Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Insanity runs in the family

My mother has finally lost her mind. She is not the person I know, but I thought insanity ran from parent to child and not the other way around.

Growing up, there were some things my brother and sisters and I knew without question. Mom wouldn't drink or eat after us because it was unsanitary, but she would clean our dirty faces with her spit on a Kleenex. She didn't allow pets, like our cats and dogs, to sleep in the bed with her because it was unsanitary and she wouldn't go down to the basement to clean up the papers when we had another litter of German Shepherd puppies. That was my job, a job I did before breakfast so I didn't lose it while doing the job. Instead, I dry heaved my way around the basement gathering up urine-soaked and manure speckled newspapers that smelled worse than an outhouse in August. We were allowed pets, just not in the beds, and the idea that Mom would actually love one was ludicrous. Mom tolerated the dogs, although she was often fond of one or two. Gypsy springs to mind.

Gypsy was one from the second litter of Rinny's puppies and wore a cast on her right front leg because Rinny knocked an iron off the ironing board onto Gypsy's front leg. She was the cutest thing, stumping around the basement and eventually upstairs with her bulky cast and somehow that worked it's way into my mother's usually immune to cuteness heart and she became fond of Gypsy. The other dog we owned Mom tolerated so easily was Duke, a German Shepherd-Doberman mix who had stole covers if they trailed on the floor, usually laid on top of you as though he were a lap dog, hogged the heat from the registers and had a serious problem with flatulence. In short, he was a quirky sweetheart of a dog and everyone, but Mom, adored him.

When Carol sent me pictures of Mom lounging on the couch with a white long-haired cat, Cricket, and a funny looking little Chihuahua draped over her I knew something was seriously wrong. Mom was asleep in the picture, so I clung to the belief that instead of changing her nature, she was merely oblivious to the dog and cat using her for a pillow. After all, Carol has about 6 or 7 dogs and two cats, not nearly as many cats as her longtime boyfriend, Clark, who uses his country house full of cats to keep warm during the winter instead of turning on the heat, and Carol sleeps with Ashy (short for Ashton), her sickly Yorkshire terrier. Carol falls in love with animals quite easily, as does Beanie and my brother, Jimmy. It's a failing of all the family, except for Mom, that we all go absolutely ga-ga over dogs and cats and other assorted animals, like Beanie's iguana Iggy and Dad's foul-mouthed and antisocial Macaw, Rudy. It's in our natures. It is not in Mom's nature -- or so I thought.

I don't talk to Carol often because she starts cooing and baby-talking about her Ashy and it makes me almost as nauseous as when I had to clean up the puppy papers. It's not that I don't appreciate and care for the animals I have had, like my cat Shadow, but I don't treat them like babies or children. Carol is the one most likely to put her favorite pets in a coffin and give them a fancy send-off. I'm the least likely. I have dug graves for many dogs and cats, but they were just holes in the ground into which the pets were returned to the earth to fertilize next year's garden. It's not that I'm heartless, but I draw the line at treating pets like people. They're animals. I'm a people. There is a difference.

When Mom starting cooing and baby-talking about her Dinkers (the Chihuahua, Dinky) I knew there had to be a pod in the basement. The only flaw in that thought is that pod people are usually less emotional, but the only way to make Mom less emotional is for her to be dead, so pods have to work in reverse mode. I get off the phone when Mom goes on and on about her Dinkers; I just can't take it and not lose whatever I've eaten over the past week.

Mom feeds Dink whatever she eats. If Mom has a sucker, then Dink gets a sucker, and the same applies for everything Mom eats, and I mean everything. As if that isn't bad enough, she carries Dink around like a baby sometimes and coos at her for being "such a good Dinkers" until it's enough to make even the most hardened and ga-ga pet owner want to vomit. But the worst was yet to come.

Mom grousing about Cricket the cat being too fast for her and getting into her room before she can shut the door is normal. She doesn't like cat hair all over her clothes, and she has a lot of clothes, but finding out that she sleeps with Dink was just too much for my brain to handle. She. Sleeps. With. Dink. There has to be a pod. She kisses Dink when she wouldn't kiss us when we were children, especially not on the mouth. It would mess up her lipstick, but worse, it was unsanitary. But she sleeps with a dog. She sleeps with Dink. I can't get my head around it. This is the same woman who refuses to allow an animal near her clothes or in her room. This is the same woman who was fond of two dogs in her whole life, but always from a distance. This is the same woman . . . It's not possible. There has to be a pod. The more I think about it, the crazier it seems, until I began to think about pets and their owners.

Rick, an ex-boyfriend, lives with seven dogs and two cats. When I dated him, he had five dogs and no cats. He was a nearly 50-year-old bachelor who had never been married. It didn't take me long to figure out it had nothing to do with his house being full of cages or cluttered with newspapers, bills and dog food. The animals filled Rick's emotional needs and when he got the down low itch, he'd find himself a girlfriend to take soothe the itch. It didn't last long, but for Rick it was enough.

Carol has had four husbands and during her marriage usually had a dog. When she's single, that number goes up considerably, like now. Her daughter, Shanna, is the same way. Shanna surrounds herself with dogs, many of which end up at Carol's house.

Beanie has always had a dog, but I can tell when she's feeling unloved and things with her husband are less than happy because she gets a second dog. She's down to one dog now, Gander, but that's only because Rambo died a few months ago, and she has four or five horses, and her emotional needs are met by her horses. Her favorite is Blaze, a cantankerous and evil-minded animal, that allows only Beanie near her without trying to kill her, although Blaze has come close a few times when he bucked her off. She always gets right back on him and he adores her. He just has bad days. And there's JW, the yearling Beanie bred from Classy, her other horse. Beanie is nuts about JW.

It was difficult to tell about Jimmy because he's so silent and keeps to himself, but he has had some dogs that he obviously liked, at least until Flea-Flea, or Fifi, as Carol called her before Jimmy took her home. Flea-Flea, as Mom calls her, is one of Dink's pups. Jimmy is now ga-ga over her, rushing home to let her out of the bathroom so she can greet him with much tail wagging, licking and cuddling. Since Jimmy is divorced, the reason is clear; he's lonely.

So that must be the reason Mom has turned from a hardened pet avoider into someone who now sleeps, eats and talks to her dog. She misses Dad. I miss Dad, too, but he wasn't my husband, just my dad, and I've lived alone for a long time. The only pet I have owned was Shadow, and he was my shadow. Sleeping in my bed, on his own pillow once he got too heavy to lay across my neck when we slept, stretched out in front of my computer keyboard when I worked and usually in my lap with his hind end nearly in my face. He loved BBQ potato chips and followed me everywhere, even into the bathroom if I didn't shut the door fast enough, and I am the kind of person who leaves the bathroom door open all the time. After all, who's here to see me? I was heart broken when he got out after my apartment was broken into and he never came back. I haven't owned another pet since then. I moved around too much to keep a pet, although I'd like to borrow a mouser to get rid of the sneaky mouse that continues to evade poison and traps of all kinds. (Must be a she mouse.) I get my emotional needs met in other ways and I'm not about to turn into a raving lunatic over a dog or cat or any animal, except maybe for my very own praying mantis, any time soon. I prefer animals from a distance or visiting but not resident. Anyone who lavishes that much attention on a pet has some serious insanity issues and I don't want to get close enough to catch them.

It started with Carol, Jimmy and Tracy, and sometimes Dad, although he preferred plants to animals, insanity creeping from the bottom up, but it finally latched onto Mom. It's a good thing I don't live near the rest of them or I'd soon be as insane as they are. Insanity runs in this family, but hopefully I have run away far enough that it won't catch me.

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