It’s a generally-understood rule of thumb established by florists, jewelers, and Hallmark since time immemorial, that household appliances do not make romantic gifts. We all remember the JC Penny jeweler’s “dual bag” commercial, where the hapless man gets sent to husband purgatory for buying his wife a vacuum cleaner for their anniversary, right?
Yet, no rule is without its exception.
My story begins with a dog – a dog my husband had before I came into his life. Shostakovich “Shosty” Darnall was an energetic and remarkably attractive pure-bred border collie, who was about one year old when my husband and I met. She was friendly and affectionate, accepting me with all of her doggy heart as my husband and I gradually went from friendship to dating to engagement over the course of the next few years.
Shortly before we got married, my husband got a job that took him from the wide-open desert plains of central Washington to the soggy metropolis of Portland, OR. A few months after he settled there, we were pronounced Mr. and Mrs. Darnall and moved into the brand-new, never-been-lived-in apartment that was to be our first home together.
So did Shosty.
Shosty had been an outside dog from her youth. We discovered many new and exciting things about her when she made the transition from outdoor to indoor dog. The first was that when she got nervous, she got diarrhea. The second was that she got nervous a lot.
As a stay-at-home-wife (with plans to soon be a stay-at-home mom), the diarrhea became, for the most part, my lot in life. More than once, my husband’s workday would be interrupted by a text message from his blushing bride: “Diarrhea Dog struck again.”
I have always subscribed to the philosophy, “Love him, love his dog,” but the year and-a-half that I watched the virginal white carpet in our newlywed love nest get defiled over and over again – through pregnancy, the birth of our first child, and the early, grueling months of parenthood – strained my resolve almost past endurance.
I was, or at least fancied myself, a quite fastidious housekeeper, and although I treated each new stain with a spray bottle of pet cleaner, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the carpet was never entirely clean.
There was never a day that I did not love my husband, but there were days when, deep down, I did not love his dog.
I talked to the vet, but he could find nothing wrong with her. His verdict: “Just nerves.” I took her out religiously for exercise and potty breaks every day, but “just nerves” continued to leave sporadic offerings at the most inopportune moments.
Four months after our daughter was born, we bought a house. We bid adieu to the apartment, the once-white carpet, and all its guilty stains. The modest but adequate yard and the easy-to-clean wood laminate floor in our new home held out hope of a better life.
Alas, Shosty’s propensity to bark bloody murder at the next-door neighbor’s dog and dig out under the fence put an end to my dreams of her going back to being a full-time outdoor dog.
Her “problem” did get better – as in, less frequent – but it did not disappear altogether. The wood laminate floor was indeed a breeze to clean. But unfortunately, when diarrhea struck, Shosty invariably chose to relieve her tortured bowels on the new wool area rug.
At Home Depot one day, we were picking out some things for the house, and, while buying a new vacuum cleaner, I noticed that they also stocked steam carpet cleaners. I eyed them wistfully, but it was a luxury, not a necessity, and with the expense of a new baby and a new house, we weren’t in the market for luxuries.
A year later, we were well settled into our home with baby number two on the way. It was August, and summer traveling had put us over budget – a fact that I, as a self-avowed tightwad, was acutely aware of. We were hosting an out-of-town family who had come up for an impromptu visit.
Our 18-month-old daughter, with that perversity so characteristic of toddlers and pets, decided to wake up at two in the morning and could not be convinced to go back to bed. My husband had to be up at six to go to work, so I told him to go back to sleep. I would try to rest on the couch while our daughter watched a movie.
When I had gotten her set up happily watching “Toy Story 3” with the volume down low enough not to disturb our guests, I stumbled, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen for a glass of water.
My first clue that all was not well was Shosty skulking past me like a cringing phantom. I smelled it before I saw it: a broad, oval ring of loose, runny turds and dog urine lining the entire perimeter of the rug. It was like one of those magic toadstool rings that you make a wish in when you’re a kid, except instead of toadstools, it was just…stools.
This was no job for a spray-bottle of foaming cleanser – and yet, it would have to be. Bitter were the last watches of that long night as I scraped and blotted, sprayed and scrubbed, sniffed and doubted, and began over again in a dozen different spots of our outraged wool rug. Bitter were my thoughts toward a certain black-and-white mongrel who was making herself small in a corner of the laundry room.
To have diarrhea is one thing, but to manage to spread it out over the entire area of a five-by-eight-foot wool rug began to look premeditated.
When my husband – a man not given to many words – woke up, he was sympathetic, but not quite as sympathetic as the occasion called for, I thought, as he walked out the door to go to work.
That evening, after our guests had said good-bye, Diarrhea Dog found it within her bowels to strike yet again on the newly-cleaned wool rug.
“Honey,” I groaned, “she did it again.”
My husband stood up, inspected the mess, and came back toward me. Then, in surely the most beautiful words ever spoken in the English language, he announced: “I’m going to Home Depot to buy a steam cleaner.”
Unbeknownst to me, he’d been doing research online during the day and already had one picked out.
“But…but we’re already over-budget,” I objected weakly.
“We’ll fit it in.”
An hour and-a-half later, he was pushing that glorious monster across the floor as it sprayed heavy-duty cleaner deep into the fibers of the rug, and I imagined the stubborn fecal residue of a dozen doggy “accidents” lifting, lifting, lifting out of the carpet and out of our lives forever.
You can have your diamond earrings and pearls, but I will always count that big ugly steam cleaner as one of the most romantic things I have ever received.
As it turns out, not every kiss begins with Kay.