Today I am sitting beside my father while he sleeps. It is the last time, probably ever. We are outdoors in the sunny Queensland day and I can hear all the birds. These birds are what I miss. I miss the little endearing coy breezes, the big leaves that rattle like jewels. My father has woken up several times and when he does I smile at him and he smiles at me back.
The last time he opened his eyes I was leaning forward looking at him and when our eyes met I started to cry. “I’m leaving tomorrow,” I said, and he said, “You’re leaving tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding helplessly, “I’m pretty sad about it.”
“That’s no good, pet,” he said, closing his eyes and drifting peacefully down into the sleep that is the love of his late life while I curled in the creaking cane chair and wept copiously. It’s not just Dad. It’s not just the exhausting and dispiritingly servile position I occupy in this household which I now choose consciously, for it is all the last times, that has worn me out. Why I’m crying is, the relationship I have been in through all its vicissitudes for the past four years has dissolved this morning, seemingly finally. We have reached this point before. There are certain intractable obstacles and our dear and passionate love and longing for each other keeps sweeping them aside and then they just rise up again. This man, this dear and loving, sweet and nonchalant, cool and long-legged tender and painstaking golden-eyed man has a dog, and the dog belongs to him and to his ex partner. She lives in the United States but still sees Felix as her dog. She once introduced my beloved, after she had moved to the US and was visiting Berlin for the summer, to an acquaintance as “the guy who’s babysitting my dog.”
It is like being unwilling stepmother to a ferociously dysfunctional, sometimes aggressive and sometimes sweet overgrown child who is never going to grow up and leave home, is never going to go out and get a job, is always at the end of the bed wanting to take part in all our exchanges. The dog when I first took my place in this man’s bed shimmied on his belly all the way up my legs and hips and onto my chest and put his face in my face, drew back his lip like Elvis, and growled at me. “I’m just letting you know,” he growled, “that this is my bed and you have no place in it.”
Just talking about him exhausts me. The little cat is crying at the glass verandah doors and I go and open them and lift her into my embrace. She is purring. She slept all night in the crook of my elbow, purring and opening her sleepy eyes from time to time to gaze at me. Dogs only live ten or fifteen years, I have pointed out. I’ve argued. I’ve told him, your ex can’t just move away – to another continent – for half the dog’s lifetime and still expect to share in his keeping. When I first came on the scene they were meeting up every fortnight in the park to swap the animal back and forth as though he were a child.
He has sprung stiff-legged from a standing position onto our legs as we fell asleep and had to be dragged screaming and threatening behind the only internal door in that tiny apartment, into the bathroom. He has threatened to rip our throats out whenever he feels cornered or defensive or scared. When my sweetheart wants to come stay the night with me he has to wait til the dog has been taken for his last late-night walk, then rush home before breakfast to walk him again, so that we can never spend an evening together unless he goes home at the end of it. The alternative is I allow the dog to visit too and this means an evening of perpetual negotiations as he tries to creep closer and closer and puts his paw suggestively up on the couch. I could handle all of this, I could handle the fortress we have to build on my couch before bedtime to keep the dog off it, I could handle the needy pleading pellmell greeting extraordinary in dogs which makes each morning such a big production, but I can’t and won’t handle the dog’s recurring aggression in my home, I need to have a home where I feel safe.
This house is not such a place. It took me courage to return. I was to stay only two weeks and a half and now six weeks have passed and the whole thing has worn me to the nerve. Things fell apart many years ago and since then my family are what I miss. All day I look after my parents and after they’ve gone to bed I have packed all my effects. I have so been looking forward to the night I would step off the airplane in Berlin and into the arms of the man I still love. He loves me too. Despite this love our story is wasteful and sad. I know that if we had been blessed with a child of our own or even if we had kept living in our little rented cottage in Brisbane where we were so happy this animal would have loosened his hold on that strong and intricate heart. I have begged him to make more room for our closeness. Even our physical closeness has been tyrannised to an extent by the presence of this needy animal, who clamours to climb into the bed and if banished to the bathroom emits rhythmic yearning pants that disgust me to the marrow. It’s too much and I cannot cope with it. I am tired of coping with the way the sanity and sweet nature of my man turns into defensive insobriety round this animal, this four-legged reason we are not living together. I have been away from Berlin a month longer than we planned and his closeness is what I have missed. I am gazing at the little grey cat with her ludicrous big ears who has curled on my father’s lap and fallen asleep. I love her dearly, passionately, she is my boon companion. But were she to growl and hiss and spit when people carried out ordinary transactions, had she bitten me so fiercely on both hands that I was left with nerve damage, if I found it difficult to find a place for her to stay when I was travelling because so few of my friends could trust her or enjoy her – I know what I’d choose. I would choose you. I’d choose you and love you. I’d fuck them all off my loyal loving long-legged superdarling and just love you.