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Love and Air-conditioning

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Ménage à Trois. With Chien.
By Rivka Galchen

In July 2001, I convinced Aaron—we were then engaged—that we should adopt a dog. Why, when we were about to declare ourselves a perfect nation of two, was I already seeking outside love?

“You understand me, don’t you?” I used to hear my dad whispering late nights to our miniature collie, one of the dumbest and most beautiful, most devoted dogs there ever was. “You know me for who I really am.”

They say we’re all doomed to re-create our family structures. In the sunbaked, urine-soaked courtyard of the city pound, a “Shepherd Mix, 6 mos,” with paws like clown shoes, looked up at us with eyes wet with love or kennel cough, and I swear I could smell honeysuckle.

That first month with Paloma was like being with a lover. I’d never before noticed the abundance of pizza crust on the sidewalk, nor had I appreciated the rich bouquet of a balled-up tissue. Paloma brought a case of diarrhea home from the pound, and she ate my favorite sweater, but who cared? She would expose her belly to me with utter trust and slight demand. I remember her entering the apartment sulkily, tight-lipped, and then dropping a mauled, muddy tennis ball at my feet, like a jewel.

Before we got Paloma, Aaron had read about a dozen dog-raising guides; I had read a long Icelandic novel about sheep. When Aaron took Paloma out for a walk, strangers would stop him to marvel at her perfect behavior. When I took Paloma out, she liked to tackle me when I turned my back. One sweaty August morning I awoke to a tenderly mumbled “You’re the most beautiful girl in the whole world, aren’t you?” It was Aaron saying that. To Paloma. Who occupied the majority of my half of the bed.

My father had been right. Dogs do know the truth about you. I looked into those wet eyes and saw her thinking, compassionately, well, whatever it was that made her treat Aaron like a king and me like a sibling. She knew my timid heart.

Fall came. We got married. Oh, Paloma. She was already twice the size she’d been when we’d gotten her. But she’s still delicate. When she meets smaller dogs in the dog park, she tries to get down lower than them, to let them know she’s happy to play beta to their alpha. She licks her paws like a cat. She doesn’t like narrow spaces. When there’s a storm, she wants me to hide in the bathroom with her. Our love started off so, well, romantic, so much about difference, about otherness. When it turned out to be a variety of self-recognition—when, for better or worse, we turned out to be equals—we entered the long and beautiful winter of our affair.


Rivka Galchen is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances.


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