There are pureed pumpkin smears on my pants, and I have you to thank for this, sweetie. Whenever I see pureed pumpkin, I always think of you.
Because you are the only person I know who feeds their dogs pureed pumpkin, along with other nutritious human foods such as green beans, bananas, and special organic nitrate free cookies that cost $9.99 each.
The problem, of course, is that one of our dogs is a bloodhound with floppy jowls. Food gets stuck in these jowls. Especially squishy foods. So when you feed our dog pureed pumpkin, sweetheart, only fifteen-sixteenths of the pumpkin actually gets eaten. The rest gets smeared on my pants when the bloodhound rubs her face against my leg.
But it’s okay. Because I don’t know many people who love dogs as much as you do.
I remember when we first met, you told me that a member of your family had just died. You were a wreck. I was too embarrassed to ask who you were talking about. But, judging by your emotional state, I sincerely believed that it was an uncle, or a grandfather, or maybe even—I’m sorry, I’m just being honest here—your little brother.
Then you told me this deceased loved one had been named Sarge. I thought it was perhaps a nickname for an uncle who’d served his country. I don’t mind telling you that I mourned for that patriotic uncle of yours.
Then, you took me to Sarge’s grave located in the front yard of your parents’ house. A wooden cross was poking out of the ground. I was starting to get the Willies because what kind of a deranged nut buries their uncle in the front yard?
Then you placed a chew toy on the grave, and I understood.
You cried so hard over this dog. Which made me cry. And I knew then that I would love you forever.
While I write this, you are sitting on the sofa, playing on your phone, drinking coffee. You have two enormous dogs in your lap. You always have these dogs in your lap.
The dogs are yours, really. They don’t even care about me. Whenever you come around, they lose their minds. Whenever I come around, they lick themselves and ask what time this dump serves dinner.
One time I had this bright idea to train our dogs. I bought a book on canine obedience. The book suggested fastening the leashes around your waist during training sessions. That way, whenever the dogs would try to wander, they would see the leashes and realize they were attached to a human.
According to the book, this established dominance. The idea being that everyone clearly understood their roles in the pack with them being the submissive canines and me being the lunatic with leashes tied around his vital organs
I tried this method. I attached two ninety-pound dogs to my waist with commercial strength leashes. Things were going great for the first five minutes. Whenever I would say “Sit,” they would chew their own tails and play Ring Around the Rosie.
But then the front door opened.
You came walking into the house, sweetie, carrying groceries. They could sense your presence. One hundred and sixty pounds of canine muscle bolted for the front door and yanked me off my feet.
I hit the ground and they dragged me through the house dog-sled style. The doctor tells me I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life.
But I say all this to illustrate just how much these dogs love you. They would gladly drag my lifeless body across a sea of jagged furniture just to see you.
The thing is, I know that you and I weren’t ever able to have children. And I know that even though you’re okay with this, sometimes when you see a little redheaded toddler in public your heart hurts. I know this is true, even though you won’t admit it.
And sometimes, when a baby smiles at you, you light up like a Rockefeller Christmas tree. And I feel this little pang of guilt when that happens. Not a big one. Just a twinge.
Because you could have married someone better than me. Seriously. You could have landed a real prize. And by this stage of life you would already have a great house, a few kids, and all the things a woman would want. Tennis bracelets. Endless shoe supply. Maybe a swanky SUV that’s roughly the size of a YMCA. I don’t know.
But you chose me. You looked at me and you didn’t see a hapless fool. Somehow you saw what I didn’t. You saw what I could be. And I could say a lot more, but I’m running out of room. Besides, I really need to get this pumpkin puree out of my pants. So I’ll finish by saying this:
I don’t want anything from this tired and busted world. Not a single thing. I don’t want lots of money, nor a good retirement plan, nor an SUV. Nothing. Zip. Nada. All I want is to be alive to watch you grow into an old woman.
But if for some reason I’m not around for that, I only ask one thing: Please, with all my heart, I beg you, don’t bury me in the front yard.
Happy birthday, Jamie. From me and your babies.