Don’t let the photo fool you. Behind that deceptively cute face lurks a snarling, maniacal little rat turd. In fact, mere seconds after this photo was taken, Santa snapped and growled at my friend Wally. Santa is my elderly mother’s little bundle of joy. According to Mom, it was somehow Wally’s fault for Santa’s aggressive outburst. Apparently, when I handed Santa to Wally, she didn’t “hold him right.” Nonsense, say I. It’s not like she was dangling him from his ears. My Mom is out of her friggin’ mind. Santa is a hater, pure and simple.
There are probably a couple of things that I should clear up before we go along any further. For one, “Santa” is not the dog’s real name. The dog’s real name….the actual stupid name that my Mom gave him….. is “Bay.” Prior to Santa, Mom had a miniature Pinscher named "Bay." I think picking one dog name for every dog in your life is just stupid, especially if that name is “Bay.” “Bay” is boring and unoriginal. When Mom was trying to figure out a name for her new Chihuahua, I suggested “Santa.” I thought it would be cool for a tiny dog to have the name of a big fat guy. Also, with just a slight change of a few letters, Santa becomes “Satan,” which in this situation, is disturbingly fitting. Obviously, Mom did not go for my suggestion. But I still call him Santa just to bug her.
Another really important point I might mention is that I am a big fan of dogs. I would even go as far as to say that I’m a rabid (har) dog lover. I have been my whole life. I’ve shared my heart and my home with some truly fine canine companions. Most recently was Audrey, a Lab-Newfoundland mix. She was smart, sweet and unlike Santa, had nothing to prove. She was a gentle beauty. Sadly, she died of cancer on Halloween day in 2008. The apartment I am living in now doesn’t allow pets, but I do have an imaginary bulldog named Ruckle. He’s a good boy, albeit a little stinky at times. He also snuffles a lot and gets slobber on my newspaper. But I love him. I love all doggies. My disdain for Santa is a first. This is telling. The dog is a terror.
To understand Santa, it might be helpful to know a little bit about Mom because in the case of this dog, nurture definitely outweighed nature in his intellectual and emotional development. Mom is an 84-year-old woman, who weighs about the same as her age. She’s a tiny bird. She is into daytime television, playing bridge on Sundays and entering Reader’s Digest sweepstakes. As a result of the latter, Mom has subscriptions to several dozen magazines. I’m not sure why an elderly white woman would read “Ebony” or “Popular Mechanics.” That said, I don’t think Mom actually ever reads anything anymore. She just subscribes. Mom also likes to get high. This has been a lifelong problem. She has a real yen for prescription medications. She likes to dump them by the bottlefuls into big Ziplock bags and then bang them down like M & M’s. She throws a few bottles of vitamins in for good measure. I guess that’s a little bit like putting a piece of broccoli on a plate that’s loaded up with potato chips and Sara Lee cheesecake. My sibs and I have recently learned that Mom has also started drinking again. She “quit” drinking in 1987. However, I have a friend that runs a liquor store in our hometown and she recently told me that Mom comes in to buy wine now and then. Sigh.
Mom is not particularly interested in her children or her grandchildren. She also has little interest in birthdays, graduations, family members going through chemotherapy (like one of her own children) or other big life events. She’s blissfully checked out, although every time someone has a birthday, Mom has an elaborate story as to why she didn’t get a card in the mail. It usually involves the card flying out the window as she was driving to the post office or a band of gypsies breaking into her house and stealing her postage stamps. Telling the truth isn’t really Mom’s bag. She’s deceptive and sneaky. We have no idea as to the state of her finances. My sibs and I feel the need to know only because we’re trying to determine what resources she has for living. We do know that she was recently audited by the IRS, that she’s behind on paying property taxes and that she was involved in some kind of money scam that resulted in her sending at least a few thousand bucks to some shady characters in Jamaica. These people called her house regularly until my sister had Mom's phone number changed. I asked Mom why she sent money to "the Jamaicans," and she said, “Because I thought it would be funny.” Groan. Mom’s house is full of clutter, which she is forever “sorting” through. Her home is a chaotic mess of oddball items: several closets full of sweaters, multiple boxes of stale crackers, weird little kitchen gadgets, make-up and lotions, junk mail, dog toys and a few hundred really ugly hats. Mom is forever hiring housekeepers to help her organize through stuff. She develops odd relationships with these women. They become her new BFFL. Oddly, the house never gets organized and the tsunami of clutter continues to swell.
Mom and Santa hooked up about five or six years ago. Their relationship is dysfunctional and co-dependent. Mom is probably not the first old lady to treat her dog like a person, but in this case, the situation is extreme. Mom talks to Santa in the most grating of high-pitched voices. It is incessant. She indulges him to the point that it is nauseating. (How many dogs that you know of get a bowl of ice cream for a “night, night snack?”) She buys him dog tranquilizers and lets him get high right along with her. Oddly, for a dog on downers, Santa never seems very chill to me. (Frankly, I suspect Mom is taking his meds as well.) His toys are everywhere. If he feels like it, he’ll crap and pee wherever he wants. He prances around her house like a self-important little prince and he clearly has an overbearing sense of entitlement. The worst of it is that Mom is convinced that this little ten pound waste of canine DNA is tragically fragile. It seems that Santa is forever on the verge of some great harm or calamity, at least in Mom’s eyes. If his food isn’t prepared just so, if he’s not sleeping in bed with her, or if, God forbid, she should leave the house without him, well, he’ll die. To his credit, the dog isn’t entirely stupid. He seems to know that Mom’s neurosis is beneficial to him and he works it for all he’s got. When my sibs or I are at Mom’s house, Santa treats us as interlopers. Of course, he’s only following Mom’s lead. Mom doesn’t even attempt to hide the fact that she cares for Santa more than her own offspring. Further, she seems to think that my sibs and I are out to intentionally hurt Santa. This appears to give Santa license to snap and growl at us as he sees fit. Santa is a little snot with a load of swagger If we dare even look at him sideways, Mom gets upset with us. If we laugh at him, it really pisses her off. The other day, Mom told my sister that when she dies, she wants Santa euthanized and buried along with her. I’m not sure it gets any more bat-shit crazy than that.
About three weeks ago, I took my mother, kicking and screaming, to Oklahoma City to live with my sister Mary and my brother-in-law Stephen. I was in Ponca City for my high school reunion, and it just so happened that Mom had just gotten out of the hospital. She’d been treated for a urinary tract infection. When I arrived at Mom's house, I found a frail, weak, crazy woman. I knew almost immediately that she couldn’t live alone anymore, and it would have been irresponsible of me to have left her there when I departed. My siblings and I had been trying for several years to convince Mom to move closer to one of us. There have been several incidents over the past few years; Mom fell on the ice one night last winter while she was trying to get Santa to come in from the back yard. There was also the night when a neighbor dropped by and found Mom talking nonsensically and the burners on Mom’s stove all on. Last spring, Mom had her hip replaced but didn’t bother to tell my siblings and me about it until a few days before. A few weeks before the urinary tract infection, Mom dropped a pan of boiling water and burned herself badly. And these are just the shenanigans we actually know about. When we’ve broached the subject of her moving, Mom has been stubborn and outright nasty to us. She has also been deviant, telling each of my siblings and I different stories about her plans for the future. A year ago, Mary and Stephen bought a larger home with a generous amount of space just for Mom. She had agreed to move in with them but then backpedaled, keeping them in limbo. She had a million reasons as to why she couldn’t move, most of them involving some problem with Santa. (For example, she was worried that the cats at Mary’s house had not been declawed and would scratch out one of Santa’s eyes or perhaps, rip out his jugular.) Mom seems convinced that my siblings and I are cooking up a conspiracy to ruin her life. When I talk to her about anything, she always tells me to keep my “yap” shut and not to tell my siblings about anything we discuss. Mom doesn’t seem to get that we are simply trying to keep her from OD’ing on dog tranquilizers or setting her hair on fire or having a stroke in front of her soap operas and not being found for days. She doesn’t understand that we’re trying to keep her safe from herself. She’s too far out of her tree to get it.
On that Sunday morning when I finally got her packed and in the car, it was under the ruse that she was just going down to Mary’s to recuperate from her hospital stay. But we both knew differently. She didn’t ask. I didn’t tell. So with Santa comfortable in his doggie crate and Mom pouting in the passenger seat, we hauled ass down I-35 to Oklahoma City. I don’t know why I drove so fast that morning. I think I just wanted to get there….to get her there before anything happened to derail the plan. At one point, Aerosmith was blaring on the radio (“Rag Doll.”) and Mom was going on about how “they” are cracking down on Oklahoma truckers for smuggling drugs, guns and immigrants into the state. I listened to Mom and the radio and stared at the big Oklahoma sky. I don’t know if my life has ever felt any more surreal than it did in that moment.
Mom has been at Mary’s for a little over three weeks now. Contrary to Mom’s big fears that he would get his ass kicked, it is actually Santa who is terrorizing the four cats. Two have been in hiding under a bed. Only one has actually taken a swipe at Santa. Ironically, it was the only one of the bunch who has been declawed. Santa eats the cats’ food and seems to have found a few select spots in the house, which he uses as his own private bathroom. Clearly, Santa has made himself at home. He da man.
Mom is pissed at all of us. That’s fine. We did what we had to do, which is to save her from herself. The story is far from over. The eventual plan is to move Mom’s furniture and belongings to Mary’s and to sell her house in Ponca City. Mom is still not forthcoming about her finances, so getting traction on the move is difficult. In the interim, Mom spends her days watching Dr. Phil on the flat screen TV, complaining about one thing or another and making life very difficult for Mary, who has demonstrated the patience of a Zen monk. This is no picnic for my brother-in-law either. It’s no picnic for anyone, except maybe Santa.