Don’t Touch My Weenie:
Being the Chronic Creep Who Needs Emotional Support during the Epidemic
by Xochi Rosebuds
It was noon when the leash came out and he came to take away my baby, who had been sleeping by my side all night. Her ears and eel-like body draped over my lower belly as if protecting it from the wanton look of man.
I had been married for nine months. Or ten. Who knows? All I know is that our first anniversary in Disney has been refunded already. Fucking pandemic. I am searching for cakes I can have delivered on bae's birthday because all my sugar has been tasting like salt lately. Hopefully it isn’t tainted with COVID.
The six-pound, red, white, and polka-dotted dachshund was acquired two days after our wedding. I missed my family so much in the three months I had moved out, I was relieved when we got her. She was tiny, the size of my phone. I felt a trickle of sparkling dopamine, thinking of all the ways I would take care of her. We dubbed her Princess Peanut. She was the size of one, and certainly the color.
The hundred dollars of pet rent wasn’t going to work, so my brilliant husband found a loophole. If you can prove you need emotional support and get your pet certified, you don’t have to pay. He found a therapist online, and within minutes of the call, I qualified. The therapist told me that people with “endometriosis and chronic pain benefit greatly from an ESA to have a sense of emotional well-being, routine, and independence.”
Seeing my name on the certificate was a victory, but also a frightening validation of that fact that I needed help. I took it to heart and began bonding and training my little minx. I am not able to have babies yet due to complications with stage IV endometriosis and adenomyosis that keep me in bed half the week. So, from day one, I swaddled her up and taught her to cuddle, for better or for worse, making her my baby.
When my nerve pain made me so depressed that I couldn't eat or sleep, I began a high dose of Cymbalta. When I fainted one day in my closet, I came to with her licking my eyelids, calling to my husband like a chronic illness Life Alert, "She’s on the floor, and she can’t get up!"
When my night sweats came and I was doing double takes to make sure what I saw was really there, she would sit and look up at me, then nonchalantly at the spot, as if saying, "You're okay, Mom! Now let's have a cuddle!"
When the side effects of the Cymbalta began, I could not be afraid or sad or mad. I was flatlined about seventy percent of the time; my pain was, too. I cooked and cleaned without complaint. Took naps a lot.
When Princess Peanut began to be a yappy brat at around seven months (then a five-pound weenie dog), we took her to professional training. It got her barking under control. Reinforced her “sit” command and taught her to walk like a supportive, little beast and not a bossy one. I worked with her, taking her on two walks a day. Ran drills. Set rules and boundaries for her.
When the pandemic hit, it was like a water balloon of yellow bile being thrown at my life. I was afraid because my chronic conditions are autoimmune, but I also thought of the impending loneliness. My own family consists of essential workers, including an EMT, a firefighter, and a homeless shelter coordinator. My mom is my best friend; there are days when she isn't here and it feels like someone took my right arm. They live forty-five minutes away, and I haven't hugged them in thirty-six days. My husband's family is a five-minute walk away, and the new trend is their pleading to take Princess Peanut for a few hours one day so that "I can get a break."
I dodge the question; of course, they couldn't borrow my dog for the day. If you're home to watch your dog, you don't need a sitter. If you are not tired of your dog, you DO NOT need a break.
I start training her every day while my husband works from home, running drills and teaching her little cues to eventually help me, such as "touch" when she sees my leg shake. The last ten years have taught me this is a subconscious thing I do when I begin to feel pain. The idea is Princess P sees the shaking and learns to nudge me, which will aid in mindfulness, a reminder to breathe or to pop a Tylenol. In case you haven't pieced it together, I've been having a hard time taking care of myself. So, we have a routine. She makes me laugh. I. Don't. Want. A. Break.
I have the smallest "therapy dog in training" vest I've ever seen. I got it so people would stay away while I was training her. The red vest hangs on the metal of the white bedroom door. There is a wipe mark across the wood, brighter than the rest. Despite my efforts with hot water and soap to make the room lighter, it looks dingy as ever. I huff into the living room, tears welling in pathetic self-hatred. Husband walks to the closet and begins putting the collar and leash on the uncertain, slinky miniature weenie.
The flood of thoughts starts as the houndling looks up at me, one eye going lazy toward the direction of the door. The bite of my nails on my palms begins. I have to unclench my jaw before it locks and seizes. Cranial kinesis of stress threatens to swallow this scene whole in a hellish rage like a dragon.
Amongst the darkest of these thoughts, as my breasts start to sweat and my breath races in frustration are—
NO ONE ELSE ASKS TO BORROW OTHER PEOPLE'S DOGS, YOU FUCKS.
LEAVE PRINCESS PEANUT ALONE!!
MY HUSBAND JUST TOLD ME IT WOULD BE WORSE WHEN WE HAVE KIDS. ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE THEM AWAY FROM ME DURING A PANDEMIC TOO?
IF THEY KISS THE DOG AND IF THE DOG IS ROLLING ALL OVER AND COMES BACK, CAN I GET SICK?
WHY DON'T ANY OF YOU CARE ABOUT MY EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING?
I KNOW IT'S HEALTHY FOR HER TO GO OTHER PLACES, BUT I DON'T WANT HER TO GO!
IF YOU NEED A DOG, WHY CAN'T YOU GET YOUR OWN?
IS IT NORMAL FOR MY IN-LAWS TO BE TAKING MY DOG LIKE THIS WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A TEXT?
WERE THEY IN CAHOOTS TO TAKE HER AWAY TODAY AND HOPE I DIDN'T NOTICE?
I get up and put my hands on my hips, turning away to take solace with picking at myself. I lament the Tim Burton-caricatural crescent moon of blue under my eyes shining back at me. My face is ashen, not unlike a wan fishwife. Maybe I would be a happier woman if I focused more on eating and less on dogs. I spy a bag of Doritos on the couch and shove them into my tamale hole to color me back to life. Acrimony bubbling in my gullet. My therapist told me once crunchy foods help prevent anxiety attacks. With clammy hands, I grab a plastic orange bottle, pop the cap, which I chuck over my shoulder, and I choke down my daily dose with warm, lemon, fizzy water. The pill is big—my stomach churns. Time to prevent nausea.
My lighter sings me good morning as I take a huge bong rip and blow the smoke into the apartment as my husband and Princess P leave, the knots in my back coiling like snakes. I feel hollow and flat. I press each knuckle, and it exonerates a resounding crack. I want to scream, but I open my mouth and nothing comes out except a small gurgle.
"It will be okay," my husband says as he looks back, his handsome eyes shining akin to the pity and satisfaction of a father who has just spanked the shit out of his kid for one too many talk backs. The door clicks. When the footsteps fade into the ding of the elevator, I crumple, joining the bunny-eared pages of my manuscript printed and forgotten in the corner. I tear at them more, flying them like paper airplanes as my bare feet collect dust on the unswept floor.
I lie down flat and stare at the ceiling, thinking of poetry I don't write down. I never do. It's always too sad or alarming. Husband comes back an hour later without the dog and goes back to work on the computer. I watch TV alone. I call out to him, but his headphones are on. This is usually when I would go on a walk, but without the dog, it suddenly seems like a waste of energy. So, I get into bed. She isn’t here to jump from the bed to go sniff around the kitchen either, so I forget to eat. He goes and gets her a few hours later during a break in his calls with clients. She comes clacking in, her head high, looking half fruit bat, half trout.
She rushes over to me, begging me to take off her leash. I do, and the sentient, little weenie trots over to the baby wipes I keep by the door, her tail spinning like she's about to burst into takeoff. Although she had fun, she knows it's time for her sponge bath. This makes me smile, a deed of devotion to her cleanliness she can only expect from her mama. She stretches and I wipe her down, admiring the dirt I get from her tiny paws.
I know some would say it's ridiculous. That a dog this small couldn't possibly be of any service to anyone. I acknowledge that with love. You're probably right.
The other thing that is ludicrous, though, is the nature of chronic pain. How terrifying it can be to feel alone, even if you aren't, because however much you read or write, language will fail you on days where pain bursts with your every step. How, as embarrassing as it is, sometimes lying down with my dog on top of me keeps me from entertaining cutting my wrists just to be able to control the nature of the pain I experience. Having the dog gives me a sense of purpose while my husband advocates for clients that demand his emotional strength and energy every day. It makes me feel less like a defenseless nest of crow feathers on his otherwise auspicious future. Like less of a burden on him, so that he can work. It's fucked, isn't it?
If that isn't clear enough for you, and you feel this is still dumb, consider this: You don't have endometriosis. You aren't on a new medication and your name isn't on the ESA paperwork.
Until you go through those steps and deal with what that means emotionally, I’m not sure you have done enough work to hold judgement.
If you miss my dog, husband, or me, you can feel free to FaceTime us or join us for social-distanced walks and training outside. When this is all over, I have a trip to Vegas, a trip to Disneyland, and at least four other dream vacations planned. I promise I will need lots of help then.
Thank you for this PSA from those of us who are emotionally codependent on our convivial companions. Gracias from those of us who roughhouse to be the protagonist when only the antagonist commands. Those of us who feel bites and licks of pain that are incapable of communicating the grainy devastation of not being relatable. Those of us who are horribly homesick and trying to stay safe from the virus and themselves during this time.
Stay safe, everyone xx.