We play fetch at the park all the time anyway. And we can always go look for a kangaroo another time, yeah? You see, there won’t be space in the car for you. And it’s hard to find dog-friendly accommodation. It’s just the practical thing to do. You understand, don’t you?”
Til stares at me for a long beat. I walk out of the room and give her space to see the logic of what I’ve said. It might be tough but it’s the decision that makes the most sense. She will just have to grow up and deal with it.
I start working on a playlist for the journey down. It’s a 4½-hour drive so we’ll need plenty of songs. I hum to myself as I go through my songs. We’ll sing along together in the car with the windows rolled down! Our aura of happy familyhood will waft out and bless all the other cars! In fact, everyone who sees us will want to do a family road trip of their own too!
I show my family the list of places we can check out and our sing-along playlist. My parents look at each other awkwardly.
“The thing is,” my dad begins kindly, “there are six of us and just your little car. We were thinking that it would actually be a lot more convenient if you don’t come along. You live here anyway, so you can go to Albany another time. It’s just a numbers thing. You’re fine with that, aren’t you?”
My heart shatters.
I jerk awake.
Thud! The sliding door rattles.
Is someone trying to break in? I can hear scuffling and panting outside, then the sliding door is attacked again.
Thud! More scuffling and panting.
What is going on?! I creep out of bed and peek through a gap in the curtains.
It is Tilmonster. Playing football.
“Go to sleep, Tils! It’s past midnight!” I yell at her.
She continues scuffling with the ball, as if to point out the irrelevance of time when she has so much energy to burn.
Demon dog. I know for a fact that I left the football at the other end of the house earlier today. All that lovely space to play in, but she deliberately brought the ball around to my bedroom for maximum sleep interruption. Evidently, this is a planned consequence because I didn’t take her out for a walk.
Fine. Let’s see how long she can keep this up if I pretend that I don’t care. I resolve to ignore her and return to bed.
WARGHHH!! I fling the covers off and shove the sliding door open. Tilmonster wags her tail, ball rolling (escaping) away from her. I stomp over and confiscate the football. Hah!
She glares at me. Then runs off to get the rugby ball.
“Christ,” my friend stops and stares. She points to the bruises on my leg. “What happened to you?”
“Oh, kickboxing,” I tell her.
“Kickboxing?! I thought you were doing boxing!”
I explain to her that I thought I was too, but mistakenly walked into the wrong class when I went to the gym again.
“Your partner must have been kicking you really hard!”
“No, no,” I clarify. “These were from a pad.”
“You bruised yourself kicking a pad.”
She takes a moment to digest this.
“I don’t think kickboxing is the right sport for you.”
I want to counter that maybe the bruises show how powerful my kicks were. But it is two hours too late by the time I come up with my response.
It’s that time of the year again.
When I get a little restless and the shed looks too empty. I’ve hung up my rugby boots, packed away my football shin guards, and my road bike is collecting dust in the corner.
It’s time to try out a new sport!
I feel a little intimidated as I walk into the gym. A couple of overly-muscled guys are pounding away at the punching bags, boom boom! boom boom! boom boom boom! The punching bags themselves look like three of me could fit in each.
But I scan the room a bit more and see that there are heaps of girls around too. Normal looking girls without broken noses or black eyes. Whew! I sign up, skimming over the waiver form…injuries, death…and hand my money over. I walk over to the girls waiting for the class to start and set my bag down.
“Is this your first time here?”
A friendly girl already! What a welcoming gym! I am pleased I paid for two weeks of classes in advance.
“Yep!” I beam at her. “Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting so many girls at boxing. I’m so relieved!”
“Oh. This is Ladies Kick Fitness.” She points to the back of the gym. “Boxing is over there.”
I look across. To a group of tattooed, muscular guys with shaven heads strapping on their wrappy hand thingies, rolling their necks and doing general getting-ready-to-beat-someone’s-face-in warm-up exercises. Even the couple of girls I can see there look kinda scary, already smacking their gloves together.
I look back to Kick Fitness, full of ponytails and giggles and unicorn sprinkles. I waver for a moment, but then gather my courage and move on to the Boxing section.
Oh hooray! Another hesitant-looking girl! I missed her earlier because she was hanging back, equally unsure about the whole boxing lark. I immediately attach myself to her side.
She is a godsend. We do half the number of sit-ups/push-ups as the rest of the class and giggle through learning punch combos. She talks about being used to Zumba and doesn’t try to bop me in the face. She tells me that I must be super fit because I’m not even drinking water during the breaks. I preen and don’t say that it’s because my hands are trembling from exhaustion so badly that I would just splash the water everywhere but into my mouth.
I make her promise to be my boxing partner. “Promise!” I grab her shoulders. “Promise!”
“Ok, ok!” She hurriedly agrees, partly because she’s excited to have me as a boxing partner as well, and mostly because my face is so close to hers. If she didn’t have the wrappy hand thingies on, I would make her do a pinky promise too.
Let’s see how long this phase lasts!
What’s that?! I bolt upright in bed. It might be a burglar jumping off my roof!
Ever since I started checking out Perth WA Crime Reports on Facebook, I’ve been super vigilant for crime in the neighbourhood. I didn’t realise dastardly deeds were being committed so often in these quiet, unassuming suburbs!
I really should check the window, or I’ll be lying in bed all night preparing to defend my home.
“Tils!” I hiss urgently. “Wake up!” I prod at her until she turns a disgruntled eye to me. “I heard something. Go check if someone is in the garden!”
She tucks her nose back under her tail. “Check it yourself.”
“No, you check! Your nose is black, no one will notice you peeking out!” I shove my feet under her insistently until she gets up with a huff. She nudges the curtain aside briefly, then returns to her warm spot.
“It was just a lemon falling from the tree.”
“How do you knooooow,” I wail-whisper.
“Because that’s what it always is. Every. Time.”
“Are you sure?”
She barks half-heartedly. “There. Even if someone was going to break in, they now know there’s a slavering hell hound in the house.”
I lie back down, comforted. “You’ve always got my back, Tils!”
“Mum’s picking me up from our sleepover tomorrow.”
I speed along the bike path. It’s early in the morning but there are already pedestrians blocking the path ahead. I bully old ladies out of my way and charge down dogs straying into my lane. I snarl as I pass them, all bared teeth and aggression. Can they not see that I am an athlete, a hardcore cycling machine?? I’m wearing lycra shorts to be more aerodynamic for god’s sake, AND THEY’RE RUINING MY RHYTHM!
Besides, this is only my second time wearing clippy shoes and I’m not very good at stopping just yet.
Difficulties stopping aside, my racing bike and clippy shoes are a marvel. I power up hills, sneering at the tortoises on their clunky mountain bikes or hipster single-speeds. Neener neener! My bike thumbs its metaphorical nose at them. My bike and I are one, body and metal interacting fluidly and seamlessly. This must be how Robocop feels.
I cycle past a café with racing bikes parked outside. Cyclists just like me! I want to wave and call out to my lycra-clad homies, but I have not quite mastered the skill of cycling one-handed. I settle for pinging my bell instead.
Home, nearly home!
I huff and puff as I cycle up the road to my house. Traffic light! How frustrating, I didn’t see anyone on Tour de Anywhere stopping for a red light! I roll my eyes and coast to a stop, carefully clicking my right shoe out of the pedal. A car pulls up next to me but it’s a bit too close for comfort. I turn to glare at the driver, and move to shift my bike closer to the kerb.
And promptly tip over.
I forgot to click my left shoe out too! My foot is still secured to the pedal and I’m stuck under my bicycle. I struggle to get my foot out, but just end up flopping uselessly on the side of the road. I catch sight of a small child watching me from the car, nose pressed against the window. I would flip him off, but my hands are too busy trying to unbuckle my shoe.
I finally work myself free. I am not hurt, I just have sore hands and feel really, really embarrassed. By this time, I cannot wait to reach home and hide. I get back on the bike and continue cycling home.
But I am so wobbly that when I reach another red light, I tip over again even though I have both lanes to myself.
My ride is clearly over. I try to walk the bike home but it is very difficult to walk in cycling cleats.
I make the rest of my way home in socks.
Sad sad sad, saddity saddity sad.
My dog has just passed away.
I’d said my goodbyes when I was home earlier this year. She was old and I thought that I might not see her again. So I gave her extra kisses and cuddles, breathed in her doggy scent, and told her that I loved her before I walked out the door. Then I turned around and went back for more.
But as it turns out, that was nowhere near enough. I want to hold her and weep, I want to kiss her and thank her for being my dog, for being the silly little sausage who always fell for the same trick where I hid and sprang out at her when she least expected it. Thirteen years but I want more. More photos, more cuddles, more sneaky licks to my face while I’m sleeping.
So here I am now, sobbing like a little schoolgirl.
“There, there,” Badger tries to comfort me. He pulls me into a hug.
I let myself be cuddled, but then start to panic because what if I forget how my dog used to smell? I bawl louder at the thought of this and bury my face in Badger’s chest.
And get distracted trying to make a tear-face imprint on his shirt à la Edward Norton on Meatloaf in Fight Club.
But it doesn’t work. I’m crying so much that all I make is a big soggy mess. I can’t even craft a symbolic representation of my grief. God, I feel wretched.
Badger flutters around for a bit, hovering anxiously because it looks like I might just drown in my own tears. He isn’t quite sure what to do. But then he leaves the room and returns with a Magnum.
I hiccup a thank you and manage to stop crying long enough to cram the ice cream in my mouth. But it’s no use. I see reminders of my dog everywhere I look, and the waterworks start again. Dachshund keychain, dachshund stuff toys, dachshund stencil on my drawers…I’m even reading a book with a one-legged dachshund on the cover! And oh god, when I get to the office tomorrow, I’ll be confronted with my dog’s picture, dachshund post-it notes and dachshund mousepad. I begin to regret having turned into the sausage dog equivalent of a crazy cat lady.
Badger promises to get me KFC for dinner. I think he is hoping that my love for fried chicken will distract me. But it’s no use. I know that I’ll sob into it just like I did earlier with the ice cream. At least the chicken is meant to taste salty.
I thought I was ready for this. But I’m not.