Every night after dinner, I stand up from the table to discover that I’ve acquired a follower. Carmi (full blooded mutt o’ love) shadows my movements. She gazes at me, trembling with joy if I reach for a jacket or, God help us all, my shoes.
It is Time To Walk.
Most nights I give in to her tyranny of hope. I snag the leash from the garage, and the minute she sees it her butt hits the floor in a reasonable imitation of a well-trained dog.
I hook the leash to her collar and kiss Clay good bye as he starts to clear the table. It’s the deal – I cook, he does dishes. It’s an excellent deal, and he leaves the kitchen cleaner than I ever would. I pause and ask again on my way out,
“Is this an ok time for me to go?”
“Go!” He waves me away. I go, and tell myself, this is good. Clay needs his own space, without me looking over his shoulder. It’s healthy for couples to have their own time.
The boys are playing out front, a part of the swarming masses of kidhood that infest our cul-de-sac. Tre waves good-bye from two yards over. Max runs over to kiss the dog, then me, and is back in the play. Raphael trots up, throws his arms around my waist, and says in a tiny, baby voice,
“Mom? I want to go with you.”
“No, honey. You go ahead and play with your friends. I’ll see you in a bit.” He squeaks, nods, kisses Carmi, and runs off.
This is good, I tell myself, the boys need to know they can get by without me, that they can go to Clay if they need help.
Carmelita and I start down the first street, hitting our stride, stretching out. Carmi sees a bunny in a yard next to us and lunges for it. Carmi weighs about half as much as I do, so I can control her, but if I’m not expecting the yank it can cause me to skid across the sidewalk. I give her a sharp tug on the leash, reminding her that this is WALK TIME, not bunny time. She dips her head guiltily and trots back to my side.
This is good, I think, Carmi needs the exercise. And the practice walking on a leash like a civilized dog.
The air is perfect in the evenings. I realize after a few blocks that it feels delicious and I breathe it in deeply. My stride lengthens and I enjoy the sensation of walking at my own pace. I rein in the leash, making Carmi match my steps. All day I try to match the pace of the activities to the boys, and it is nice to be the set point for once. I come to a small hill at this point and it feels good. The muscles in my legs are working, my heart is beating faster, and I can breathe. We reach the park and I hit the button on the retractable leash, letting Carmi enjoy some slack. She races back and forth beside me, tethered to me but thrilled with the space. She lingers behind me, enjoying some particularly good smells on one tree, then races to pass me up.
It all seems downhill from here, time melting out from underneath me until I find myself striding back up the street to our home. My cheeks are pink and my shoulders are loose, and I am breathing freely. The kids run up to greet me, laying kisses on Carmi and then on me.
This is good, I think, I need this.