I was thinking about raising a kid, but I figured I’d better try a dog first in case I bungled it so I’d only spoil an animal instead of a human being. I didn’t want to read any books on the matter, because I didn’t want to plagiarize anybody and end up with Dr. Gordon or Dr. Spock or Dr. Doi’s kid instead of my own, so I decided to duplicate my own upbringing, because I turned out pretty good, or so I’ve been told. I’d be happy with a dog or a kid that was like me. I think anybody would.
I bought the puppy and held it close. I told him that he was my best friend and the best thing that ever happened to me. I showered him with love and affection. Then I accused him of undermining me and purposefully ruining my life. Some days I pampered him for no reason, and some days I abused him for no reason. Half the time I would wave a knife around and gnash my teeth and take his food away and lay down on the carpet, screaming and frothing at the mouth. Other times, I gave him the food he liked and alternated cuddles and distance, in the proper proportions. Every morning when he woke, he trembled with fear, wondering if today was going to be a day of kindness or a day of mania. He began to learn that there was no logic that governed my actions, and that every day is a fresh game of adaptation; he began to learn that the world is unpredictable but leans toward the monstrous, if it leans at all. At least, I hoped he began to learn that.
I once spent an entire summer forcing the dog to sort expired coupons. He didn’t do a very good job at it, so I punished him. I locked him in a crate, so he couldn’t see his doggie friends. He didn’t have any doggie friends, because I rarely let him outside, but if he had had friends, he wouldn’t have seen much of them at all.
I surrounded him in garbage and clutter and dust. I told him that my garbage and clutter and dust were more important to me than he was. At three in the morning, just as he was drifting into a nice, deep sleep, I’d make my rounds. I’d check to see if he’d let a crumb fall outside the rim of his doggie dish. If he had, I’d wake him and smack him around a little and make him clean it up. He had to learn the difference in value between my mess and his, my sleep and his, my time and his.
I’ve forgotten why, but once I abandoned him in the front yard and locked the door. I told him I am done, you have slobbered on my carpet for the last time, you’re not my dog anymore, sayonara. After two hours, I noticed him still sitting in the front yard, so I let him back in and pretended that nothing had happened.
I’d disappear for hours and days at a time, and when I returned, the dog would be waiting for me, hesitant, but eager to please. He thought he could forestall a beating if he played along and fetched my slippers and rubbed against me and stayed one step ahead of my impulses. I always flipped a coin to determine how I would react, so that he wouldn’t come to believe that his behavior held any influence over mine. I was trying to keep this aspect of my upbringing accurate, because I knew there was a direct correlation between the calm, well-mannered adult I became and the frightened, unbalanced child I was. Sometimes it was hard to pretend to be so angry when I wasn’t really, but it was all part of the process.
When he turned three, which is twenty-one in human years, I waited for the escape mechanism to kick in. I’d done everything perfectly. By rights, the dog should have implemented a plan of escape and left the house to do bigger and better things. But he stayed. This made me sad. It was as if the past three years had been for nothing.
I kept waiting around for him to go to college or something.