The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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A friend I hadn’t seen in more than three decades wrote
to tell me he had just remarried, & was finally happy
— this followed by a long denunciation of his former wife,
whom I had known back then when all of us were young,
& who, through tireless manipulation & deceit
(he claimed), had managed to get full custody of the kids, ruining
two decades of his life. “She would not show me
the room where the children slept,” he wrote, “or so
much as offer me a cup of water from the kitchen tap.”
I was shocked, though at the same time couldn’t help
but recollect that afternoon a few weeks after his first
son’s birth, when he’d dropped by, exuberantly happy,
& in the midst of laughing about how little sleep they got
these days, mentioned, in passing, that they had taken Pica,
their lovable Irish setter, back to the pound: “With an infant
in the house . . . ,” he started to explain — the way one might
about a troublesome TV or a sofa bed returned
for taking too much space up in the den.
“Why didn’t . . . you find her a home?” I tried
to keep my voice under control. “You know as well as I do,
at those places only puppies get adopted. She’ll be put down.”
It came out broken. I could hardly wrap my mouth about
the words. — “Oh, not at all. Pica’s so adorable she’s bound
to find another home!” He shook his head with a dismissive laugh,
& then went on again about the endless pleasures
of his newborn son. & I said nothing further. What more,
I’d like to know, could I have said? By the time
I was done with that letter, & that flood of memories,
the sun was setting. I sat there for a long moment, & then
read it through a second time, trying, this time,
to be careful not to betray our friendship, to keep in mind
what a decent, fine, well-intentioned fellow he had been,
& all that he had suffered. Though it didn’t work: Pica
pacing back and forth across the cage of his disquieting letter,
pausing now & then to lick the back of my right hand.
She could not comprehend what had happened.
Had she done something wrong?
Where were those humans she had loved so much, those
humans who had seemed so trustworthy & generous & kind?