It’s a Monday morning at the end of April, and as I sit at my computer desk, Little Guy is clinging to my chair and banging a spoon against my leg. J is at a doctor’s appointment, and the house is quiet. Outside our sliding glass door I can see a swath of bare dirt where I cleared away the weedy grass in preparation for something better. The bare ground is ugly but exciting. Most evenings I spend 15 minutes to an hour removing more areas of crappy lawn. Pretty soon I will begin putting new grass seed down, planting vegetables, lavender, basil, native shrubs. I bought a beautiful mountain mahogany plant at the Idaho Native Plant Sale this year. J helped me choose where to put it. Part of me doesn’t want to plant the mahogany in the yard of a rental unit we’ll just have to move on from, probably sooner rather than later. Part of me wonders why I am spending my time, effort, and money on a yard I can’t call my own. Our rental property manager isn’t going to reimburse us for being awesome tenants. But every time I look out at the yard, I want to get out there and keep working. Sometimes I am compelled to put energy into things. Even knowing, as with the yard, that I may never get to enjoy the end product of all my labor.
Contrary to my plans of the last month, J and I have not been to couple’s counseling. Maybe this is a mistake, and I should have pushed to go through with at least a trial session or two. If I was on the outside looking in at my own situation, I think I might be annoyed at myself for not actively doing something. Maybe I would be like my mom, who is always telling me I need to set up a dentist’s appointment or get Little Guy into a Kindermusic class now, because if I put it off too long all kinds of bad things will happen. What can I say? The VA called J back several weeks ago to set up an appointment, but J and I had been talking over our problems. It seemed silly to ask somebody to help us communicate more effectively when we were already having useful, open conversations. I didn’t know how to ask somebody to help make my spouse happier about parenthood. So much of that problem is also related to the difficult job market in our town, and the lack of stability that we feel as a result. Communication isn’t what we need here. What we need is permanent work. Permanent, professional work, with decent pay. (Thanks but no thanks Federal Minimum Wage — You don’t really cut it.) And yeah, we’re working on that situation. But it’s not really something we need counseling about.
There is one other thing. The one thing, perhaps, that J and I aren’t talking openly about right now, but I don’t think it would be wise to bring up the subject at the moment. It is that J has been extremely hostile to the idea of getting another dog. During Ziggy’s last year J was not very supportive of me in my struggles. J has never thought of animals as family, and during Zig’s sickness she would say things like, “You care too much about animals” (to which I always wanted to, but never did, reply, “You care too little!”). There were financial concerns, of course, but I had some family money that I was putting towards vet bills, and perhaps because of this, J stopped being actively critical of my decisions at some point. I noticed that she never acknowledged or interacted with Zig anymore, though, even when Zig came up to J to say hello. It was a strange situation, and I felt alternately angry and lonely. There were times when I really wanted to talk to somebody about Ziggy, just to feel less alone as Zig slowly succumbed to her cancer. I wanted to talk to J, but instead I talked to my parents, to my sister, to people in my dog walking group. I tried to be fair to J, because I don’t think everybody is required to love animals: I tried to remember all the times J took Zig out on hikes and camping trips in the earlier years. J had supported me then. If she was failing me now, well… It had been a hard year for all of us.
After Ziggy died, J did join me when I went on a hike and found a place to bury her ashes. J was nothing but supportive of me that day. Then there was the day I asked J, “What do you think about the idea of getting another dog?” I didn’t mean immediately. Even I knew it wasn’t the right time. We were financially struggling, I was applying for jobs and trying to work on the thesis, and the baby took up so much of my time. But I wanted to let J know: Some day, eventually, I wanted to get another dog. I grew up around them, and I wanted Little Guy to have that same experience.
What J said to me was, “Couldn’t you have at least waited six months to bring this up?” She said she didn’t think we would be able to stay together if I got another dog. She said that. I knew, not for the first time, that this was one of the biggest challenges in our relationship. Forget the transgender issue. The transgender thing was nothing — That was something other people struggled with. Not us. The thing that had the power to break us was a thing so random and small in the eyes of the world. It was as though we had easily scaled a mountain, only to come home, trip on a pebble, and break our necks.
As hard as it has been, I have been keeping quiet on the dog issue. I don’t know if giving this subject time before airing it again is going to help. And I don’t know if getting the job situation settled will help J feel better about parenthood. Maybe it is a mistake to put off counseling, but I am betting that this hands-off approach is what is needed for a little while longer.